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Shamanism-what is Shamanism?

The term shamanism is an umbrella term which refers to a wide variety of spiritual practices. The word shaman from the Evenki language and was introduced to the west from Russian explorers who first encountered the term among nomadic peoples within Siberia. Shamanism has been practiced for thousands of years and before organized religion was the main spiritual expression in the world and could be found on every continent.

Shamanism is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to encounter and interact with the spirit world. A shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of spirits which in turn influence this world. It could be said that Shamanism is an ‘experiential religion’, one which generally does not have a written doctrine or set belief system but from the direct experience of the shaman and those that are treated by the shaman. Because there is no religious doctrine or hierarchy associated with shamanism it is always evolving and changing often with shamans in one region using very different techniques and methods.

Shamanism teaches us all that everything contains spirit, is alive and that we are all deeply connected to others around us, nature and the world and over thousands of years has received techniques which allow us to experience this spirit and connection.

Qigong-What should I focus on?

One possible definition for Qigong is an exercise which harmonizes the body, mind andbreath. The mind can only focus on one thing fully in one moment and so the practitioner should focus on just one of these three elements during practice and use either the breath, energy or the body (movement or posture) as the ‘anchor’.

Qigong

Qigong

What do you mean Anchor?

For example liu zi jue (six healing sounds) is a form of qigong which uses the breath as its focus. It is a breathing exercise where different sounds correspond to different organs in the body and the sound is said to have healing effects on that organ. This is not to say that there are not forms of liu zi jue do not use other elements. Liu zi jue may also use visualization techniques (mind) and at the same time using movements (body), however these visualizations and movements should come from the breath. In other words in a form of Qigong that uses the breath as its focus,  the breath leads and the movements and visualizations follow the breath, the movements and visualization are anchored in the breath.

But I know a type of Qigong that doesn’t use the mind or the breath?

Even when the breath, mind or body is not obviously focused on, these elements are always harmonized in Qigong.  In Baduanjin, an exercise which uses gentle meditative movements to open up the energy, the anchor or focus is movement and no obvious attention is paid to the mind or the breath. These peaceful Qigong movements will naturally have an effect on the mind and breath and so the mind and the breath will naturally be harmonized. After the Qigong you may notice that your breath has become smoother and more relaxed and your mind is more peaceful.

The hundreds and thousands of types of Qigong all come from an understanding that the body, mind (and spirit) and breath (and energy) all influence each other and so adjusting one will bring harmony and positive changes in the others.

Is Qigong like Taichi?

This question gets asked a lot and the simple answer is yes…and no.

Qigong

Qigong

The two Chinese characters for Qigong mean ‘Energy’ and ‘Hard work’ meaning that Qigong is the practice of energy which is mastered over time. There are literally thousands of different kinds of Qigong and these can be broadly categorized into Martial Qigong for the martial arts, Health or medical Qigong, Daoist Qigong and Buddhist Qigong.

Qigong can be as simple as a sitting posture where one focuses on the breath or a complicated set of movements which takes many hours to complete. Some of these forms of Qigong may have similar characteristics to Tai Chi, for example the soft flowing techniques of Yang style Tai Chi is similar to the relaxed movements of the Qigong form Baduanjin (8 Brocades). However, Qigong forms may also appear very different to Tai Chi, for example in Ying Qigong or ‘hard Qigong’ from the martial arts, the movements are often very tense and explosive.

Even though the outward appearance of a Qigong form may be very different than Tai Chi, both Tai Chi and Qigong work on the energy of the body and so one could even say that Tai Chi is a type of Qigong.

Should I meditate for a long time?

There are two schools of thought to answering this question. One school of thought states that you should meditate for as long as possible and rigidly stick to a lengthy time period for meditation, the other is a more relaxed approach which allows your state of mind to guides the length of the meditation session for the practitioner.

Meditation is not an exercise of will, but a state of mind. Will power may be able to get you past the first hurdles and to stop your mind wandering for a time, but using the will is like an animal trainer who uses whips and aggression to keep his animals in check. It may work in the short time but it is not the most humane or gentle way. This can also lead to a rigid state of mind, and like the animals, if will power is used too much it can turn around and bite you and you will likely give up on your meditation practice.

Meditation is also not a physical exercise or a sitting posture. Spending all the time in the world imitating the Buddha beneath the Bodhi tree is not meditation. The most direct doorway to the meditative state of mind is tranquillity. Many of the meditation teachers I have met from all over the world have stressed this point. Even the word for meditation in Chinese expresses this concept, ‘Jing Zuo’ meaning tranquil sitting.

The more tranquil you become the more able you are to enter the doorway to the state of meditation. Many people get caught up in using their will to push through the pain which can invariably occur when sitting for extended periods of time. If the mind is truly tranquil then eventually there comes a point where one no longer feels the body and that is the moment that an hour, two hours or three hours can seem like just a moment and minor aches and pains are no longer of concern. This absorption into the meditative state is much stronger than any will power that you could have. When you hear of yogis and meditators meditating for many hours, it is not their will which allows them to do this but their ability to enter and be absorbed into a state of meditation.

Meditation is also not strict concentration; the word concentration conjures images of a school boy, furrow browed, trying to work through a challenging mathematical equation. This kind of intense, hard concentration is not the kind of concentration used in meditation. To demonstrate the kind of concentration needed in meditation pause for a moment and then hold out your hand in front of your face, now notice the existence of your hand and pause for a further

moment. You will see that to look at your hand and notice it’s existence is extremely natural and relaxed. There is no effort needed or special techniques and yet the mind is completely attentive in noticing the existence of the hand and not caught up in other thoughts. This is similar to the effortless type of concentration needed in meditation. After extended periods of time in tranquillity, the object of meditation, be it the breath or the mind or other object will naturally become the only thing in your awareness until you become the object of meditation, this is true concentration.

To answer the question to whether you should push yourself to meditate for a long time, it is infinitely better to meditate for 5 minutes once a day resting in tranquillity and peace than to sit for three hours twice a day in a frustrated state of mind. When you perform an action you become more skilled at it through time. If you spend 5 minutes in tranquillity then you become better and better at entering that state of mind. If however, you spend time sitting down forcing yourself to push through pain barriers while being tense and feeling blocked, then you will get very good at being tense and feeling blocked. It is far better to build your practice slowly, becoming more and more familiar with tranquillity until you enter true meditation and can sit in a meditative state for longer periods effortlessly and naturally.