In the last twenty-five years an intense interest in the healing power of words has emerged and many of these have entered the mainstream of behavioral health treatments. Some examples of practices that use words for healing include mindfulness, chanting, affirmations, neurolingistic programming (NLP) techniques, and guided imagery. A new arena of exploration lies in examining how the effectiveness of these primarily mental activities can be enhanced by combining them with body-based practices and movement. Tai Chi, a bodymind practice which originated in China, is a natural for such a partnership. An example of this kind of integrative alliance can be seen in the groundbreaking work of Michael Mayer, PhD, who developed methodology which he calls “Body Mind Healing Psychotherapy (Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy, Ancient Pathways to Modern Health, 2007) in which he combines in healing tools from psychotherapy with Qigong practices. In this book, Mayer presents case studies and describes treatment protocols which use a combination of Tai Chi and Qigong and psychotherapy techniques for resolving symptoms pertaining to a broad range of conditions including anxiety, panic, depression, and trauma as well as addictions, hypertension, and pain relief.
In this same spirit of combining “mind-oriented” modalities with “body-based” traditional Tai Chi and Qigong practices, the focus of this article is to introduce you to Tai Chi as healing art; describe how chanting/toning/primal sound, affirmations, NLP, and guided imagery are being used for healing; and introduce four “Tai Chi with Healing Words” integrative exercises you can do on your own. Each exercise is appropriate for any fitness level and does not require a prior knowledge of Tai Chi. In each case I will give the rationale for the exercise along with a description of a simple “mini-practice” you can try yourself. The beauty of these and other integrative practices is that they work on many levels at the same time. Just as surely as walking on a treadmill while watching TV splits the body and the mind, doing Tai Chi with Healing Words exercises brings about a state of teamwork between the body and mind. Every physical health problem has an emotional and psychological component, and vice versa. Just as the corpus collosum facilitates communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, these exercises create a common healing pathway for body and mind together to dissolve old patterns, lay the groundwork for new patterns, embody healthy change, and solidify relatedness to self, others, and the larger world.
TAI CHI AS A HEALING ART
Although Tai Chi is often thought of primarily as a martial art, its ancient roots lie in the healing arts. Often referred to as “moving meditation”, the Harvard Medical Health Publication (May 2009) says that Tai Chi may more accurately be called “moving medication” due to the long list of conditions which can improve with regular Tai Chi practice: bone density, balance, immune function, cardiovascular problems, hypertension, and respiratory conditions, to name a few. Qigong (sometimes spelled chi kung), which is the primary ancestor of Tai Chi, essentially functioned as the health care system of the people over 5,000 years ago. The practice of Qigong, unlike our current healthcare system, was less a system of compartmentalized treatments consisting of providers and patients, but more like a language through which a person learned to communicate with the elements and energies of nature both within and without in an interactive and mutual way. Everyone was a healer by simple fact of being able to connect with a universal healing system preprogrammed into a vital universe, each part of which was recognized as being alive and intelligent.
A little known fact about Tai Chi is its long association with the healing applications of sound and words. One of the earliest recorded practices of Tai Chi was the use of what was called the six healing sounds. Many masters taught that one could learn everything necessary to know by sincere dedication to the daily practice of these healing sounds. The healing sounds-- which consisted mostly of subvocal consonant and vowel combinations such as sssss, chuu, shhhh, haaa, hooo, and heee—are vibrational tones designed to resonate with the organ systems and meridian flow channels within the body. Each organ and meridian houses an intelligence, a concrete connection with the infinite source which is continually creating the visible world. To use modern terminology, the voice in our head--the constant mind chatter going on within each one of us--comes from the organs and meridians themselves, each of which has a personality which is both archetypal yet personal and unique. These personalities can express themselves both reactively (e.g. emotional states such as sadness, fear, anger, self-criticism, and anxiety) and virtuously (e.g. strength, wisdom, kindness, love and acceptance, and trust).
HEALING PRACTICES USING SOUND AND WORDS
CHANTING / TONING / NONVERBAL VIBRATION
Using sound to dissolve old patterns and generate a harmonious healing state
Maybe you never thought about it, but when you are cheering for your favorite sports team, you are chanting. Whether it is protesters in an anti-war demonstration, marines marching in cadence or monks in a monastery, chanting rituals have been part of cultures around the world. Now modern medical researchers are finding that even the simplest forms of chanting are good for your health. Chanting triggers the relaxation response, slows heartbeat, brain waves, and respiration, stimulates the production of endorphins, and even lowers blood pressure. Several studies from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation have demonstrated that 12 minutes a day of chanting 4 tones (not words) accompanied by specified movements of the fingers improved memory and brain function in patients with mild cognitive impairment after an 8 week period of time. Dr. Valerie Hunt, Professor Emeritus from UCLA, demonstrated that individuals with long term paralysis were able to initiate voluntary movements after using Continuum sound practices, Continuum being a system of using different sounds, tones and vibrations to activate the fluid system of the body (founded by Emile Conrad).
Using words that are precise, succinct, and specific to allow the conscious mind to set a positive direction for the unconscious mind to follow
Affirmations have been called a beginners tool to reprogram the subconscious mind. Like it or not, everyone practices affirmations every day. Whatever we say repeatedly, our subconscious mind receives as truth and acts accordingly. Affirmations are based on the Cognitive Behavioral principle that when our thoughts are more positive than negative, our feelings change, and when our feelings change, our behavior follows. Another way to look at affirmations is that they are a “sound/vibrational” version of creative visualization. The affirmative statements stimulate the formation of mental images in the mind which express and make personal the positive goals and aims we have for ourselves. The conscious mind initiates this process, and then passes the ball to the unconscious mind. The individual using affirmations takes an active directive stance toward an issue or problem.
Using words that are global universals and non-specific to access the unconscious mind and embody a desired internal state:
In Neuro-Linguistic Programming we can gain access to the broadest spectrum of the issue at hand by using artfully vague universals to access the unconscious mind. The conscious mind always has an agenda. By using open ended non-specific language and a relaxed internal state, individuals can gain access to their unique full sensory experience of an issue, rather than what they think their response should be. When combined with appropriate movement, the individual can take both an open, receptive stance (yin) to the issue or problem, and an active solution-focused (yang) approach.
Using words in the form of imagery in combination with deep breathing and relaxed but focused attention to connect with positive aspects of self, others, and the larger world
Good guided imagery functions as a form of meditation. Words become like icons, tangible, audible pointers to a hidden, intangible, but greater reality. Guided imagery uses vivid sensory words and kinesthetic imagery in order to access the neural networks in the brain that store emotional and somatic memory. The amygdala is a part of the brain that scans incoming data for emotional impact and plays a key role in facilitating communication between the body and the mind. As pointed out by Candace Pert in her seminal article, Wisdom of the Receptors: Neuropeptides, the Emotions, and BodyMind,(Advances: 1986: 3(3): 8-16) neuropeptides are the “information packets” that enable this communication, and the amygdala, along with the hypothalamus, are rich in neuropeptide receptors. Guided imagery is highly effective at reframing and re-offering experiences, stressors, and beliefs to the amygdala “to create positive physical and emotional changes in the whole mind-body system” (Belleruth Naperstek, Staying Well with Guided Imagery, 1994).
Enough said. Reading about healing can be interesting, but it is the experience of healing that moves us in the direction we want to go. Let’s begin!
TAI CHI WITH HEALING WORDS EXERCISES
Getting ready: Silence
Turn off the TV, radio, and mp3 player. Put aside books, magazines, and cell phone. Sit or stand for 5 minutes. Observe your inner world. Notice without judgment the thoughts, images, and body sensations that come into your sphere of awareness. Settle your attention on the particular need for healing that brought you to try this practice. Choose one or more of the practices below.
Tai Chi with Chanting: Opening the water channel of the Microcosmic Orbit
Removing blocks and circulating chi through the microcosmic orbit is a classic Tai Chi practice. The microcosmic orbit is a pathway which consists of the fire channel which moves up the spine and the water channel which descends through the central front midline of the body. The two channels meet at the roof of the mouth, with the tongue as the connector. Like the head of a serpent, the tip of the tongue is considered to be the top of the water channel that runs through the midline of the body. The following practice, which is inspired by Continuum, opens the water channel of the orbit.
• Practice #1:
Tai chi with Affirmations: Invoking the wisdom of the Heart and Small Intestine meridians
In Tai Chi, each of the 12 major meridian channels which flow through the body has its own unique voice, an intelligence, that when the channel is open brings a particular positive and wise perspective to the internal awareness of the individual. Classically, qigong (movement) and neigong (mind focus) are used to clear blockages from the channel and open the chi flow that allows access to the wisdom and the internal power of the meridian. The exercise below opens the Heart and Small Intestine meridian channels.
• Practice #2
Tai Chi with Neurolinguistic Programming: Spontaneous Tai Chi movement from the core
While there are literally thousands of Tai Chi forms today, originally all Tai Chi was spontaneous, a responding from the internal core of the body to embrace and become one with an element of nature or an animal. Spontaneous Tai Chi is still practiced today in much the same way. To initiate spontaneous Tai Chi, first choose an energy to merge with, focus on the internal felt sense of that energy, and using this felt sense as a guide, allow the body to be shaped by that energy into a posture or movement. The posture and/or movement then becomes a vehicle of connection with the desired energy.
• Practice #3
Tai Chi with Guided Imagery: Standing like a Tree meditation with focus on the fire element
Typical to the Tai Chi way of thinking, if one wants to become more powerful, one must become more still. Standing meditation is considered to be the quickest and most effective way to cultivate and grow one’s own internal energy. The classical name for this practice is called Tree Standing, and it utilizes the imagery of the tree to guide the practice. Like the tree, the practitioner extends his or her roots deep beneath the ground towards the earth’s core and reaches upward through the crown and upper body imbibing the life-giving energy of the sun. As the standing progresses, just as trees gather life-giving energy from the earth and sky, the practitioner gathers the nourishing energies of the five elements of nature to strengthen and energize.
RETURNING TO YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE: Gratitude