Compassion Strengths

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Article 8

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Reconnecting with Your Body

"Brain, body, and mind are inextricably linked...Alterations in any one of these three will intimately affect the other two."

— Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., Traumatic Stress

The best way to read this chapter and get the most from it is to utilize the "Real-Player" media player so that you can view the short video provided that demonstrates the Qigong techniques described in this chapter. Being able to actually see the movements is a real benefit and is worth the time to download the video. If you have a real player installed click the button below to begin to load the video now. If you do not have a real player installed click here to get one installed free.

Short Video Demonstration of Qigong Techniques

The Mind-Body Connection

The consistent practice of regaining safety and control through physical relaxation and guided visualization are powerful tools for transformation. They are even more powerful when combined with natural breathing and physical motion. Combining movement and breath with visualization adds a new dimension that associates physical/emotional discharging and recharging with specific mental images to enliven and reconnect the living wisdom of your body with the images and perceptions of your mind.

Our bodies are an incredible source of information and intuition. Bob Klein Tai Chi Master, in his book "Movements of Magic" asks: "Don't you trust yourself? Don't you trust that you are a good human being who, if allowed to do whatever you wished, would do positive and loving things? What lies have you fallen for? Have they frightened you into believing there is a monster within you? It is not a monster. It's Body-Mind, your own true self. Body-Mind is the artist within you, the true creator and apprentice of Nature herself."

To illustrate the knowledge and wisdom of the body ask yourself honestly, how much time does your conscious awareness live fully in the here-now moment and how much of the time is it preoccupied with regretting the past and worrying about the future? Give that time a percentage. Compare that percentage with the 100% your body is living fully in the here-now moment. Of the two, which would you consider more knowledgeable and experienced?

One of the tragic results of traumatic stress is the nearly wholesale shutting down, shutting off, ignoring and/or numbing our bodies. Van der Kolk states: "Aware of their difficulties in controlling their emotions, traumatized people seem to spend their energies on avoiding distressing internal sensation, instead of attending to the demands of the environment."

After years of shutting down our bodies we have become disconnected from our own best source of information and intuition. To accurately read and adapt to the constantly changing conditions of our lives, we must be able to feel, intuit and rely upon our most powerful ally - our Body-Mind.


Qigong, pronounced Chi Gung, is an ancient Chinese energy management exercise that arose from the martial art tradition of Kung Fu. It has been practiced for centuries to increase health and vitality and develop mental/emotional balance, calmness and clarity. It is based upon the Chinese concept of "Chi" as being both a personal energy that circulates through the acupuncture meridians through the body as well as a universal energy that binds and connects all living things.

Bob Klein states: "As the energy from the earth fills you from below, there is a corresponding energy from above filling you downward. The quality of interaction between these two forces and the way in which your creativity plays with them within your body is the source of chi. Chi, therefore, is not something separate and independent within yourself, but a local interaction of universal energies. Your body is a prism or lens capable of using this energy which constitutes an advanced teaching of T'ai-chi-Ch'uan, 'Chi-Gung' - the teaching of Chi." P. 9.

I learned Qigong from a master in Singapore where I was studying martial arts after burning out as a crisis intervention therapist for a large HMO. The practice of Qigong was essential to restoring my mental and emotional health, energy and enthusiasm. I have developed a "short form" of Qigong that consists of four simple movements with corresponding visual and emotional imagery. This exercise can be done in less that two minutes virtually anywhere. It is especially effective when utilized at the moment of an emotional hijacking to re-create the energy/images that typically results in shutting down and numbing the body.

The Exercise

If you have loaded your real-player with the Qigong file from above you can follow the movements along with the text. There is a real advantage in being able to do so. You can re-play the video over and over without needing to re-load the player by pushing the replay button.

The practice of Qigong is to harmonize breath, energy and motion. All movements are done slowly, fluidly in coordination and harmony with your breath. It is useful to imagine your body as a vessel that can take in, intermix and discharge energy. Your breath is the key. Breath and energy can be visualized as one and the same. Each time you breathe in, you pull in and "charge" your body-mind with fresh energy. Each time you exhale you are letting go and discharging old energy, old thought and feeling patterns that are attached to that energy.

The Stance

"The earth is calling to you. It has something for you. This great creature upon which we live wishes to give you its energy to empower your life."

— Bob Klein, Movements of Magic

Begin by standing with your feet a little broader than shoulder width apart. Relax your knees, hips and chest and imagine yourself hanging from the ceiling by a string connected to the very top of your head. Rather than pushing away from the earth with your feet, imagine yourself hanging in such a way that your feet are just touching the ground. In this state, gravity is experienced not as a force pulling you down, but as an energy filling you up. There is no need to fight gravity, for it fills you with energy.

Allow yourself to stand comfortably and easily with your knees slightly bent, sensing the energy as it circulates through your body. Close your eyes, look and listen to your body from the inside. What do you see, hear and feel? How is your breathing? Is it restricted because your stomach is tight and tense and not breathing fully the way a young baby breathes? The more we restrict our breath, the more we cut ourselves off from our internal power.


Bob Klein states: "This power, developed through rooting is intimately tied to breath. Throughout spiritual literature the world over, breath is highly regarded as a key to personal development and internal power."

Breath really is the key to personal empowerment. It is the source of life and energy. The moment we stop breathing, our life is over. Try the following exercise:

  1. Stand with knees, hips and chest relaxed as though you were hanging by a string from your head. Feel the weight of your body on the bottoms of your feet. Relax the bottoms of your feet so that they do not grip the floor but merge with it.
  2. Experiment with relaxing each muscle of the body separately until you know which ones are truly needed to hold you up. Of those, what is the minimum amount of tension needed to hold you up?
  3. Begin to breathe slowly. The normal breathing rate during Qigong is two in-and-out breaths per minute. If this is uncomfortable for you, simply breathe as slowly as possible. Diaphramatic breathing is essential. This type of breathing uses the expansion and contraction of the belly rather than the chest. Expand your belly on the in-breath; contract it on the out-breath. Keep your upper chest and shoulders relaxed at all times.
  4. Imagine the breath as a white mist passing up through your feet and into your body on the in-breath and draining out your feet on the out-breath. Imagine valves on the bottoms of your feet which must be kept open (relaxed) to allow the free flow of breath.
  5. Do not hold the breath either at the bottom or the top. Maintain an even speed of breathing throughout, except at the end of each out-breath and in-breath. Just before these points, begin to slow down your breathing rate. On the out-breath, for example, gradually slow down just before you reach the end. When you begin to breathe in again, gradually speed up to the normal rate. At no point should you exceed the normal rate, which is very slow and smooth.

First Motion: Breath of Relief - Begin the video and follow along

  1. To begin this motion take the stance you just learned above. Bring up and extend your hands to about waist high and slightly turned in as though you were holding onto a large beach ball about two feet from your body. Your elbows are slightly bent and relaxed.
  2. Your hands - particularly your palms are also sensitive to energy even more so than the bottoms of your feet. In the same way, your hands can draw in energy as well as release energy. When you combine breath, energy and motion, you can actually get the sensation of your palms opening up to absorb and discharge energy. You may even notice a tingling or sense of pressure and warmth in your palms as you do the exercise.
  3. As you breathe in through your feet as you did in the above exercise, also imagine you are breathing in through your hands. As you begin your breath in, slowly, smoothly in a connected and coordinated motion bend your knees and pull in your hands as though you were contracting, pulling your breath into your body. Try to keep your spine as straight as possible. Visualize and feel fresh, re-vitalizing and invigorating energy enter your body-mind with the rhythm of your breath as it fills up your entire body.
  4. Imagine that this breath energy can penetrate every nerve, pore, muscle and organ in your body with it's life giving energy. As you bend your knees and elbows in coordination with your breath, visualize an interchange between the life giving energy of your breath/chi with all of the pain, deadness and darkness that we hold in our bodies. When you have breathed all the way in and are in a contracted position imagine that your breath has circulated all the way through your body and has "sucked out" all the "poison" that has been sitting dead in your body.
  5. Begin the exhale by slowly, smoothly standing up straight again as your hands extend out to holding the beach ball and you are releasing all of the tension, stress and pain that has been attached to your exhaling breath. Allow that breath/energy to discharge as you imagine a tremendous sense of relief, lightness and freedom.
  6. After you have practiced the individual motions for a while and are beginning to feel smooth and coordinated, begin to attach the beginning movement to the end of the finishing movement so that your body is freely and easily in continual motion with your breath. After some time, you may notice that as you exhale and are just in the process of inhaling, there is a moment of timelessness in which you are neither breathing in or out. The weight of your body is just beginning to shift from contraction to expansion. In this moment you are weightless and timeless.

Second Motion: Breath of Awareness

After you have practiced the first motion and have the timing and rhythm of your body coordinated with your breath and energy, you are ready for the second motion.

  1. Begin the second motion where the first one left off. With continual, fluid motion and consciousness, begin again to draw your hands in towards you as you bend your elbows and knees. Breathe in oxygen and energy deeply into your lungs and your center. Use your imagination to visualize energy being pulled into your center through your palms. As you continue to fill your lungs with a slow, deep breath, imagine this energy invigorating every cell in your body.
  2. As your hands are pulling in energy with your breath, your legs are also bending at the knees keeping your back straight lowering your center of gravity. As your knees bend and your breath, hands and energy are pulled in, feel the ball of energy that is now right in the center of your body/mind. As your knees bend and the ball of energy drops with your center of gravity it will hit bottom and gently bounce back up.
  3. As you gently bounce up, look upwards as though towards the heavens. Use your full powers of visualization to see and feel just above you your brightest, clearest experience of inspiration, creativity, and harmony; a field of pure positive and intelligent energy that immediately knows and gives what you currently need.
  4. Begin to reach up to touch this positive and intelligent energy. As you stand up allow both hands to reach in harmony as if they were being pulled by a force over your head, your back is arched your eyes pointed upwards. As you exhale standing completely straight with arms and hands outstretched, imagine you are emptying every tired or stressed thought, feeling and memory.
  5. When you have breathed out your last breath and are completely empty, reach into your reservoir of flow, creativity, and harmony. Feel the energy in your palms as it is absorbed into your being. Notice the intelligence, wisdom and compassion of this energy. As this energy begins to flow through you notice the sensation of feeling very comfortable, at ease, effortlessly in harmony.

Third Motion: Breath of Acceptance 

  1. Begin the third motion where the second one left off. The more real and clear the visualization, the more energy breathed into the emotion, the more beneficial the exercise. Each time you are able to clearly and vividly associate images, emotions and sensations of safety, connectedness and inner security to these naturally energizing motions, you anchor the experience into your body, mind and emotions simultaneously. Each time you anchor these images, emotions and sensations you are more likely to act upon these new patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.
  2. As you breathe in your brightest, clearest experience of inspiration, creativity, and harmony, pull your hands, breath and energy in towards your center. As you contract, allow your energy and physical body to be pulled in, weightless and effortlessly toward your center. See and feel your brightest, clearest experience of flow and creativity collect in a ball of energy in the center of your being.
  3. From your center allow your right and left hand to cross in front of you as though they were crossing swords and your arms are in the shape of an X, just as you are ready to exhale. As you exhale and standing straight gently push your hands, uncrossing your arms as though your were pushing out to the future with your right hand and to the past with your left hand forming a time line in front of you.
  4. As you push your right hand toward the future and your left hand towards the past, intensely feel and vividly imagine your brightest, clearest experience of intuition and insight expand from the ball of energy in your center and flow out your palms re-structuring the memories of your past and forming expectations of your future.
  5. As you begin to straighten your body to “push” your energy through your arms and hands, coordinate your breath to exhale as you push your energy. Breathe fully, deeply and slowly. Your oxygen is the carrier of energy, allow it to circulate and flow freely through your entire body bringing life and vitality.
  6. Allow your hands and arms to flow out with the expansion of breath and energy knowing your are physically, mentally and emotionally nourishing and revitalizing your sense of self-esteem as you are, in the way you remember yourself and the way in which you are becoming.

Fourth Motion: Breath of Transformation

  1. Begin the fourth motion where the third one ended. Continue to flow with your breath, energy and motion. In practice all movements are continuous and fluid. There is no real beginning or ending. Regardless of the pace, force or intensity of the energy, the movements are continually flowing like water from one container to the next.
  2. Because your mind is not limited, you can imagine the energy and focus of inspiration, creativity, and harmony - to be anything or anywhere or any time you wish. By anchoring your mental/emotional experience to a physical sensation of energy, you are literally empowering your experience with physical, emotional and mental energy.
  3. As you begin to contract your breath and energy in with your hands, elbows and knees, experience the amplification of the energy as it flowed out your palms to the edge of your imagination and has bounced back in towards you with greater weight and momentum. This energy has been growing in weight and momentum each time it has been pushed out and reclaimed to it’s center. Now, during this last movement, it is at its maximum power.
  4. Pull your hands into the center of your chest as though they were around a large beach ball of energy that you are holding. Feel the energy of flow, absorption, concentration, creativity, congruency and harmony within this ball of energy as you draw a large circle with both hands out up and over your head as though your were pouring this energy over the top of you allowing it to flow over, in and around your very being.
  5. As your hands flow down over the top of your head to your waist, straighten your elbows and knees coming to a standing position with your legs bent, back straight, arms at your side as though you were being suspended from a string at the top of your head. As you come to a standing position, your breath flows out leaving you with the physical, emotional and mental experience of congruency and harmony.

Practice as Play

My goal in life is to unite my avocation with my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
For only where love and need are one
An work is play for mortal stakes
Is the deed ever really done
For heaven's and for future's sake.

— Robert Frost

As with any new skill (at least for adults), there is an unnatural resistance to taking the time and energy to learn something new. This resistance is unnatural because as children, it was natural to learn new skills through play. As we have gotten older (and less wise), we have convinced ourselves that we don't have time for play.

The Qigong form described above is a form of play for your body-mind. With just a little practice the movements become easy and automatic. As this begins to happen you will find that your mind is released to fully join in and participate with the flow of energy you will soon experience revitalizing your sense of aliveness.

With continued practice you will begin to notice the muscles in your legs, back and arms begin to feel stronger and firmer. Your spine will come more into alignment which will begin to release energy you did not know you had. Soon you will begin to experience tremendous relief as you discharge old stagnant energy and begin to re-charge with fresh, vital energy.

Over time, as you continue your practice you will notice some of the same, fresh, vital energy that you experience during your practice transfer over to your work day. Each time you complete the form, you have metabolized a little Energy in MOTION into the emotional fabric of your sense of self resulting in greater stability and inner safety and security.

As your practice turns to play for the simple enjoyment of the experience, your attitudes and perceptions of self and others will also transform. Things that were previously considered "life and death" issues may not take on the same kind of impending importance. You may find yourself more able to "roll with the punches" and dance through your day. You may find those people who you previously thought of as opponents may simple turn into dance partners. 

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