The Paradox of Opening & Closing: A Pair of Qigong Meditation Practices

Becoming aware of the vibratory nature of our bodymind, and learning how to gather, store and circulate energy (qi, prana, life-force) skillfully, is central to any yoga or qigong practice. Yet how exactly do we accomplish this? To “gather” energy would seem to require a kind of “opening” to new sources of energy, yes? Yet to “store” energy implies the creation of a container, of boundaries: a kind of “closing” … And indeed it is (like most things in a healthy, vibrant yoga/qigong practice) a paradox! As support for exploring this paradox, here are a couple of qigong meditation practices: the first one drawn from the Taoist tradition of Internal Alchemy; the second from Osho’s lovely little book, Pharmacy of the Soul.

One of the foundations for the practice of Taoist Internal Alchemy (i.e. Qigong) is learning to access what Eric Yudelove (in his book, Taoist Yoga & Sexual Energy) has called “perineum power”: the energy/intelligence of the pelvic floor, the “base” upon which our entire torso rests. The first step in doing this is simply to let our awareness circulate more freely in the lower belly (the lower dantien), and to encourage an opening or widening of the skeletal and muscular structures of the pelvic floor. Can we actually feel the muscles that flow between our two sitting bones? Can we actually feel the muscles that connect the pubic bone with the coccyx (tailbone)? Each of these sets of muscles is a diaphragm ~ similar in structure to the more well-known “diaphragm” located at the lower edge of our ribcage. And in the same way that our thoracic (ribcage) diaphragm helps us to breathe more deeply, the diaphragms of the pelvic floor can help us to “breathe” energy: to draw life-force from the surrounding environment into the field of our bodymind. We can begin to activate this mechanism simply by imagining that we’re “breathing” through our sitting-bones (as though they were our “nostrils”) … Give it a try! (The next step is the “breathe” through your heels …)

So now that you’ve opened (with the energy of your awareness) the pelvic floor, and by “breathing” through the sitting bones have invited new energy into this area of your body, the next step is to seal or store that energy by “closing” what in Taoist practice are called the two “lower gates.” (Which is at least a rough equivalent to the Hindu yogic practice of applying Mulabhanda.) The basic technique for doing this is simply to imagine moving the sitting bones gently toward each other, narrowing the distance between them. Another way of working with this is to locate and gently contract the muscles that you would use to stop the flow of urination. So we’re creating a feeling of tone (like the head of a drum, drawn taut) across the field of the pelvic floor … and in this way creating a “container” for the energy that we gather in the low belly, a container which prevents this energy from “leaking” out of our body. (For a more detailed description of the practice of closing the two lower gates, and in particular how this practice is different for men and for women, please refer to Eric Yudelove’s book Taoist Yoga & Sexual Energy.)

A second practice that you can play with, in support of exploring the paradox of opening and closing, is a practice which Osho (Sri Rajneesh, one of the most interesting Spiritual Teachers of the past century) calls “The Wall & The Door.” To begin the practice, sit quietly in a room where you’re not likely to be disturbed, for the duration of the practice. Now look at one of the walls … and begin to imagine that you are yourself becoming a wall: feel the rigid, impenetrable quality of the wall, and allow those qualities to enter into the very cells of your body. Feel yourself becoming “wall-like” on all sides of your being: not letting anything in or out, hyper-vigilant, rigid, contracted. Maintain this state of being for ten minutes, or so.

Now, turn to face the door of the room. Let go of those qualities of “wall-ness,” and let yourself, instead, begin to adopt ~ into the very cells of your body ~ the qualities of a door. Feel within yourself the capacity to be open, fluid, completely relaxed about comings and goings … completely open to any and all phenomenon that appear within the field of your senses, the field of your experience as a human being. Be completely open. Maintain this state of being for twenty minutes, or so. Notice how you feel.

Osho recommends that we do this practice, daily (preferably right before going to sleep at night), for sixty days: familiarizing ourselves with this difference between being “closed” like a wall, and “open” like a door … to see if, little by little, we can become more & more comfortable remaining “open” to the experiences, to the flow of our lives. Also important (at the beginning stages of the practice, in particular) is to notice the choices we have along a whole spectrum (from 100% closed to 100% open) … and to become more & more adept at consciously choosing where we place ourselves, in a given situation, along this spectrum. To ask: what feels “safe” to me, and why? And to become more and more comfortable with this (and all!) paradox …

Elizabeth Reninger holds Masters degrees in Sociology & Chinese Medicine, is a published poet, and has been exploring Yoga ~ in its Taoist, Buddhist & Hindu varieties ~ for more than twenty years. Her teachers include Richard Freeman and Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. For more of her yoga-related essays, please visit her website: writingup.com/blog/elizabeth_reninger writingup.com/blog/elizabeth_reninger

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