Contacting the organs

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    Ann Furtado

    Dear Bill, please could you clarify what classification you are using under ‘families’. Apologies but I’ve looked through the website and read your notes and can’t find an answer.

    Re today’s practice which I thought was very insightful and exciting, I have a question about contacting the organs. In many years of practising and also teaching tai chi, I have noticed that when one begins, one copies the teacher’s movement, it is mirroring without entering the interior experience, it is surface. In time, proficiency comes from entering the body and experiencing the movement kinesthetically (if that is the correct term) at which point, I believe, the movement is embodied and ‘owned’ because it comes from the self. I think this explains why everyone does whichever form slightly differently.
    I have enough understanding of Chinese (and Western!) medicine to locate the organs in the body and to know the associations with them, but I don’t ‘feel’ them, I kind of know where they are and have a sense of them. The wobbling at the beginning with Teresa was enticing and I am wondering if there is a jump for me (maybe others) where the sense of the organs will change into something more tangible. One certainly hears stories of ‘masters’ of various arts who can directly contact their interior organs which I’ve always thought must indicate another level of sensitivity and knowledge. Hope that makes sense. Any thoughts?

    Bill Palmer

    Dear Ann
    The families are groups of Qi Organs which all collaborate in a wider overall function. You can read three articles I wrote which describe the three families. Each family consists of four Qi-functions which are two Yin-Yang pairs in two different elements or equally are one Yin-Yin pair and one Yang-Yang pair which are both one of the Six Divisions

    1. Yang Ming and Tai Yin article:

    2. Tai Yang and Shao Yin article:

    3. Jue Yin and Shao Yang article:

    As for your question about feeling the organs. It’s not so much another level of sensitivity but of practising. Our sense of our body (interoception) is like listening to an orchestra. It’s all mixed up together and we feel the music but don’t discriminate between the different instruments. What we are trying to do in the Inner Qigong is to use movement, voice, visualisation etc. to highlight the different instruments. For me it’s exactly like learning to listen for the different instruments in an orchestra. If someone points out the Oboe, saying “that’s the instrument that’s playing da-Da-di-Da” then you learn to hear the timbre of the Oboe and then you start to hear it separately within the music. The same with an organ, if you learn to feel how each organ moves with the breathing, then you learn to recognise that quality of sensation and movement within your normal orchestral sense of self.

    Ann Furtado

    Thank you Bill, that’s really helpful for me. Oddly enough I’ve been studying some tai chi form of late and we had a discussion about music and the analogy that when you get confused and stop at a particular note or point in the form, you lose the sense of the flow and the whole so there has to be continual discernment and untangling of part without disconnecting from the whole.

    Also for the article links, I have looked at those articles but I hadn’t ever heard the term families to describe the organs before. Probably the activities contained in the classes are enough but I’m happy to spend a bit of time on the background.

    Bill Palmer

    The term “FAMILIES” was coined by me in the late 1980’s as the theoretical foundation of Movement Shiatsu. Tomas Nelissen, Peter den Dekker, Karin Kalbantner-Wernicke and others who attended my workshops have made them a central part of their Shiatsu systems, even though their systems are very different to Movement Shiatsu and the ‘Three Families’ is now accepted by the Shiatsu Society as one of the four theories on which Shiatsu can be based. The others are the Five Element theory, Zen Shiatsu and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

    My research into infant movement showed that the meridians were pathways along which intentional movement progressively developed out of automatic reflexes. Six developmental themes evolved along these pathways, each of which consisted of two meridians, one in the leg and one in the arm. They turned out to be exactly the pairings defined by the ‘Six Divisions’. I noticed that developmentally, the movement associated with a pair of Yin meridians developed just before the movements associated with a pair of Yang meridians and, if you put the two divisions (four meridians) together they formed a beautiful team which joined two Elements and two Divisions (see my articles). These four meridians formed a self-contained ecology, all four helping to develop one major aspect of our lives. So out of twelve organ meridians come three families.

    It was only later that I found that these families formed the cycles that were described in the Ling Shu, one of the fundamental texts of Chinese Medicine. Although it doesn’t mention families, it defines three cycles in the movement of Qi. In each cycle the Qi moves from the Ground into the Organs, then from the Organs into the Hands and then from the Hands to the Head and from the Head back down to the ground.

    Each series in the Inner Qigong basically follows the movement development of one family. So the first family consists of the Spleen and Lung (The Tai Yin division) and the Large Intestine and Stomach (The Yang Ming division). Together the family joins the meridians associated with the Earth Element to the meridians associated with the Metal Element. So together they create a sense of support and groundedness (Earth) along with a sense of personal space and individuation (Metal) – the big theme is that they are defining you as an individual.

    The movements of the first family Qigong trace the upward support of the ground into the organs then fill the flesh (Spleen) this inner expansion then develops outer expansion to fill our personal space and express ourselves to the outer world (Lung).

    But our personal space is not limitless, it has a boundary, and the Large Intestine defines our separate boundary by pushing. The ‘terrible twos’ are a developmental stage where toddlers are pushing against the outer world and, in the process, they gain a sense of autonomy and power. But equally importantly, they need to sense the limits of their power, and be given clear boundaries otherwise they lose their sense of there being an Other – this pathology is what is called Sociopathy or Narcissism. Everything is Self and the Other is not seen as something to relate to but only something to control.

    In child development, psychological themes, like gaining a sense of boundary, are built on a foundation of physical movement. For instance, babies use the muscles along the Large Intestine meridian to push against the ground, thus raising themselves up and separating from the mother (earth). So the Large Intestine is a Yang action, pushing outwards, to assert our individuality. The essence of Large Intestine Qi is not excretion but outward pushing. Excretion uses this direction of energy to push out / let go of toxins.

    Its Yang partner in the family is the Stomach energy which opens the door to receive what is needed from the outside world. Its movement is reaching and opening and then receiving inwards and back down to the ground.

    As we go through the different series you will see that each one embodies a similar cycle of four functions all collaborating in developing a dimension of being.

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