Energy Energy is flow; without flow there is no energy. A shortage of energy is therefore partly about a lack of flow … i.e. partial stagnation.
The energy industry
We are constantly bombarded by energy foods, energy drinks, energy supplements, energy this and that, and exercises and methods to improve our energy. More often than not, this seems to make the assumption that it’s okay to continue our lifestyle exactly as before, but, by just doing something new, by including a few additional healthy foods or activities, or by simply changing where we live, we can enhance our energy levels. So, bearing in mind that our bodies are constructed entirely of what we eat and breathe, it might be worthwhile looking at how to reduce one’s supply of energy!
How do you reduce your energy levels? Apart from the obvious, i.e. stop eating and drinking entirely, try using or cultivating any or all of the following:
Food, drinks, and any other substances that the body finds either hard to break down, hard to assimilate, or toxic
An excess of absolutely anything and everything (this includes an excess of exercise)
Suppression of elimination (e.g. discharge of toxins via sweating, excretion, etc.)
Emotional excess or suppression
Musculature that lacks tone, yet requires mobilisation
A sedentary lifestyle
Poor breathing habits
Air quality that causes the lungs to search for oxygen
Poor quality sleep (due to any of the above)
Extreme climatic conditions
I realise that there’s a degree of overlap between most of these, and that we hear a lot about most of them, but I’m particularly interested in the last one. How many times a day do we encounter that cause of stress? Hundreds? Thousands?
Fixed attitudes; inability to change It’s that second when you find yourself thinking, “I don’t like that!”, or “That can’t be right; it’s not how I’ve done it before”, or “Why did he say that?”, or “That’s no way to behave”, or “What is that person on?”… This is a major, if not the major, cause of stress. When we resist something, not only does it persist, it
holds us back like an anchor, stopping us from moving on. I see this happening in myself all the time; I have a fixed idea of how something should be done, and, being instantly biased because I’m judging through a previously accepted set of criteria, find it very difficult to see outside the box. The very fact that I initially have an opinion makes being open-minded very difficult.
Fixed attitudes & learning I watch this happen when I’m learning tai chi. Because I’ve been doing it for 40+ years means that I have a great many pre-conceived ideas of how I should be moving. I have to consciously switch off what I think I know, so that I can attempt to view with new eyes. It’s like trying to chew one’s own teeth; you’re using your mind to switch off your mind, whilst simultaneously standing outside yourself to become an observer. The challenge for me is to catch this moment of lack of acceptance – the moment when I am not being completely open to the new. If I’m able to catch it, I can see how it solidifies or hardens my attitude, blocking me. By trying to operate through pre-conceived ideas, I’ve created in myself an energetic dam; I’ve stopped flowing; my inter-meshing with life is compromised; I’ve set myself against my current situation; my ego has got in the way; I’ve stopped learning.
How does this affect tai chi & qigong? In the martial arts this is referred to as ‘blocking qi’, although this term is usually used to mean a raised shoulder, a tightened pelvis, a locked hip joint, or other problems such as a collapsed neck. From the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medical) perspective, this blocking of qi causes an imbalance amongst the organs, initially causing loss of energy, and progressing over time to dis-ease, i.e. a lack of ease within the body.
I encounter this all the time, not only when learning, but also when teaching. I’ve seen some of my students find this very hard, some of them actually leaving. One student, I particularly remember, left after I’d taught High Pat on Horse slightly differently (as a result of my own lesson with my teacher) saying, “You never used to teach it like that, you’ve changed it.” She was right; the basic shape of the move was identical, but, not only did it differ in the way that it connected to the moves before and after it, my interpretation of the actual movement had altered to become more circular, more flowing, and more connected to my centre. This was too much for her. I used to be exactly the same! I wanted it all set in stone – a nice formula, a recipe, so that I ‘knew’ tai chi.
Perspective To learn though, we have to base learning on something. I’m not saying that all learning should start from the point of view of a clean slate; it must be built on what we’ve already learnt. What I am saying is that we should be aware that our perspective on what we have previously learnt will alter, and we shouldn’t be too attached to the ‘old’ perspective.
So why does a ‘fixed attitude’ reduce your energy?
Energy & hose pipes
When teaching, in order to explain how energy functions in the body, I use the analogy of a garden hose pipe.
If, having attached your hose pipe to the tap, you lay it down the length of the garden and then turn the tap on, you get a free flow of water from the end of the pipe.
However, if there is a bend or kink in the pipe, the flow of water is restricted, and possibly even stopped.
Energy (blood & qi) works in exactly the same in the body; the bend or
kink is tension, whether physical or mental; where there is tension, the flow is restricted. This could be the acupuncture channels, it could be the blood or nerve supplies, or it could be an ingrained attitude. Nothing can grow without flow. The qi is blocked, the water cannot flow in the pipe, the resistance to change (or something different or new) causes tension, and as a result our energy is compromised.