How to Maintain Energy
Yang Yang, Ph.D.
People often ask me: “How do I improve my Gong,” or “How do I improve my pushhands by improving my Gong?” How do we improve our martial arts skills? And I like this long-term question: How can we have the vitality and happiness most accomplished grand masters have when they reach the age of seniors?
I can’t answer all these questions from personal experience. But I can share my observations of older masters and also my perspective from my own healing experience. One way to look at these questions is to focus on energy as related to practice. And further, look at two sides of energy: input and output. Usually, cultivating Gong, we think of increasing energy. However, we also need to maintain the energy we develop. Sometimes that means decreasing output. This is my focus below.
To decrease energy output
The first thing to work on is our emotions. Humans all have feelings: sometimes good, sometimes bad. Negative feelings consume a big chunk of our energy. They can bring about insomnia, decreased appetite, poor digestion, and, if continued too long, can lead to more serious health conditions.
Developing our Gong, we expect to be different from our family members, our colleagues, and people on the street. Not necessarily more right, or better, just relevantly different. Remembering this alone, can short circuit the negative feelings that decrease energy retention.
Another thing to contemplate is that not everything is personal. We too often take things personally that don’t need to be seen as personal at all. This happened to me when I went to a lecture recently. The teacher has a strong personality which turns most of the students off at the beginning of the class, including myself. I heard quite a few of the students say they didn’t want to come back to this teacher for further training. I noticed my own negative feeling fairly quickly and said to myself:
“Nothing personal. This is not about me. It’s just this teacher’s personality. He treats his family, colleagues, and himself the same way. He doesn’t even learn the names of each student in the class. I need to look at the quality of the content instead of just his way of presenting.”
Once I dropped the thinking behind my negative feelings, my study got more efficient and I learned quite a few things in his class.
It helps to remember that most human beings are seeking their own best interest. The difference is that people vary in terms of their values, their boundaries, what are acceptable behaviors, and what is the meaning of their lives. If we want to interpret the world in our own terms, hopefully our world view is sound.
Yin and Yang
In our tradition we believe an effective way to deal with negative feelings is to meditate on a particular awareness of reality: that the world is Yin and Yang. One can adapt this world view in order to make lemonade when the world seems all lemons. Or use this view to cultivate a habitual mental pattern of positive thinking and turn most, if not every incident into an opportunity.
One way look at the Yin and Yang symbol, is that at the extreme of Yin is Yang and vice verse. If we have an intention to train our brain, we can always see that positive things turn out of every incident. In my case, to an extent, I am grateful for the congenital heart condition I had. I would not have practiced so hard otherwise. And I would not be able to experience the healing power of this ancient art if I had been a normal healthy kid.
Another example is how the hardship of the Chinese Cultural Revolution cultivated my resilience. My family happened to be on the wrong side of the political spectrum from 1949 to the end of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in 1976. On the wrong side of the political dynamics, some people were destroyed by fear, oppression, injustice, and even torture. Some other families survived and came out even stronger and better.
I was lucky to be in the second category, mainly due to my strong father. He kept reminding the family to be patient, to be hopeful and prepare ourselves for change and opportunities. The difficult part was knowing if and when the country was going to change.
In time, the change did happen, but it took a long time. Going through this difficult time cultivated resilience for some of us in the ‘bad category.’ I am fortunate that because of my father’s direction I am one of them. The resilience cultivated during those hard times has helped me stay centered and positive, even through adversity, and to keep moving forward.
My father’s world view included the inevitability of change, and the possibility of adverse change turning to positive–like the helpful western orientation that when life brings lemons, make lemonade.
In summary, you can use the ways I have mentioned, and any others you can think of, not to have your hard-earned energy decrease and dissipate. Then you can carefully control your output.
[Yang Yang was born in 1960s in Henan province near the Chen Village in China. At the age of 12, he began studying Taiji because of a congenital heart defect. He credits his practice of Chen Style Taiji with curing his heart condition and allowing him to pass the physical exam required in China to enter the universities. Master Yang’s Taiji studies now span 30 years. With both Law and Engineering degrees earned in China, Master Yang practiced business law for several years before coming to the United States to study for a Master’s Degree in Economics at Illinois State University. He is currently the Director of the Center for Taiji Studies in Champaign, Illinois, and has recently completed a Doctorate Degree in Kinesiology at the University of Illinois. His research focuses on the benefits and mechanisms of Taiji practice.]