Juneteenth, Parkinson’s and Qigong
Five years ago at this moment, I was a woman with a disease believed to be incurable, irreversible, and progressive. Parkinson’s Disease didn’t so much define me as confine me. Fatigue, stiffness and chronic pain, as well as effects of prescribed medications, were narrowing my world, just as the prognosis of Western had promised. So I trudged through a slow but steady descent into worsening symptoms, and along with that, fear.
Fear didn’t paralyze me, however. Recently retired, I now had time for research, and I did a bunch. It was that research plus the encouragement of a friend that brought me to medical qigong, through which I gradually regained the physical/mental/spiritual connection necessary for me to operate a free-moving body.
So I arrived at qigong, and the start of my own liberation, on the same day that slaves in Texas finally were made aware of their own freedom, granted by The Emancipation Proclamation over two years earlier. I am honored to share this historic date, June 19th, with the liberated slaves of 1865.
On June 19, 2009, I arrived at the Marin JCC with my friend, Jean, for a two-day workshop to “Awaken the Healer Within” by learning practices of Zhineng, also known as Wisdom Healing, Qigong. This is a specific type of medical qigong developed by Dr. Pang Ming. Master Mingtong Gu, who was teaching the program, is a direct student of Dr. Pang.
Although I barely knew how to pronounce “qigong” (chi-gung), research I’d come across said it was one of the best types of movement programs for Parkinson’s Disease, plus Jean claimed this practice had helped a friend of hers become cancer-free. It sounded worthy of investigation, especially since I was increasingly discouraged with my current course of treatment. My goal was to find some way to reduce, or at least to manage pain, without increasing medications. At this point in time, five years ago, I was living within a much more limited reality than now. The thought that I could be totally free of Parkinson’s had not yet entered my mind on a conscious level.
So I would like to celebrate my five-year anniversary of practicing qigong by attempting to articulate the richness and dimension, and, of course, the healing, that this practice has brought to my life. I will only skim through physical symptoms and other aspects of my condition at the time. A more complete version of my story is related in my book, Reboot and Rejoice. That and other resources can be found at www.mettamorphix.com, my website.
Five years ago, I got out of bed each morning by grasping the bedpost behind me to support turning on my side. So I started my day with the awareness that free and easy movement was more of a memory than a reality. On the morning of June 19th, 2009, I performed my usual slow departure from bed and began to prepare for the first day of a two-day medical qigong workshop. I had my doubts. In the last year I had gradually become too stiff and off-balance to continue my yoga practice, I no longer rode my bike (too many falls), no longer hiked the hills (too much shoulder/back pain when going uphill, and balance challenges on the downhill trek). I had no idea about qigong, other than that it was something like “Chinese yoga.”
The auditorium in The JCC was buzzing that morning, most likely with healing energy, an ally to which I would soon receive an introduction. A physically diminutive Chinese man entered the room, stage front and center. Mingtong was dressed in sunshine yellow from head to toe, and his smile, not diminutive at all, encompassed our space. He began to explain about healing, energy blockages, body-mind connection. Everything he said made sense and resonated for me. Then he began to demonstrate some of the movements and practices for us. Here my body had difficulty complying with directions. Nevertheless, I did the best I could. I had just learned that intention was a most important aspect of healing, and I had plenty of that. Like a trapped animal about to chew off its own limb to regain freedom, I was ready and willing to do whatever it might take to part company with tremor, weakness, fatigue, chronic, often intense pain, increasing mental fog and confusion, and a list of other unpleasantries that had become my constant companions.
Mingtong told us it was okay to move our bodies into discomfort, but not to push into pain. I realize now that this message was at least partly lost on someone who had been living life from the shoulders up for many decades. I denied pain in the most self-abusive manner possible: I told myself I was just lazy. I don’t think I could differentiate much between pain and discomfort at the start, so I just pushed through everything. The “override” button is something with which most people experiencing chronic health conditions are familiar.
We began the Lift Chi Up Pour Chi Down practice, and each time I performed the circular shoulder movement I felt discomfort. Yet, at the end of each circular rotation, my stiff shoulders felt like they had opened up just a tiny fraction more. For me, the gain was definitely worth the pain. I somehow got the message that there was more relief available if I wanted to work for it. Much easier than chewing off my own limb, too.
At that workshop, I purchased all the materials available, an unusual move for me. I’m usually not an impulse buyer, but I would say it was intuition, not impulse, that was guiding me now. That same intuition had me sign up for the China retreat that was to take place in Guelin that September. I had to suppress my “sackcloth and ashes” self, the one who thought I was unworthy of such experiences that came at such expense. However, as confining as Parkinson’s was, it was also liberating. How would anyone dare to criticize me or call me selfish, when I was simply attempting to better my lot? To my surprise, no one criticized me. In fact, I could sense some hoots and hollers amidst the disbelief of friends and family that I was actually doing this for myself. But the retreat was a long way off, September was three months and and over 250 hours of daily practice away. That’s right, I committed to a minimum of 3 hours a day of practice and got to work immediately.
During that time I could gradually and steadily feel the results of my practice. There was more energy, less fatigue, and pain and stiffness were abating, and sometimes tremor, too. Downtrodden resignation was becoming replaced by empowerment and joy. That’s not to say that I didn’t experience some chi reaction*. At times some symptoms seemed to intensify, particularly tremor and pain in some areas. But those were intermittent interludes. It was clear to me that I was on a path to recovery, although I didn’t know how far into recovery the path would take me.
I am forever grateful that total recovery was my surprise destination. At the time not knowing if anyone had ever experienced complete recovery from Parkinson’s, I just held steady to my course, terminal point unknown. I knew I liked this direction far better than the one marked with the signposts: “Incurable” “Irreversible” “Progressive.”
Today I am totally healed of Parkinson’s, off meds** and dismissed by neurology years ago. However, the healing continues, as I now choose to interpret healing as “making better,” and everything keeps getting better. The last five years have been an amazing internal journey, as well as path around the globe, from China to Cincinnati, Santa Fe and Hawaii. Not to mention “infinity and beyond.”
Once I healed, I was excited to share my story with others in the hopes that they could find some relief from suffering. That is my current path. I am writing, coaching, consulting, speaking, teaching: doing all that I can to raise the awareness of our own personal healing abilities. Introducing this concept to many, and working with some individually, has become a most meaningful aspect of my life.
Many blogs now offer numbered lists, I’m sure to help us gather information quickly, tantamount to a fast-food menu for philosophies and ideas. I’m not judging here. I find myself now sometimes skipping text to get to the enumerated array of suggestions. Today, I am about to share a list. Hopefully each item will be investigated and become its own elaborated essay at some point in time. For now, I just want to begin to reflect upon some of the changes that have manifested as a result of the daily dedicated practice of Zhineng/Wisdom Healing Qigong: for me, both a lifeline and a unifier of body, mind, and spirit.
What I have learned over the last 5 years:
1) Love Myself: Really allow myself to feel love and compassion for me, try to understand and be as compassionate to myself as if I were a dear friend or family member.
2) Think Positively: I may have no control over what happens, but I can control how I respond. It’s ok to feel bummed or angry. It’s not ok to wallow there. When I’m feeling low, I seek refuge in my qigong practice. That, combined with patience toward myself, always works.
3) Gratitude/Appreciation: Prior to Parkinson’s and my subsequent recovery, I had my nose embedded in the grindstone. I was doing time more than living life. The miraculous in everything is now evident. Every day I love and appreciate nature more. I am so grateful for the five senses that I use to enjoy the experience.
4) Meditate Poorly: That’s right. I just do it. Do the time. Permit distractions, just don’t allow them full-day admission. I let them flow on past as part of observing my own mind. Then, gently bring myself back to the object or the nothingness upon which I am reflecting.
5) Service: The receiving is in the giving. A expanding heart is a gift of this practice.
6) Set Boundaries: It is no accident that this piece of advice follows the one for service. If I am to retain the strength and energy to assist others, I need to set aside time to replenish myself. It’s ok to say no when I can’t or don’t want to do something. I am not everyone’s everything. I cannot honor every request or demand made of me.
7) Adjust to the New Normal: Physically I feel wonderful now, but since I healed from PD, a “dormant” orthopedic issue has emerged. Thankfully, I’m back hiking, although currently not for much longer than 40 minutes. Also, some preferences have changed: I no longer enjoy cooking, and during baseball season I have become obsessed with the SF Giants. Re-introducing myself to myself is a most amusing experience. All summer the radio in my truck is set to the sports station. Batter-up and The Great Wandoo! Who knew? Also, in the last five years I have redecorated my home, stopped coloring my hair, and become more interested in animal behavior. I am aware this is an oxymoron, but I feel like a teen-age senior, exploring interests not investigated during earlier years.
8) Keep an attitude of abundance for all the good stuff: health, love, friendship, finance, adventure. I have come to notice that often the contracted physical aspect of a chronic health condition can’t help but spill into life’s other areas. We can begin to see restrictions everywhere and sometimes become habituated to limiting ourselves. I have discovered that living humbly and living small are very different concepts. It’s ok to think big and plan big.
9) Take risks: When I am doing, or planning to do, something I love, I tingle with life. Often, to do what I love, I must first overcome an anxiety or fear. Bring it on. The same chi energy that guided me past Parkinson’s will accompany me on my new adventures. Want to come along?
* chi reaction- As we heal via energy and toxins are released, the body can experience temporary discomfort in a number of ways, including intensified symptoms. Also fatigue, hyper-energy, dizziness, nausea, rash, cough, fever, emotionality. These can be signs that the energy is working, opening blockages and eliminating that which is no longer needed.
** off meds – Do not read this and simply decide to throw away your pills. Certain meds require a gradual titration schedule. A compounding pharmacist can be helpful here. Do not play with medication. And remember, I was doing qigong for hours each day to retrain my brain. It is my belief that healing energy was acting as medicine.