A Tip for Practicing Meditation to Improve Physical and Mental Wellbeing

The below video tip is taken from Practical Zen: Meditation and Beyond by Julian Daizan Skinner, Foreword by Shinzan Miyamae

Using a system established by the ancestors of the Rinzai tradition of Zen, Practical Zen presents specific meditation practices in a practical and engaging way that will enable readers to live a grounded, strong, energetic life:

To learn more about Practical Zen, visit our website.


True Healing: Respecting science while honoring intuition and common sense – An Interview with Noah Karrasch

Noah Karrasch is a certified Rolfer and licensed massage therapist, and holds a teaching degree from the University of Missouri, Columbia. He teaches core bodywork skills throughout the mid-west United States and also works with the Wren Clinic in East London, UK.

In 2009 Noah published Meet Your Body, a practical guide for anyone looking for effective ways to release bodymindcore trauma and improve their health and overall happiness.

In this interview Noah shares some insights from his new book for practitioners, Freeing Emotions and Energy Through Myofascial Release, and explains how his unique but simple approach reflects a paradigm shift towards “true healing”.

This is your second book for Singing Dragon – your first was essentially a self-help book, and this one is for practitioners, and has led away from the purely physical to the emotional plane. What was the impetus to make this transition?

The longer I work, the more convinced I am that the only dis-ease is the slowdown of energy. I’m more and more intrigued with the ‘why’ of that slowdown, and find that introducing the emotional aspect of bodymindcore into my physical work is producing good results. I want to challenge other practitioners to begin trusting both the presence of the emotional component of physical dysfunction and their own intuitive abilities to coax change in clients by honoring and inviting release of these old and often unaddressed emotional wounds.

You have drawn concepts from Indian and Chinese energetic medicine into the book. Could you say something about how you feel this adds to a practitioner’s understanding of their work?

I’m asking practitioners to make a paradigm shift from whatever their personal primary ‘healing’ tool or technique has been; to begin looking at a larger picture—a picture that includes the chakra system, the meridian system and the psychology of the body as well as the myofascial system. The commonality: all four systems represent a whole being, not just a stiff back, a sore hip or a frozen shoulder. I want to know what that shoulder is doing, and feeling, in relation to the meridians, the myofascial lines of stress, the neighboring chakras, and the emotions stored in the shoulder, and arm, and heart, and low back. I want practitioners to think outside their personal techniques box and begin to believe they can respect, understand, and chase energy movement through the bodymindcore, relying on a different set of old, established and proven tools given to us and used by other cultures successfully over the years.

You’ve also introduced a new and imaginative descriptive vocabulary in the book, words like “forwardupback” and “outlong” that make perfect sense when you say them. Can you say more about how you feel you are pushing the borders of language with this work as well as the borders of existing physical practice?

Pushing the borders? Well, maybe, and hopefully—that’s what a good practitioner does. All I really want to do is get therapists thinking that if clients participate, and learn to stretch in several directions at once while the therapist applies pressure (physical or emotional/psychological), energetic blocks are challenged and dissolved! My world has gotten so simple: If one can lift the head out of the heart, pull the groin out of the gut, and create space between all four of these major centers, energetic flow will increase and health will be enhanced. Health really can be as simple as remembering our elders telling us to ‘stand up straight’, and doing it! The more we can learn to think of creating space between disparate segments of the bodymindcore, the less energetic blocks can cause dis-ease and dis-order. The longer one thinks in this model, the more one is able to create their own movement cues that challenge longer, cleaner energy lines through the body.

As a practitioner, do you feel it is important to understand the techniques you practise from the point of view of your own body?

I spend a lot of time just living in and dialoguing with my body. I received a great compliment from my mentor Emmett Hutchins (lead tutor at the Guild For Structural Integration) recently. After reading Meet Your Body, he told me how impressed he was by my clear desire to self-reflect and learn as much as possible about bodies through my experience of my own body. This is tremendously important for a practitioner! Just as I don’t want to be treated by a deep tissue therapist who never allows others to touch him or her, I don’t want to be the therapist who tries techniques out on clients without first having some idea about how these techniques will serve, or inhibit, personal growth. I’ve got to serve as my own taster to see what’s healthy and what’s not.

What do you find is the most challenging aspect of your work?

Actually, currently time management is the biggest problem for me. It’s delightful to be wanted by others; it’s also important to learn to set realistic goals and boundaries of what I can and cannot accomplish. I’ve decided that time and money are commodities; I believe I have enough money, but I’m not sure how much time I have! I get busy and forget to take care of myself in my desire to help others. I can’t fill others from an empty cup.

In terms of bodywork, similarly, my greatest problem is trying to maintain the connections with clients in several states and countries, remembering where we are with each client’s healing process.

In terms of writing, I’m far too artistic! Any published book is merely what I thought at that particular time; several things in my new book, Freeing Emotions and Energy Through Myofascial Release, could probably have been explained more clearly, or have crystallized for me since I’ve written. The acquisition and understanding of knowledge is an ongoing thing. It’s hard to set anything in stone, when tomorrow a new piece may be revealed that sets on its ear everything I believed yesterday!

Having said that, I’m quite pleased with Freeing Emotions and Energy Through Myofascial Release which begins the dialog, gets practitioners thinking of energetic models, and creates more client accountability.

Do you feel this field is expanding into new areas, and if so, where do you think the interesting work is going to be done in the next few years?

Oh, my, yes! When I first read Ida Rolf’s book 28 years ago, and when I started doing bodywork 25 years ago, I was considered pretty ‘far out’. Today, Rolfing and bodywork have become mainstream. Most hospitals have added complementary and alternative medicine departments, because the public is demanding them.

There are those who try to quantify the work I suggest, and ask “What good is a massage or bodywork session if one can’t measure the results?” I’ve never been a fan of forcing results to be quantified, because my clients aren’t research subjects—they’re people! While there’s got to be some meeting of minds between science and spirit, I hope to give more practitioners of any discipline, permission to intuit how to best serve their clients, respecting science, but honoring intuition and common sense. I see this becoming more important to true healing, and where true healing is headed, regardless of technique.

My model is hopefully based on common sense. I encourage clients—and I see this change happening in various disciplines—to take charge of their own process and their own healing. I believe we’re coming to a juncture in our health care system where personal responsibility and gut level, honest self-reflection are the tools that will best allow us to find our way out of dis-ease, and back into the free flow of energy through the bodymindcore. I believe more practitioners are realizing this need for work to free the core of the person instead of trying to fix the external symptoms. It’s liberating even as it’s also harder work for the client. But I truly believe any common sense energy medicine model of the future will demand clients’ participation in their healing; not just their physical presence, but their emotional and energetic presence as well. It’s an exciting new world of healing we’re entering!

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2012.

Richard Bertschinger on the legend of King Arthur and Chinese internal alchemy

Recently, Richard Bertschinger stopped by the Singing Dragon offices in London to film a talk about his book, The Secret of Everlasting Life. On that occasion he alluded to some fascinating parallels between Chinese internal alchemy and the Arthuran legend. He kindly elaborates for us here.

Click to watch the video of Richard’s talk.

Well, this is all speculation, you know! It is only that I have always been struck by the evocative image – I think we all have – of the Lady of the Lake, holding up the sword Excalibur. This is the sword with which King Arthur won his final battle. In Somerset we have many lakes that could have been the source of this legend. The idea of gentleness holding up the ultimate symbol of power and justice, I think we all have to admit, is doubly evocative.

Remember too that at the end of Arthur’s life he casts the sword back into the waters. So we have the idea of the completion of a cycle. The power returns back to the mystic waters. This is well told by Tennyson in The Idylls of the King. So we have strength returning back to its source. And let’s remember that Arthur is also called ‘the once and future king’. I think this rigmarole came from T.H.White, but he took it from the reputed Latin inscription on Arthur’s grave at Glastonbury Abbey. In some way he is out of time; he is born – but also eternal.

Now these ideas are fundamentally Taoist! Water is the source of all life in both northern European and Chinese folklore traditions. The Tao-te Ching states: ‘the greatest good in people, is like water’ (Chapter 8). It is known that much primitive life needs to return to water to reproduce – and sexuality (is it not?) is all about fluids! Fluids are the basis of life (you might remember the mad Colonel in the film Dr. Strangelove and his obsession with fluids?) But never mind. It has to be said that, along with fire, water and gold are two of the most fundamental elements in the alchemical process. You have water in the lake – and gold, that which never tarnishes, is represented by the mystical sword. The Chinese character for gold – 金 jin –stands for all metals. Interestingly enough it also stands for ‘the precious’ (but don’t get me started on Gollum and the Lord of the Rings!).

Enough to say that there are parallels, out and about, throughout all the high romance of northern European folk-lore and Chinese mystical, internal alchemy, While we are on the subject, it is interesting, isn’t it, that we wear the Golden Ring as a wedding ring? The ring is the symbol of eternity, itself. You only have to consider the idea of the snake eating its own tail, or uroboros, which C.G. Jung identified as one of his archetypes, or symbols within the ‘collective unconscious’. So with the ring (or circle) and gold we have two symbols of the unchanging and eternal.

In Chinese internal alchemy the ‘gold is plucked out the water’ – just as ‘the wood is taken out the fire’. In both cases this means that Change is arrested. It’s dramatic. It is meant to be. In the Candong Qi (The Secret of Everlasting Life, Chapter 10) comes the phrase:

know the white, but guard the black,
the spiritual light comes of itself;
for the white is the fine gold,
but the black is the water taken as basis

Let’s unpack this a little bit. The phrase ‘know the white, but guard the black’ (which incidentally is from the Taoist scripture, the Tao-te Ching, Chapter 28) shows how although we understand the white, the brilliant, ‘the fine gold’, we seek its source in the black, the dark of the waters. Indeed the ‘spiritual light comes of itself’ – this refers to Taoist non-action, or wuwei. Spirituality is no big deal, we might say. So Arthur finds his ultimate strength – that which will enable him to rule supreme and conquer every foe – given to him by a mystic lady, during a walk in the woods. Guided, some say, by the magician-shaman Merlin. Under the dark and misty trees he comes across a vision of ultimate strength, born from the dark waters.

There is much more on this in the Chinese alchemical tradition. The sword is, of course, a sword of truth. It is no coincidence that our law-courts use the symbol of blindfolded justice holding a sword. In the Awakening to Reality poem (the Wuzhen Bian) the renown Zhang Boduan has the verse:

The Smelter Ou told to his friends
A Spell for casting a Sword
Named ‘Do No Evil’, in which
Gold and Water were evenly Matched!
Once finished, it knew
The will of the one who wore it –
Ten-thousand miles, it eradicated

Here we have a clear indication of the wondrous use of a single sword, which combats all evil. When gold and water are evenly matched the sword comes into being. Now follow this closely. This is because in the ‘cycling five’ (aka: The Five Element cycle) metal, or gold gives birth to water. (Just as incidentally ‘wood gives birth to fire’.) But in the alchemy we reverse natural process. This is extremely important. And so gold is born from water – ‘the mother hiding her little child’. This is explained in Chapter 10 of The Secret of Everlasting Life, entitled ‘Understanding the Double-Entranced Cave of Knowledge,’ which is basically all about how to find the pathway to inner knowledge. There is a wonderful line in this poem:

the uttermost real in man is fascinating,
as if there, as if not…
it feels like toppling into the great deeps,
now in the shallows, now in the depths…

This is, of course, the basic tenet of Chaos Theory, which says that it is on the boundaries of Chaos that the most interesting things (like the creation of life) happen. There is a most wonderful book to read on this by John Gribbin (Deep Simplicity).

In summary, the gold taken out of the water, the sword of truth brought up and given to King Arthur by the Lady of the Lake describes the internal alchemical process achievable by each one of us, each of us who commits to the spiritual path.

Zhang Boduan’s next stanza in Awakening to Reality states:

Tap with Bamboo, summon the Tortoise,
To swallow the Magic Jade Mushrooms;
Strum the Lute, summon the Phoenix
To eat off the Knife-point.
Soon through the whole body
A Light appears:
Not with everyone

Now the Chinese yoga and meditation of the internal alchemists get to work (‘tap with bamboo, summon the tortoise’ refers to The Book of Change or I Ching divination). As we proceed with our shamanistic ceremony (‘strum the lute, summon the phoenix’) – we uncover an Elixir which can be taken and eaten within, ‘off the point of a knife’. We only need the merest scrap of it! Then ‘soon through the whole body a Light appears’. This is the ultimate spiritual transformation.

The Chinese alchemists certainly knew a thing or two! Isn’t it interesting how a few threads of this wisdom found their way into northern European and Arthurian legend?

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

Video: Richard Bertschinger on Gia-fu Feng and The Secret of Everlasting Life

This month, Singing Dragon staff were treated to an afternoon talk with author Richard Bertschinger, author of the new book  The Secret of Everlasting Life: The First Translation of the Ancient Chinese Text on Immortality.

In these videos, Richard explains the origins of this second century text, the Can Dong Qi, and talks about the careful way in which he translated it from the Chinese over two decades. He also shares memories from his time with the influential Taoist sage and Master, Gia-fu Feng, and reads some passages from the book.

Part One

Part Two

The Secret of Everlasting Life: An Interview with Singing Dragon author Richard Bertschinger

Richard Bertschinger is a practising acupuncturist, teacher of Chinese healing arts, and translator of ancient Chinese texts.

Here he answers some questions about his new book, The Secret of Everlasting Life: The First Translation of the Ancient Chinese Text on Immortality.

How did you get interested in this work?

I’m now 62 and have been doing qigong some forty years. My interest goes back to when my teacher Giafu Feng (translator of the Tao-te Ching with Jane English) pointed out the early alchemical poems of China, and I soon found out that the Can Dong Qi, which I entitle The Secret of Everlasting Life was not only the oldest, but also the most revered, and the ‘grand-daddy’, as I call it, of them all. Also, it had never been translated, except as a chemical treatise – which was obviously getting hold of the wrong end of the stick!

What is special about these texts?

They have been enormously studied in China. I list 69 separate editions of the Can Dong Qi at the end of my translation. Not all of which I have consulted, I have to say! However during the 80’s I had the good fortune to study in Chengdu, Sichuan in China, with a very special qigong teacher. And I was fortunate to return to England with an excellent edition of this work, the requisite dictionaries and some sensitive instruction, all under my belt. I think I knew then it would take probably 30 years to complete

The obvious next step was to teach myself to read these texts. Nobody else had attempted a complete translation. And I had learnt from Gia-fu that the best way was to study the Chinese commentators on the work. (We had worked together on the I Ching, or Book of Changes, at that point). So I literally started page one, character one and went from there. At the same time I continued my acupuncture, tai-chi and qigong training – teaching as well. And I found this happy mix very conducive. I had voluminous notes (I can write very fast!) from China and my time with Gia-fu. And somehow the work got born.

I have to say that I wrote to Professor Joseph Needham about the work, and sent a sample – and was fortunate enough to get a letter back encouraging me to continue in my work. He especially like the fact that I had made the translation into English in short, poetic lines – thereby copying the Chinese text. I was most keen to be as faithful to the original as possible, you see.

What is the book’s message?

Well the book itself teaches a method of meditation which is well-known – and often, nowadays, termed ‘qigong.’ It makes much of the cultivation of stillness in body and mind. Reader, you probably have yourself felt those precious moments of quiet in your life, no? I think we all come across them. As if an angel crossed our path. Perhaps facing a beautiful sunset, a special moment with a friend, or the satisfaction of completing, in its own time, a piece of work. The genius of the Chinese sages was that they found a method, a technique akin to Indian Yoga, by which this experience could be cultivated, taught and developed. Of course, all this is now being verified by modern research, brain imaging and such like, and work on neuro-transmitters; the benefits of regular pratice of qigong are at last being recognised. Wei Boyang himself talks in these poems about “grasping onto the quiet and solitude, those rare times, so tranquil and still.” He lived the life of the scholar-hermit-alchemist so popular in the Taoist tradition. It is all to do with finding out what our common humanity is about. Very Chinese, you know.

So, what is the secret of everlasting life?

Well I suppose it is embracing this method, in its rawest aspect, coaxing internal physiological transformation, revelation and philosophical enlightenment. Yuyan (one of the Chinese commentators) describes it as a method of inner development which shows “all people their ability to reflect back their brightness to light up within (huiguang neizhao), so that their out-breath and in-breath then merge together into a state of utmost peace.” I think that about says it all! (Big Laugh!)

 Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.