Three years ago I set out on an eight-state odyssey to touch hands and pick the brains of gifted teachers of the internal martial arts, friends from social media I’ve characterized as New Dharma Bums. Meeting them and writing about my experiences was a prime objective, and deepening my understanding of taiji, qigong and Taoist philosophy was a driving ambition. Also, an underlying motive: I am imagining a literary journey across modern-day America guided by this distinctive Eastern perspective on life, the universe and everything – Dharma in real time.
The novel I’m writing, inspired by my journey through this blog, is being crafted slowly but surely, close to 300 pages as it nears a denouement. As the inveterate editor, I’m looking forward to the fun of rewriting, and rewriting some more. I admit I’m in no rush, even as I sometimes feel anxiety about not getting feedback from editors and other readers, including the readers of this blog. I offer this blog as a prelude to that bigger story, and as an assurance that the journey continues.
When I last wrote about my journey, I was concerned about creating a Taiji Body, to better sink qi to the dantien, enervate internal energy and channel this power for self-defense and healing. And more recently, I wrote about new training techniques to open joints and release this energy through specific applications. I start every day with exercises I’ve learned to enhance this internal power, even as I realize I’m missing the sensitivity training I need with push-hand partners. At some point, I will remedy this weakness in my training, but it’s not my main intent.
Mine is a literary adventure, after all, so I’m focused on learning new aspects of the Chinese internal arts, to provide background for my story and expertise for the characters. I’ve also used the opportunity to discover new treatments for my own feeble version of the Taiji Body. In the process, I’ve deepened my appreciation for the power of qi, an energy force that cannot be measured empirically and yet underpins the internal power of taiji and qigong, and is a principal construct of Chinese philosophy – essentially the force that makes up and binds everything in the universe.
We’ve considered the taiji master who sinks and mobilizes qi to generate internal power and defend against attacks. And the qigong master who uses qi, as breath, to connect the mind and body to the rhythm of the universe, for health and meditation. There is also the fengshui master who advises how to organize the home or office based on how qi is activated, to give you the most power in your environment. And the master of Chinese medicine who uses acupressure points to transmit and unblock qi in the body, to heal.
During the course of my investigation, I’ve consulted doctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) who use acupuncture and acupressure techniques to heal, and even a “qi healer” who has been “attuned” to use her hands to diagnose and cure blockages. Most recently, I’ve been treated by a licensed acupuncturist who also is an internal martial arts enthusiast and social media friend who shares many interests.
Matt Stampe, LAc, began his journey to learn Chinese internal martial arts and medicine more than 30 years ago in Virginia Beach, one of my old stomping grounds. He was soon teaching Yang-style taiji, and learning meditation and massage therapy in Richmond in northern Virginia, while also gaining skills and employment in information technology. He combines all these interests in administering the Taijiquan ‘One Family’ Mission group on Facebook and conducting online training.
Matt is featured in the first part of a Chinese You Tube video, “Traditional Chinese Doctors in America” by Bingru Sees America. The video opens with him practicing taiji and discussing his various medical practices before he and the host visit another American practitioner of Chinese medicine in Maryland, who conducts his interview in Chinese Mandarin:
My acupuncture session with Matt began with an interview and a diagnosis focused on different pulses along my wrist, the texture of my tongue and color of my skin. I was seeking to relieve discomfort from peripheral neuropathy in my left leg, a challenge to my own taiji practice. Matt used needles in my back, the top of my head, and along my left side from the hip to the foot, while also playing recorded music composed for metal, one of the five basic elements in Chinese philosophy – wood, fire, earth, metal and water. This metal music, soothing to my mind, was unlike any “heavy metal” I’ve been exposed to over the years.
As part of the treatment, Matt also gently manipulated the needles and sought to generate his own healing qi, extending his hands along a path above my leg and foot. All the while, he urged me to relax, to use my mind to salve any pain or discomfort. I attribute his comforting table-side manner for some of the relief I’ve felt since, as I’ve continued to work on relaxing the leg with my own daily taiji and qigong exercises.
Besides treating what some medical professionals say is a symptom of age, giving me hope for a revival of my youth, Matt also revealed how his youthful adventurism – skateboarding and rock climbing – led to his fascination with the Chinese internal medical and martial arts. When he sought out Dr. Amy Tseng in Richmond to treat a broken wrist, the acupuncture treatment led to a broader, holistic approach that is the hallmark of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Besides treating him with acupuncture, Dr. Amy, as he affectionately calls her, advised him to incorporate meditation into his life, and to completely change his diet.
“Dr. Amy says you have to be able to heal the mind and emotions to be a good doctor,” Matt says. “To be a great doctor, you have to be a psychologist and a nutritionist.”
I was especially interested in the nutritional advice, since I had recently begun a diet of balanced superfoods, mostly vegetables and probiotic dairy, limiting sugar and sodium, and eliminating alcohol and coffee. I had lost 30 pounds and begun to experiment with different combinations in cooking that would make food more interesting while stabilizing my weight. Matt offered a few pointers based on “the essential energy nature of various foods,” under Dr. Amy’s system:
• Do not eat anything cold or hot. This includes not only raw vegetables, but also foods with cold and hot properties. Foods deemed too cold include bananas, watermelon, celery, cauliflower, asparagus, pineapple, Brussel sprouts and tofu. Foods deemed too hot include nuts, mangos, avocados, chocolate, raw onion, coffee, lamb and duck, as well as grilled food and deep fried food.
• Instead, eat foods that are cooked just right, cool or warm, including tea, pears, peppermint, green apple, snow peas, rice, cheese, mushrooms, fish, broccoli, eggs, yams, ginger, oranges, milk, garlic, spinach, rice, pork, chicken, green beans, kidney beans, bread and carrots.
The list of foods under what I would call Dr. Amy’s “Goldilocks rule” is not exactly the recipe I’ve followed to lose weight and increase energy, but there are similarities and anomalies that now inform my choices when I prepare a meal. The key, in any case, is to avoid eating raw or processed food, but rather to cook fresh produce and meats with herbs and seasoning that enhance both the flavor and the energy nature. The warming diet: cooking style is steamed, simmered, soups and stews.
I’m grateful to Matt for the acupuncture treatment and the dietary advice, and also for sharing several interesting books about Chinese medical and martial arts, including The Tao of Yichuan, about practicing meditative martial arts, and a 1949 translation of The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (Nei Ching). They are now part of my expanding world of qi.
Stay tuned for more..