What is Inner Qigong?

As other posts have said, our basic standpoint is that each one of us is a community. When you start to sense and move the inner organs, they each seem to have personality and have intentions and needs. Each muscle can be seen as a person: some are very stubborn, or sulky, some are lazy couch potatoes. This inner community communicates through movement, posture and voice and each part senses and talks to its neighbours through the nervous system and the elasticity of fascia and muscles.

However, humans are social creatures and we often listen more to how we think we should be (and what other people say we should be) rather than listening to this inner community. This means that we often abuse parts of ourselves by forcing them to go along with something that they can’t cope with because we want to be different to how we are.

Inner Qigong is a system of focused explorations by which you learn to sense and listen to each part of this inner community. In the classes we will use movement, visualisation, voicework, partner work, touch and music to experience these inner people and give them a chance to speak in the first person.

Inner Qigong has been evolving for over 35 years. Some of the influences have been Aikido, Taoist Movement Meditation, Body-Mind Centering, Feldenkrais Method. Japanese Seitai. Wolfson and Roy Hart Voicework. Tibetan Yantra Yoga and Developmental Movement Therapy. It is not a rigid form of movements to learn but a framework of focused experiments through which you can become aware of the inner community and how it connects together.

Over the 1980’s and ’90s I worked with many babies who had problems with their development. This opened out into a decade of research into infant movement development in collaboration with several physios and speech therapists. We were surprised to find that the way in which those early movements evolve followed exactly the pathways described by Oriental Medicine as the ‘meridians’. I am not sure of the energy language in which Chinese medicine is couched, but I believe the meridians to be innate pathways, possibly hard-wired into the motor nervous system. As babies we learn to integrate our bodies by exploring how to join up movements along these paths. The focused explorations of Inner Qigong also contain some of these developmental movements and help you remember archetypal connections in the body.

If you are a physical therapist of some sort, you can teach Inner Qigong to clients, through which they can become aware of what they want to take care of, or energise and support in themselves. Through this awareness they can ask for what they need and the bodywork becomes led and guided by the client rather than determined by diagnosis and theory by the therapist.

I find that by working in this way I also become aware of how I listen to others and live in community. I believe that how we live with each other is reflected and influenced by how we treat ourselves. So if our internal decision maker forces members of our inner community to do things with which they can’t cope then we will tend to do that in our outer groups. If we learn to listen and take care of our inner people then that gives a foundation for how we treat others.

So my hope is that these classes can become a laboratory for practicing how to listen to ourselves AND to others, how to take responsibility for our actions and to take on responsibility for the group and for the outer community. I hope we are encouraging responsibility and responsiveness, both inner and outer.

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Inner Qigong and the Physics of Gravity

In several classes, when doing the first series of Inner Qigong, I have suggested that people feel the ground pushing up on the soles of their feet and then use that feeling to feel the upward force supporting their body.

I have also said that according to Einstein, this is the reality- that the force of gravity is in some way an illusion and that what we really perceive is the way in which the floor stops us from moving down.


This has caused some argument and confusion. Isn’t gravity a real force?

Actually, no, it isn’t in the sense that we normally mean it. The downward movement that the floor interrupts is not caused by a force. The effect of gravity is actually more subtle than that, and the real force produced by gravity is a tidal force squeezing us sideways and stretching us lengthways. This is too subtle to notice at our scale. But the earth notices it and that is the cause of the ocean tides.

But forget that, it confuses matters. Why is the downward movement that we experience when we jump off a cliff not caused by a force?

A very good analogy is swinging a ball on a chain:

You think that you ‘feel’ a force pulling the ball outwards. This is often even called ‘centrifugal force’. But what is actually happening is that the ball, left to its own devices, would travel off towards the horizon in a straight line. It is actually the force that you are exerting to pull the ball in towards you that is the real force, pulling the ball out of it’s natural state of movement. It is the inertia of the ball, ‘wanting’ to travel in a straight line, that gives the illusion that the ball is pulling on the chain with a force.

The same is true of gravity. Our natural movement in the vicinity of the earth, is to fall downwards weightlessly. We would feel no force at all. This is what astronauts experience. It’s not that there is no gravitational field in orbit but that they are freely falling in it, so don’t experience any weight or force. The speed of the spaceship is such that they fall ’round’ the earth rather than falling to the ground. Isaac Newton was the first to think about this.

Newton’s cannonball
Newton thought about the motion of a cannonball fired horizontally on the Earth’s surface. If you fire a cannonball horizontally (neglecting air resistance), it will travel some distance before it strikes the ground. If you fire it much faster (again horizontally) then it will travel much further before hitting the ground.)

Newton asked what would happen if you fired even faster. He reasoned that the cannonball would maintain a constant height from the surface of the Earth – in other words, it would move in a circular orbit. This is what a rocket is used for. It is not to propel the satellite to a place where there is no gravity but to accelerate it to enough speed so that it is orbiting in the gravity field rather than falling back down to the ground.

So if there was no ground to stop our movement, we would feel no weight and no force (or no downward force) . What gives us the feeling of weight is the reaction of our body to being stopped from moving by the upward force of the ground.

Galileo and the Tower of Pisa

Another way of seeing that gravity is not a force like magnetism is to see what happens if you drop two different weights from a height. Galileo performed this experiment (maybe from the Tower of Pisa but maybe that’s an urban myth).

He found that the two weights dropped at exactly the same speed. This was tested again on the moon (where there is no air resistance) and a feather and a hammer were dropped simultaneously by David Scott and hit the ground simultaneously. (see this on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5C5_dOEyAfk).

In contrast, if you have two magnets, one strong and the other weaker and you place them close to another big fixed magnet then the stronger magnet will move faster than the weak one. This is what a ‘real’ force looks like. You double the amount of force and the acceleration doubles. The analogy to the strength of the magnetic force in the case of gravity is the ‘mass’. It is mass that responds to gravity but things with more mass do not fall faster than things with less mass (as long as the larger mass is not big enough to create a sizeable gravitational field itself) .

So I hope you can see that gravity is an illusory force and the real force that we feel is the the ground pushing up on our feet. So the visualisation of the qigong is a real energy, not just our imaginations.

Zhi, Xing and Ming

This article is about the related Chinese words Ming, Xing and Zhi.

Ming is normally translated as ‘Destiny’ but this doesn’t come close to the subtle meaning buried in the character.

The Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, one of the most ancient Chinese medical texts, states that the highest level of healing is helping a person to fulfil their Ming and giving nourishment to their Xing ( translated as “true nature”). To the authors, this was more important than the mere curing of disease .

What’s the point of being cured if you’ve lost the point of living? In fact, to one Taoist school of Chinese medicine, one couldn’t work with Qi if you didn’t take account of the Ming. So what do the characters really mean and why are so important to those ancient Chinese doctors?

Taking the character for Ming to bits: the top two strokes represent a person. Then there is a single line – representing unity – and with a subtle connotation of unifying past and present, ancestors and oneself. Then two shapes. The left shape is a mouth and the right is an embryo.

Putting all of this together, Ming really means something like “The instructions given by the ancestors to the embryo”. In one way, it could be identified with DNA. That’s exactly what DNA is on a physical level.

But I also like to see it in a more active role. I like to imagine that before birth I went to the ‘university of the universe’ and looked at the courses on offer. I chose one and was told “OK, we’ll give you these parents, this ancestry, these relationships, these traumas and illnesses, these challenges and that will be your course in life.”

This fantasy changes one’s feelings about life and its challenges enormously. Also it changes how one sees the process of therapy. Instead of focusing on changing oneself it moves us to focus on making the best of oneself, of learning from our problems.

The second character Xing consists of two parts. The left is a heart, the right is life. So it means Heart-Life. It is normally translated as one’s nature.

If we see life as a journey, Ming is the ‘instructions being given at the start of a journey’ , maybe our spiritual and physical genes, which contain the potential for development that will unfold through interaction with the environment. Xing is our way of travelling it, our core heart feeling that we have when we are doing something that conforms with our real nature, not what other people want us to do

So Ming might be seen as the map of our life, Xing is our guide to whether we are on the right track..

 The Zhi

If we are inspired by our purpose and are following our nature, we act with authenticity. The power of authentic action is called Zhi in Chinese, which is usually translated as Will.

If we analyse the character it has two parts. The top part is Shi

This is one of the ancient chinese four professions. The other three are merchant, artisan and farmer. But Shi does not have a clear definition. it can mean scholar, artist or soldier. If you feel the common feature of these people, it is that they go into new areas. There is a feeling of exploration, courage and creativity.


The bottom part is Xin, literally the Heart, but in Chinese it also connotes any aspect of Mind or Awareness. So together Zhi has the connotation of the Creative Mind. The aspect of ourselves that goes into new territory, doesn’t follow the herd but follows one’s authentic spirit.

Ted Kaptchuk translates it as Wisdom and observes that two aspects of Will arise from the Zhi. The Yang Will is similar to our English usage: a conscious purposeful force behind our actions. The Yin Will embodies the sense of unconscious purpose that we sometimes have when we look back and realise that our actions have been working towards an end that was always meant to be.

In a way, you can see that the Yin part of the Will is similar to the Ming

Disability is Ability

by Bill Palmer 2017

This article is written to mark the 30th anniversary of Movement Shiatsu, an approach to physical therapy that I developed in the 1980’s which is particularly relevant to working with so-called disability, chronic conditions and old age. Many people would say that it bares little resemblance to the common forms of Shiatsu. It seems closer to Feldenkrais Method [[1]]or Body-Mind Centering [[2]] because it integrates body-awareness exercises, movement experiments and bodywork into a coherent system. In this approach the client is more active and the practitioner facilitates the client’s self-exploration rather than treating them as a passive recipient.

However, I see it as an evolution of Shiatsu for two reasons. Firstly, the theory underlying Movement Shiatsu includes many of the ideas common to other forms of Shiatsu. In fact, as we shall see, it actually explains them in terms that modern scientific culture could accept as plausible hypotheses.

Secondly, the many forms of Shiatsu have a wide variety of theories and techniques but most of them use a common quality of touch. This vertical, non-manipulative and still touch gives the client a sense that the practitioner is listening to them at a profound level and stimulates self-awareness. Movement Shiatsu uses the same quality of touch and also helps the client to use their awareness to explore themselves and experiment with their habitual patterns.

In this article, I will tell the story of the development of Movement Shiatsu and explain how working with children with special needs taught me the basic principles that underlie this work.

Combining Movement and Shiatsu
In 1979 I started working at the Central School of Speech and Drama teaching video techniques. It also turned out to be a big step in my parallel life as a therapist. The drama students often hurt themselves in movement classes and, once word got around that I was good at helping people recover, my office turned into a very busy part time clinic. Subsequently, these same students asked me to start teaching them how to prevent injury so I started teaching what I called Shiatsu and Movement classes.

The main focus of these classes was how to become aware where the flow of movement through the body was interrupted or inhibited. Such a break in the smooth continuity of connection in the body produces an area that is vulnerable to injury. The Shiatsu used touch and guided movement to explore how to bring this discontinuity together.

Movement Development and Personality
One of my other jobs at Central was to make videos of the treatments done by the Speech Therapists for teaching purposes. Several of the staff in the speech therapy department also came to my Shiatsu and Movement classes. One of them was Kay Coombes, a specialist in working with children with disability. Kay and I developed a close working relationship. While I was making videos of her work, I would be asking questions, making suggestions and learning the basics of the Bobarth style of developmental physiotherapy that was her expertise [[3]].

I found a deep empathy with these children and attended several advanced training courses in neurological and developmental therapies to learn how to work with them myself. I started to develop a theory of how the different ways that a child developed movement skills affected their patterns of movement and posture in later life. Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, who was exploring similar ideas in her system of Body-Mind Centering, also felt that sensory feedback from these patterns influenced the development of personality [2].

To give a simple example, if a child for some reason does not learn to move forward easily they may end up with a feeling that self-motivation is difficult. This could lead to a personality that is demanding and over-dependent on others. But I am not sure this is necessarily a causal relationship. Babies who have difficulty crawling often find other ways of moving themselves and it could be that the over-dependence on others is an innate characteristic that pre-disposes them to ask for help rather than trying other ways to move themselves.

Over a period of ten years, I documented the development of six of the major infantile movement abilities in a cohort of children and gathered some evidence that a baby’s way of developing movement seemed to be correlated with the development of certain character traits as they grew older.

It was impossible to tell whether the style of movement caused the character trait or whether their character predisposed them to favour certain types of movement. In fact, I think it is a two-way relationship; that body patterns and emotional patterns are two aspects of the same phenomenon. It is obvious how different postures express personality but it is also true that changing one’s posture results in a different experience of self.

What is Qi?
I think that this inter-relationship between body and mind is the real meaning of what Chinese medicine calls Qi. This is often translated as ‘Energy’ but that gives the impression that there is some substance that flows through the body driving the functionality of the organism. I prefer to see it as a description of similarities between certain bodily and mental processes that hints that these processes are co-created.

Traditional Chinese medicine describes several different forms of Qi that can be seen as fundamental functions that apply to both mind and body. For instance, the ability to satisfy need and the ability to push out things that you don’t want are an essential ingredient of autonomy both emotionally and physically. The process of eating, digesting and excreting is a physical example of this abstract function but it is obvious that these capacities are also part of emotional intelligence. In Chinese Medicine this particular function is called the YangMing [[4]].

Maybe our experience of our body and our mind are just different perceptions of the same thing. It is therapeutically useful to view the types of Qi as abstractions about this deeper reality because one can see how it might be possible to work physically with an issue that is perceived to be emotional, or vice versa.

Babies explain Meridians
However, an aspect of Chinese medicine that I found it difficult to swallow was the idea of meridians, the ‘channels’ along which Qi was said to ‘flow’. For reasons that I have explained in other articles [[5]] I found the interpretation of Qi as a form of energy not described by science deeply implausible. And if Qi is an emergent property of the complexity of body and mind then it didn’t need channels to flow in. In my opinion there is no satisfying explanation in East Asian tradition of why these exact lines are related to the different forms of Qi.

A possible explanation occurred to me while I was documenting the step-by-step development of certain whole body movements such as pushing away from the ground, rolling and crawling. These developmental movements don’t appear all at once, they spread through the body progressively bringing muscles and fascia into collaboration until the full movement is achieved. Surprisingly, the track along which they developed exactly followed the traditional meridians.

Significantly, the character trait that seemed to develop alongside the movement matched the description of the Qi related to the associated meridian. So this seemed to be a potential explanation of the traditional concept: that meridians are innate lines through the body, or innate connectivity in the motor cortex, showing how to connect parts of the body to perform these archetypal movements. Through this process, babies develop mentally as well as physically and the common theme in the particular body-mind skill that they learn is called the Qi of the meridian.

Disability is Personal Ability
Thus one can see ‘problematic’ musculo-skeletal patterns as attempts to solve developmental challenges rather than problems to be fixed. Efficient development is not automatic, it depends largely on environmental stimulation and facilitation. At a certain stage, a baby wants to move forward and if crawling is too awkward she finds another method such as ‘bum-shuffling’. It may not be the most efficient or the most ‘normal’ way of moving. But it is her way!

This is especially true of babies with disabilities such as cerebral palsy (CP). In this condition, it’s not the environment that inhibits efficient development but the damage to the brain interrupting the learning of certain movements. But, the way the baby learns to move is her ability not her disability. It is only seen as disability if you have a rigid idea of normality.

Whatever the cause of patterns, they help to form the person’s sense of self. If the therapy tries to undo abnormal patterns and focuses too much on developing ‘normal’ movement, then it can create a deeper sense of being disabled along with feelings of shame and frustration – simply because the patterns that exist are the child’s sense of self and the intention to change them gives them the message that they, basically, are not OK.

Start by Exploring Ability
To a young child, how they are is all they know. The act of comparison with others and the discovery that one is not ‘normal’ is something that only slowly develops after the age of four [[6]]. So it is vitally important that therapy with young children supports their sense of ability rather than trying to change the abnormal patterns. Then the young child has a basic feeling of being whole as they are and this provides a good platform for facing later challenges.

Working with young children with cerebral palsy taught me practical ways of doing this. Instead of starting with the problematic areas, I find a movement that is easy. I praise it and suggest to the child that she does it more and bigger! For instance, if she can open her hand, I sing a song, opening and closing my hands along with the tune and get her to copy me. This initial success is enormously important for the spirit. We then go on to see what other opening movements she can do. Can she open her eyes, her mouth, her arms. If we come up with a difficult area, we can start working with it – she knows what she wants to do and has the positive spirit to experiment. My bodywork is simply helping her to do what she wants rather than forcing her to do something that she feels she can’t do.

I now think that this applies to everyone. If the client and their therapist both focus on the problematic issues then the client is more likely to feel disabled and to remain a victim to their problems needing rescue by the therapist. On the other hand, if the therapy starts by finding where the client’s ABILITY lies then the client’s spirit is strengthened by capability and he is empowered to start exploring himself, even challenging his own patterns, rather than asking to be fixed and rescued by the therapist.

Experiments with Movement
It’s relatively easy to experiment with and explore your movement patterns and postural habits. In my experience, this is often all that is needed to start a process of change in both body and mind. You do not need an idea of an ‘ideal’ posture or the right way to move. All that is necessary is to loosen the domination of the pattern by experimentation and then the organism has the freedom to find new and possibly better ways of doing things.

I find that this is most effective when the client learns how to play with particular muscles. Large, multi-muscle movements are confusing to work with but single muscles are open to change. To give an example, if you find a chronically tense muscle that resists stretching then, if you consciously tighten it further, you are simply doing more of what is happening anyway and so the muscle doesn’t resist. By doing this, you have moved the control of the muscle from the unconscious to the conscious and this opens the door to wider exploration.

Three Pillars of Movement Shiatsu
This discussion illustrates the three fundamentals of Movement Shiatsu based round the central core statement: ” What you are is your ABILITY not your DISABILITY”

Exploring oneself and experimenting with ingrained patterns can be hard work and not to everybody’s taste. The self naturally resists change, even good change. Many people come to a body therapist explicitly to be treated. They don’t want to explore, to experiment and to do work on themselves. This is a totally valid contract but, for some people, being treated is not enough. Movement Shiatsu provides tools for helping a client to do work on themselves through the body, if that is what they want. In my experience there are three groups of people who especially benefit from these tools:

1) People who would be classified as disabled. This classification is insulting to the spirit and the change of viewpoint that Movement Shiatsu gives can validate the person and help them to see their way of being as their success rather than their failure.

2) People with chronic issues, both physical and emotional. Typically, a person with long term physical issues has been to many therapists and tried out many types of therapy without success. This litany of therapeutic failure is depressing and maintains them in a position of being a victim to their condition. Movement Shiatsu changes the goalposts so they no longer see their condition as something to be cured but as a stimulus to deeper awareness. Often the awareness and the explorations it leads to produce a change in the symptoms because the person is starting to be kind to themselves, but that is not the main goal.

3) Old Age, As we age our area of ability changes and it is common for people to lose confidence in themselves because they are comparing themselves with their capacities at a younger age. However, if one keeps exploring one’s current areas of ability, one often finds new capacities developing in older age that one’s younger self could not achieve. This means that your self-image might change but your self-valuation does not diminish.

Life as a Course of Lessons
In the last few decades a culture has developed where therapies are largely judged by how successful they are at fixing problems. But, then the only option for people whose issues cannot be fixed is ‘condition management’, which is a way of giving up hope and, when hope leaves, the life spirit often goes too.

Life can be seen as a series of challenges and lessons to be learned by meeting those challenges. Getting rid of someone’s problems for them might also take away the course material for their lessons. If one can help the client to become an explorer, seeing their disabled movements as successful abilities and helping them to see their difficulties as lessons then I feel that means that the therapy is strengthening the spirit as well as giving the best chance for deep change at the physical and emotional levels.

This article is dedicated to my friend Joanna and her daughter Fae. Joanna taught me, through the way she died from cancer, that a successful life is nothing to do with being healthy but depends on meeting its challenges with spirit, love and grace. Fae, though people would perceive her as severely disabled through cerebral palsy, is one of my strongest teachers, showing that seeking normality is crazy in a “world run by maniacs” (in the words of John Lennon) and that a person can be whole, able and beautiful however different they may be.

[1] Moshe Feldenkrais – Awareness Through Movement 1972

[2] Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen: Sensing Feeling and Action. Contact Press. 1990

[3] Muller_Busch: Die Therapie des Facio-Oralen Trakts nach Kay Coombes 2015

[4] Bill Palmer – The Six Divisions – Journal of Shiatsu and Oriental Body Therapy 1994 Issue 5

[5] Bill Palmer – What is Qi: Journal of Shiatsu and Oriental Body Therapy. 1996 Issue 8

[6] LaRue Allen and Bridget B. Kelly: Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation 2015

The Inner Community

In this blog I will be exploring the body, the muscles, nervous systems, fascia and organs and seeing how they all relate to each other.

I’m going to try to put up a new article every week or two.

This week I want to make a general point, which you might say is political. Is our body organised democratically?

Psychologists, Neuroscientists, Biologists and Physiologists all agree that there is no such thing as the individual. Descartes thought that there was – in fact he famously said “I think therefore I AM” and he even identified the seat of this central “I” to be the Pineal Gland in the centre of the brain.

Read Daniel Dennett’s book “Consciousness Explained” for the latest evidence to show that Descartes was wrong. A multitude of experiments show that, when we make a decision, many different autonomous impulses are competing with each other and the winner comes into consciousness. We actually make the decision a few seconds before we are conscious of having made it.

Neuroscientists are exploring how different parts of the nervous system are actually autonomous agents, like separate people, who communicate with each other. Oliver Sacks, in “The Man who Mistook his wife for a hat” writes about the weird and wonderful things that happen when this communication breaks down. For instance, people who have had their corpus callosum severed (which used to be done to treat epilepsy) find that the left and the right halves of their body are feeling , thinking, sensing and interpreting different things. But the people concerned don’t notice – they maintain the illusion of being one person.

Psychosynthesis has coined the term sub-personalities for almost autonomous aspects of ourselves. So one day we might feel and act like a hurt child, the next we might be a hard-nosed businessman, the next a loving father. All of these are me – I am a community. Deeper than these, there are other members of the me-community: Carl Jung described Archetypes which can be seen as aspects of personality which are common to many humans – sort of like ‘human instincts’. Just as a horse knows how to walk without being taught (and can do so within minutes of being born) – so a human knows how to be a Mother (nurturing, supportive, non-judgemental) or a Hero (brave, self-sacrificing, resilient, on a quest). You can see these appearing in children’s play. “I’m the king of the castle”, “Doctors and Nurses”, “Mummies and Daddies” etc.

But even deeper, the Enteric System is a network of 500 million neurons wrapping round the gut. It acts as a separate brain, which knows what the body needs and creates moods and hungers to satisfy them. The heart beats even if disconnected from the brain. Organs function fairly autonomously, they are not controlled by some central controller. Each cell only communicates with its neighbours and decides what to do from the feedback it gets from these close companions, not from some global system.

So I am a community.

The question is, what is the politics of the me-community? Is it an autocracy or a democracy?

In many cases only a subgroup of this large community makes decisions and has a voice to express itself. This means that the needs and desires of the other members of the self-group are ignored and suppressed.

This is the cause of many many physical and psychological problems.

So I think that one of the main aims of therapy is to help the person to be democratic within themselves.

That’s the point of this blog – to explore how to give voice to all the members of one’s community and to help them to communicate and cooperate with each other.