I finished my 28-day retreat at Esalen Institute and wanted to share a peak experience with you. A peak experience to me is something that changes your life. My peak experience was practicing a new version of qigong. I have practiced qigong since Grace made it her last wish for me, but the version that I learned at Esalen from Teja Bell is much more straight forward and powerful than the version that I learned in Taiwan. The qigong version Teja teaches is known as Radiant Heart Qigong (RHQ) and it involves simple movements that synchronize well with each breath. I can now get energized with qigong in as little as 5 minutes! The best thing that qigong does for me is improve my posture and it gives me lots of energy.
Esalen is perched on the cliffs of Big Sur.
Teja teaches sitting or standing qigong, so basically anyone who can move their arms can do it. The best part is that it is very easy to do. Teja has made many qigong videos online and I suggest that you start with this one.
Teja does different versions of qigong each time and the one we did at Esalen was more active than the one in the video. Teja’s lesson at Esalen was part of the Loving Awareness Retreat Week with Jack Kornfield headlining. After lots of meditation, the group needed to get energized and Teja energized us in spades. My friend Linda told me about attending the day before and said that it was amazingly powerful.
I was intrigued and had an edible, so I was ready for some amazement. I walked across the Esalen campus to the Leonard Pavilion. As I approached the big white tent that is perched on a cliff over the ocean, I heard the seals barking in the distance and about a hundred people walking extremely slowly around the lawn. I felt like I was entering a world of slow motion as the meditating people took a step about every five seconds as they wandered in thought. I joined the people walking in slow motion and found it to be another interesting form of meditation.
That’s the Leonard Pavilion in the middle of the picture. This was taken at sunset on another night.
After about five minutes of that, the leaders rang a singing bowl to signify the start of Teja’s one-hour qigong session. The meditators slowly walked back into the tent and took seats.
Teja took the stage and had us sit on the front edge of our seats. I was surprised to see that he was Caucasian with a name like Teja. He has studied and practiced Buddhism and martial arts since the 1960s. He has a fifth degree black belt in Aikido and has studied with the Dali Lama. What stood out to me was his superb posture and calmness. He was wearing a robe and a cap and didn’t have the hair that you’ll see in the videos.
Teja had us exhale our breath and hold our hands over our stomach. Then with an inhale, we would move our hands up and out and then return them with each exhale. He has developed a series of patterned movements that synchronize the inhale with extension and the exhale with retraction. The simple movements had the effect of straightening my spine, tucking my tummy and broadening my shoulders. I felt like a changed person after just a few minutes.
We continued doing different poses in the seated position and then we did some poses where we folded our thumbs in and wrapped our four fingers over it to form a fist that would break your thumb if you hit something. This slightly clenched pose was released after a while and it felt really good. I felt energized and calm at the same time.
After about twenty minutes, Teja had us move all the chairs to the edge of the room and we did a series of standing poses. We could incorporate movement in our legs with the breath as well. With the edible in full effect, Teja had us visualize our bodies starting at our feet and working our way up the body. I closed my eyes and had visions like an Alex Gray painting. I could see bright nodes of my body against a darker background than you can see in this painting.
We continued doing poses for the next twenty minutes and my arms were getting pretty tired. Then, Teja had us arrange the chairs back to the way they were and we took our seats again. We did some sitting poses and more breath work until the hour was up. I had very peaceful feeling from the work and what really surprised me was how my posture was amazingly better. I’ve been kind of a slouch for most of my life and all of the sudden I was sitting up erect and comfortably. My spine was straight and my stomach was flat and my shoulders were back. I felt great mentally and physically!
I’ve had similar experiences doing yoga before, but my posture returned to slouching after a day. For whatever reason, qigong has helped me keep my good posture for a few weeks now. I’m a changed man!
Amy likes doing the five minute qigong sessions with me as well. We just stand facing each other and start breathing and moving. If I find myself slouching and with low energy, I do my qigong for 5 minutes and my back is straight and I have more energy.
There are over one hundred versions of qigong that are commonly practiced. You can read more about qigong here. The Falun Gong practice qigong.
Qi is energy or life force in Chinese. Qi can also be translated in English as chi or ch’i depending on the translation. Qi is not the same as Chi in Tai Chi where the Chi means source or beginning.
Gong is work or cultivation and can also be translated to kung or gung. Gong is the term used in Kung Fu as well. The Fu means merit or achievement. Kung Fu is thus working to achieve merit while Qi Gong is energy work or cultivating and balancing energy.
Another reason that I really feel good about doing qigong is that Grace’s last wish for me was to learn and practice qigong. Grace marveled at how young and energetic her friends who practiced qigong were. She wanted me to live a long and healthy life, so she had me join up for a qigong class that met over three weekends while she was in her final month. I was extremely stressed from Grace’s pending demise and I tried to follow the complex set of movements that were similar to Tai Chi, but I struggled to practice the complex motions. In contrast, I don’t have complex movements to remember with RHQ. All I have to do with RHQ is synchronize movements with my breath and I find it more powerful.
I know qigong might be weird and strange, but it’s very simple and powerful. I suggest you give it a try! Maybe you’ll love it too!
Happy trails to you,