Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Interview with Kim Ivy on Tai Chi and the Recession

At the beginning of 2009, shortly after the economy was widely recognized as recession, there was a lot of consternation, though some people, myself included, looked for the positive side of the recession. I wrote Silver Lining on the Dark Cloud of the Recession and Optimism in the Great Disruption to address this. Much of this, though, was after I interviewed my Taijiquan and Qigong teacher Kim Ivy from Embrace the Moon. Kim is a hugely positive force for internal and external change, a community builder, and an exuberant and welcoming teacher.

Here are the results of that interview in her words (if you can forgive this blogger taking some minor presence in flawed note-taking and minor editing):

How is Embrace the Moon doing in this recession?

I heard Ross Reynolds make the statement "If you see a business doing well, I want to hear about it." Sitting at the dojo, I said to myself "I'll be darned, I see no decrease, in fact, I see an increase." Indeed I had been thinking that when people lose disposable income, Tai Chi & Qigong would be among the first of things to go but that has not been the case

Why do you think you are seeing an increase?

I feel there is a very pragmatic and palpable shift in people's intention for themselves during this recession period. Sure there's a lot of fear, yet the people I see are not investing in fear but recognizing that there is a different choice. The choice to go inward is a choice to take back personal power, it is a conscious intention to get off the roller coaster and to experience a better way to live, a more positive life affirming way. And there is the very important aspect of connecting not with their own self but also with a community of people also focusing on positive and life-affirming practices. It is a tremendous source of power.

I think people used to feel Tai Chi and Qigong were out of reach for them somehow. Perhaps they were culturally odd, they were too esoteric, pretty but unapproachable – or sort of like the whipped cream on the mocha. But now, I definitely see that people feel that these are deeply practical approaches to not only integrating the body with the mind but also the body the mind with mindful living. These are tools for slowing down, taking a moment, not getting so wrapped up in the tornados and hurricanes of our culture. These are tools for health, happiness and they are not only approachable but essential. At this point in our cultural evolution we all recognize that a meditative mindful approach is really a way through, a way through the chaos.

What I feel I'm really seeing is a large shift of consciousness. The idea of a paradigm shift has been floating around, but now I see it manifesting in people's beings. It shows in their practices of looking at life not just through the lens of achievement. They are looking at life as a path of insight. This is the larger perspective that is emerging. People have run into the end game of a path of achievement. We're seeing, on a larger social perspective, a recession, a suffering. But on an internal level we are turning our attention more intentionally: looking for insight, looking for pathways, practices, communities, that embody that essence.

When people come in to class, sometimes they are stressed or worried but when they leave they are happy. For me, it's really incredible to be a part of that transformation. Somebody last night who came in, he was very serious, "I came in depressed, and I changed, I'm not leaving that way." To change like this over the course of one hour is really powerful. When we focus on the world and our place in it in a negative way, we're really opening up a drain that's inside of us. Energy, life force, motivation, hope, they all just drain out of us. But when we embody ourselves and feel our own potential we close the drain and fill ourselves up with possibility..

Taijiquan and Qigong practice is not bout learning a form, per se. For me what I see is through them we experience tools, environments, and community that give us access into our own insight. When we have access into our own insight, we naturally get out of ourselves, connect to an experience of giving to joy. I feel there is a relationship to doing practices where we can feel embodied. It is a gift and gives us to joy. So, this path of insight is really the path of joy. To tap into that changes everything

What we're seeing right now I feel is the death of an old way, and right next that we're also seeing the rise of new possibilities. It's the Chinese way: Danger/Opportunity

So, you think that this change was inevitable?

I think it, and this is just my own personal viewpoint, was bound to happen. What's happening in the world right now is the natural flow of things. The yin and yang, the current flow of the world was bound to happen. . The world has been yang. The change to the yin was inevitable. Kind of like putting the breaks on in the car, you can slam the breaks on or push them down slowly depending on how fast you have been going and what the circumstances demand of you. It’s a bit of a feeling like the breaks are slamming but perhaps this slow down has been going on for quite some time. We are just feeling it now

A Chinese saying tells us: "Never forget the thousand year view." The yin was bound to happen. The tremendous forceful way, in nature, that is not sustainable.

Even though the current situation it is a natural response to how we have been going, there is still an ideology of fear going on right now. However, f we look at it as a natural balance to how things have been, we can change our perspective; we can say "how do we blend into that?" and bring ourselves into natural alignment with that.

Coming over here today, I was thinking that when we do our practices, Tai Chi, Qigong--is what I'm familiar with--there's a certain alchemy that over time aligns the practitioner with Nature. When we align with nature, we not only begin to understand the process and the flow of nature, but of ourselves. When we do this, we are calmer with the flow of nature. We understand growth, recession, change. Everything changes.

When I look at the business per se of a Tai Chi school, I ask why is this increasing right now? Yes, sure, this is Seattle, a relatively affluent area. Though, how people choose to spend their money and time is telling. They feel that this is more valuable to them to participate in life, and with their friends, than to spend it on a new shirt or something like that. I think that this is truly a change in the consciousness, the awareness; and the seeds were planted a long time ago.

It is very hopeful for me to see that. It is humbling for me to think that we are actually alive right now to see that happen.

On a larger perspective I feel we are seeing a shift in consciousness away from force & aggression. On one hand we see what's happening with war, on the other hand we see these more fluid types of choices people are making. When you see a business rise or fall, it is indicative of the choices that people are making. In this society, we can do whatever we want. So when I see that people are making conscious choices to be involved with activities like Tai Chi & Qigong and what they can give us, it's thrilling to me actually.

Some people turn to religion or spirituality as a crutch...

I wish Tai Chi was a crutch; it would be easier to market! [:)] However, the path is more challenging then that. Tai Chi and Qigong are personal development processes. These are not concretized things that you can hold onto. They are practices and insights. Yet, people are up to the challenge right now.

One thing about places of religion, spirituality, and practice that I think is very important, is that they're places of community. When people are unsure, places of community are a tremendous salve to isolation and fear. The value of community can't be underestimated.

Why are people here instead of using their time to diversify income streams or find a new job?

What I see is that people are making a choice to integrate. They're still out there looking for jobs and so on. These are practices of balance. Looking for a job is a very active, yang, kind of approach. You cannot do that 24 hours a day. The human organism needs sleep, rest, balance. We need exercise, for example to just balance being a human mammal.

These are practices that give people a sense of center. This might be a cliché, but there's a sense of grounding that helps us as we go out into the world. Making certain choices to bring into our lives a more complete sense of who we are. . Also, when we practice something that is self-affirming, we put ourselves into a flow state. We have to actively engage in the flow process. When we're happier, things arise more easily. We're comfortable navigating things that arise with more difficulty.

When we look at the nervous system, there's the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. We're really using the left side of the brain when we worry and look for jobs and are concerned about our survival. We are trying to figure it all out. This is a more yang way to live. This is not wrong. There's nothing wrong with being goal-oriented. This dojo (school) came because I had a goal to make a dojo.

However, we also need rest, play, positive connections. We have to regenerate. So when you're out there looking for a job, using your energy, you can then also do things like Tai Chi that refill your energy.

The world is in debt, it's a very apt metaphor for what we're done to ourselves. We have to build back our body/mind bank account too.

Tai Chi and Qigong along with religious and spiritual practices help. These are ways of putting more energy in the bank. I think that people more intuitively recognize that, too.

Is there anything else that has really been striking you?

Yes, there is a very big shift in demographic. When I began teaching, it was to primarily women, women in their 60s. The reason for taking classes really had quite a bit to do with better physical balance or to address some pain. Tai Chi and Qigong were seen as complementary methods of health for middle-to-upper aged women.

About 5 years ago, a huge shift happened. More men came, more young people. You’re [editor: that's me, Ed] a very good example of how the demographic is shifting. To me, it was very dramatic of how it happened. On the intake form, people fill out "What are you trying to get from the classes?" The answers now are: relaxation, balance, relief from stress, calming down. I never hear anybody say, "my knee hurts, and I think that this will help me." I'm also getting lots of referrals from doctors, acupuncturists, and heart specialists. "Something active with the spleen", "I had a heart attack". The real conventional Western world is beginning to see that these are complementary methods, making the connections that life is holistic.

That to me is also one of the more compelling indicators of this larger "shift of consciousness"--"shift of awareness." People are adapting more of a long view. We're a very young country and have come some way and have a longer way to go I don't see a schism between the election of Obama and the increase of people starting these practices. We're starting to recognize the long view. Eventually we have to come to the long view if we're going to survive. Survival is in our nature. We have to survive. We're seeing that survival means more than just the next “what am I going to buy?” question. Survival means reviving our depleted nervous system.

The words written by Lao-tsu and other yogis that were written 2000 years ago could have been written an hour ago. You think these are thousands of years old; but here we are, studying the same thing right now. Consciousness keeps downloading; it just takes a long time to figure it all out. Or I might say to feel it all out. The path of insight is not limited to this shape here (points to the shape of her body).

So, is this shift toward more balance or to a yin way?

The insight of the Taoist Masters is simple. “Natural is the First Principle.” Lao-tsu, Cheng-tsu, my teachers, they all advocate the middle way.

What would the yin way be?

(Deep sigh to demonstrate) ... I guess the way I look at it... it's a very interesting question... let's go back to the breath. The yang aspect of the breath is the inhalation; the yin aspect of the breath is the exhalation. We only define yin because it's in relation to yang. The yin way and the yang way can only be defined in relationship to its opposite. The yin-yang concept is only meant to be a springboard back to the wuji, (makes a circle with her arms) within the inhales and exhales, very long no breath--not holding the breath as a way of holding the breath--but enjoying the place where there's no distinction. Finding the place.

I think about pearl divers, I'd love to talk to someone who can hold the breath for 15 minutes. I don't know specifically, the yin way would be the nightfall, the resting period. We've been focusing too much on the yang, not developing the yin. These practices, the Taoist practices, encourage us to focus more of our time on the restoration practices so that we can balance the output before too long. If we did too much of that, we'd also be off balance. The metaphor is that we have 2 people on a teeter-totter. Within each yang, there's a yin. As you expand, another part of your body has to recede to accommodate.

Perfect examples of a yin life occur in winter - bears hibernating, French peasant farmers also did this. Look at native cultures, when you look at native cultures, you see that the native people go inside. More sleeping, less activity, more restorative, you look at animals: that's the same thing. When it comes to spring time, they're feeling very frisky... Taoist practices are done in accordance with the seasons. We impact qi gong practices in the winter, very intentionally. Yin life, yin way, would definitely be the path of rest, restoration, nurturing. They totally were at harmony with their life; they really know.

Do you think the timing of the recession happening in the winter is meaningful?

I don't know. Though, if I had to make a guess, I'd say that the foot has actually been on the brake pedal for a long time, not just a jarring stop. Compare this to the dot com burst, that was a jarring stop. I think the main thing is to not analyze too much or stay myopic in our view, but to look at the big picture, look at the large cycles. In Tai Chi and Qigong, the external movements represent what is happening on the inside of us. So what is happening on the outside of our society and our world represents an inner process. What is happening is so profound it likely spans many seasons over many years.

Perhaps we are learning that in our life, like in our practices, sustainability is a process that is cultivated over time. Over time and experience we understand more and more, and we make choices that align us comfortably and sustain us over time. We are young, but we are learning.

Kim, Thank you for the insights. There are some true gems in here. -Ed


  1. Thanks for sharing the wisdom, Ed! Heartening to come across your site and see you've quoted one of my sayings in an earlier post. If it's aphorisms you care for, I hope you will take a
    peek at my new book of 300 aphorisms, Signposts.


    Also, below a meditation on silence that I hope will resonate with you...


  2. Thank you, Yahia. And thanks for writing and sharing your wisdom, too. I loved that quote of yours, it fit perfectly into the "not obstacles, that's the path" aphorism that I was trying to flesh out at the time.

    Your meditation on silence does indeed meditate with me. I'm curious as to your deeper thoughts on the following line from your piece:

    "...striking out fearlessly into treacherous, interior territories is not for dilettantes; and deep and prolonged silence might prove the undoing of those who flirt with it, ill-equipped."

    Do you have personal or anecdotal experience with people being undone through immature hermitage or other quite-quite-ready-for-it undertakings of silence? Perhaps you are using the word "fearlessness" in a different way than I read it, perhaps as brazenness or brashness. I couldn't imagine a person who is truly fearless being undone by silence. Perhaps the undoing is actually the goal here, the annihilation of the ego.

    I'm interested to know your thoughts.

  3. Yahia, I just ordered _Signposts_to_Elsewhere_. Thank you for letting me know about it (and presumably for writing it, also).