Lesson Six of Nine Lessons on Daoist Meditation: Dissolving and Clearing Blockages.
In the last lesson we learned that the Qi/Breath does not flow easily through tight, tense muscles and joints. Similarly in Lesson Three: Counting the Breaths, we saw how thoughts and emotions can interfere with the harmonious movement of the Qi/Breath, causing it to move erratically, to dissipate, or even block.
Lesson Six builds on the previous one, by working more directly with dissolving and clearing blockages that interfere with the movement of the Qi/Breath.
What is a Blockage?
A blockage is a place where the Qi/Breath does not flow smoothly, where it is interrupted or obstructed. The obstruction is rarely total. The Qi/Breath will come up against an obstructed area and attempt to flow around it, just as a river flows around a rock or a log in its path. However, this diversion can mean that Qi/Breath does not circulate smoothly in the area behind the blockage. Similarly the Qi/Breath may trickle rather than flow through a blocked area. In both instances, this retards or drags on the smooth uninterrupted flow of Qi/Breath. This can create a kind of “dead zone” that always feels “not quite right.”
How do we know something is blocked? Pain is one indicator. The following saying from traditional Chinese medicine sums up this idea succinctly:
不通這痛 Bu tong ze tong No free-flow, there is pain
痛則不通 Tong ze bu tong Pain, there is no free-flow
If the Qi/Breath blocks there is pain. There is no pain when the Qi/Breath flows freely. Areas that are tight and painful are blocked. The pain may not be intense, it may be mild or almost unnoticeable. This blockage may be experienced not so much as “pain” but as tension. Tension may be physical – tight, jumpy muscles, or internal – an emotional tension or tightness.
What Causes the Qi/Breath to Block?
1. Physical Injury
Physical injury or trauma can damage tissues and structures, leading to reduced penetration of the Qi/Breath into the injured area(s).
2. Muscular Tension
Tight muscles, and imbalanced neuro-muscular patterns which create tension, can lead to the formation of “dead” zones where Qi/Breath does not penetrate easily. In these cases, Qi/Breath trickles through these areas, or flows around the damaged and tight structures, rather than flowing smoothly through them.
3. Sentiments and Emotions
Earlier in Lesson Four, we became acquainted with the Five Powers and their expression in our earthly existence. This model helps to understand the effect of our sentiments and emotions on the body. The emotions are considered to be the internal cause of disease in Chinese medicine, yet emotions themselves are not negative. Sentiments and emotions are part of what make us human, able to recognize and celebrate the numinous dimension of our life on earth. The five sentiments are:
Vigor (nu) associated with the wood organ, liver; ecstasy (xi), associated with the fire organ, heart; contemplation (si), associated with the earth organ, spleen; nostalgia (bei), associated with the metal organ, lung; and awe (kong), associated with the water organ, kidney. They are part of the physiological movement of the human heart, since ‘vigor causes the qi to rise, ecstasy causes the qi to open up, nostalgia causes the qi dissipate, awe causes the qi to descend,…and contemplation causes the qi to congeal.
In Lesson Three we learned that every movement of the mind is a movement of the Qi/Breath. By fixating on certain thoughts and emotions rather than experiencing them and letting them move through us in an appropriate and seamless way, the Qi can become imbalanced. When the five sentiments are indulged to excess, pathologies can develop. In this case, vigor turns into anger, ecstasy into hysteria, contemplation into worry, nostalgia into grief, and awe into fear. These pathologies of emotion can create blockages, places where the Qi/Breath becomes stuck or compressed, or moves against its natural flow.
- Frustration can create a compression or withdrawal of the Qi/Breath.
- Anxiety, preoccupation and worry affect both the heart and the spleen, leading to a kind of internal emptiness that does not engage fully with the movement of the Qi/Breath.
- Sadness, grief and melancholy, as in holding onto something bad that occurred, prevent the normal movement, change and transformation of the Qi/Breath, causing it to stagnate and become empty or hollow.
- Joy and elation loosen and spread the Qi/Breath. However, too much loosening can upset the rhythm of the movement of the Qi/Breath, overexciting it to a kind of hysterical pitch and ultimately weakening its movement.
- Anger rises upward going against the normal smooth movement of the Qi/Breath, creating a kind of counter-current. This counter-current disrupts the flow and transformation of the Qi/Breath creating tension and obstruction.
- Fear creates a downward counter-current, an internal sinking of the Qi/Breath that can ultimately drain the body’s vitality.
- Over-thinking, or too much reflection, can disconnect us from the movement and change inherent in life, creating an internal agitation of the Qi/Breath.
Negative thinking is a subcategory of the emotions that can slow down or interrupt the smooth, harmonious movement of the Qi/Breath. Statements like: I can’t do it; I won’t succeed; I am not making progress; It’s a waste of time; all put a drag on the flow of the Qi/Breath and can lead to a kind of internal stasis.
Dissolving and Clearing Blockages
In Lesson Five we learned how to slacken (Song) areas of tension. This is the starting point for clearing obstructions and dissolving blockages of the Qi/Breath. Becoming aware that an area is blocked or tight is the first step. By standing in the Wu Ji posture, observing and breathing, one becomes aware of these areas bit by bit. By bringing your awareness and attention to an area that is blocked, you bring the Qi/Breath to that area. As the mind-intention and the Qi/Breath gather there, it is possible to slowly disperse, melt, and dissolve the blockage. It does not happen all at once, but little by little over time. Attempting to use the mind-intention to force its way through will only make the blockage more resistant. It can be dissolved by gentle awareness that slowly dissolves the blockage, like water wearing away a rock.
In the martial arts, mind-intention is often likened to a military banner:
Intention like a waving flag,
Also like a lighted lamp.
In ancient times, troops were trained to change battle formations and to advance and to retreat, all guided by waving command flags. At night troop movements were guided by lighted lamps. Similarly the Qi/Breath is guided by the intention. In dissolving blockages the intention and awareness should be applied gently, carefully and precisely. As in guiding troops, the attention and awareness should never be applied forcefully and bluntly, or casually or carelessly.
 All Disease Comes From the Heart: The Pivotal Role of the Emotions in Classical Chinese Medicine, by Heiner Fruehauf. www.classicalchinesemedicine.org/wp-content/…/emotions_Fruehauf.pdf, p. 6.
 The Seven Emotions: Psychology and Health in Ancient China, by Claude Larre and Elisabeth de la Valle. Cambridge UK: Monkey Press, 1996, p. 113.
 Ba Gua Zhang by Jiang Rong-jiao, Translated by Huang Guo-Qi and Edited by Tom Bisio.
All material © 2012. Excerpted from the upcoming book, Decoding the Dao, Nine Lessons on Daoist Meditation, by Tom Bisio. All rights reserved.