Charismatic Mindfulness


Charismatic Mindfulness

mindful wing chun at College of MarinThis home page is about the class I teach at College of Marin.  For information on living with chronic medical conditions, explore the above buttons.

The Charismatic Mindfulness practice is offered as a dramatic alternative to sitting meditation forms of mindfulness. In addition to being a moving form of mindfulness practice, it is also a method of generating internal healing energy.

The goal of mindfulness practice is to live a vibrant life. The human condition means our attention continually drifts off from the present-moment activity, thereby distracting us from the vibrant life that results from being totally present with the activity of the moment, from moment-to-moment.

Vipassana and other sitting forms of mindfulness practices are excellent ways to notice when your attention drifted off. Once that skill is developed, you are then able to keep returning your attention to the present moment. The benefits of all practices are directly proportional to the amount of time spent in correct practice.

To optimize your health, it is best to spend as little time sitting as possible. Charismatic mindfulness is practiced to enhance both health as well as wellbeing. This practice is good for health and wellbeing in part because you are continually moving in the formal practice. In addition, you will learn to generate internal healing energy.

The most important way that this moving mindfulness practice differs from sitting forms of mindfulness, aside from the fact that you are moving rather than sitting still, is that each time you become aware that your mind has wandered off, you drop a little seed of intention to return your full attention to Little Idea Form (explained below), or to the sticking hands partner practices (also explained below) which you were practicing with full attention a moment earlier, just before your mind wandered off.

Whereas, in Vipassana and other sitting forms of mindfulness, each time you notice that your mind wandered off, you return your attention to following the sensations of breathing or following some other non-volitional process.

In other words, what is so different in this practice is that instead of returning your attention to an automatic process (breathing), you return your attention to a specific action that you are taking. In this case, the action is the practice of the series of movements in the Little Idea Form and the sticking hands partner practices. The value (aside from the health advantages) of this practice is that the skill of returning the mind to a physical action is easily transferrable to most other physical daily activities.

The Little Idea Form, which you can see me practicing in the videos, is about non-cognitive, mind-directed movement of the complex body shapes of a choreographed form. Although it is a mindfulness practice, it is far more than that. The practice taught in this class has two major components. The first is the Little Idea Form. The second is called sticking hands. Both are used as mindfulness practices as well as ways to cultivate internal healing energy. This internal healing energy generation method comes from the Chu Shong Tin lineage of the martial art of internal wing chun. Together, Little Idea Form and sticking hands will help you develop a very focused type of mind-body concentration through non-cognitive, mind-directed, active intention and movement. Throughout this practice, it is important to keep letting go of tension as soon as you become aware of it, physically and emotionally.

Typically, thoughts that lead to feelings of anger, frustration, and other forms of emotional distress catalyze muscular contraction in skeletal, smooth, and cardiac muscle. In this practice we focus on directly releasing muscular as well as emotional tension. Stress serves a purpose, but the vast majority of the time in modern life, we have way too much stress. Chronic stress is inversely proportional to health. The practice taught in this class dramatically reduces mental, emotional, and bodily stress.

Little Idea Form was created by Ng Mui about 300-years ago. She was an elder Shaolin martial arts master-warrior and founder of the martial art of wing chun. The art was named after her exceptional student, a young woman named Yim Wing Chun.

Little Idea, translated from the Cantonese Siu Nim Tao, refers to the planting of a little seed of intention in all physical movement. This leads to the generation of internal energy (described below), which results in very natural ease of movement and lightness of being. The Little Idea practice trains us to be able to move about in all activities with less effort and greater presence. I originally learned it as part of my training in the Chu Shong Tin lineage of the martial art of internal wing chun, in which I continue to train intensively. This practice leads to a state of mind known in Cantonese as Nim Tao. Nim Tao is a very balanced, centered, and calm state of mind wherein you have a very high level of mindful awareness and connectedness. It is a mind-state that allows you to be as alert as you are calm.

Nim tao is developed over time as you apply this form of physical mindfulness practice to all your daily activities. It is cultivated through the formal Little Idea Form and the sticking hands two-person practices. The internal healing energy is developed in proportion to the degree to which you apply the internal practice (described below) to daily activities.

The reason Little Idea Form is such a profound and dynamic, body-centered, mindfulness practice is due to its perfect combination of slow movement with stillness.

 Little Idea Form has the perfect mix of physical movement with mental effort, making it an extraordinarily exceptional practice for the cultivation of mind-body integration.

Although I spent many years training with three tai chi chuan masters, the tai chi forms have too much movement in them to be effective in deeply going inward. The only external movement in Little Idea Form is the slow-motion movement of the arms. The stillness of the torso and legs along with the slow-motion arm movements are what will allow you to go inward and develop the nim tao state.

Health and wellbeing are enhanced by learning to live in your embodied center (center of mass and balance) rather than from your thoughts, leading to a sense of ease and freedom, physically and emotionally. Your health and wellbeing is directly impacted by your thought processes.

For example, every time you repeat a negative or judgmental thought, you automatically reinforce the neural pathways supporting repetition of that thought.

The practice is to keep returning to your body-center and whatever physical movement you are engaged in, as soon as you recognize your mind wandered off into thinking rather than physically doing. The return of your attention to a physical action is what makes this practice dramatically different from sitting meditation.

Each time you practice returning your attention to physical centering, you reinforce the neural pathways for future centering.

Internal Activation and Rising Up the Spine: In Cantonese, these are respectively called taigung and seng. The complete process is taught in the class, but is too complicated to describe in this text. Internal activation and rising up the spine lead to the ability to live in your center.

With practice you will develop a very physically-centered, calm state of mind and body. You will then not only have greater freedom of movement, your mind will feel less cluttered, resulting in greater emotional spontaneity, resulting in the Nim Tao state.

This type of mind-body integration practice resolves residual tension throughout the body that would otherwise block energy flow and prevent optimal efficiency of movement.

As bodily tension is released, emotional distress diminishes. The reverse is also true as the two are intimately entwined.

This practice is about non-cognitive, mind-directed relaxation, which results in faster reflexes and greater spontaneity in all physical activity, as well as in mental processing.

You will begin to feel a sense of lightness and spaciousness as your joints begin to decompress and function optimally.  Stress reduction occurs as you learn to release bodily tension.

Release of chronic bodily tension also results in release of chronic pain. Personally, my chronic back pain of almost forty years duration abated early in the first year of practice.

The health benefits of this practice are endless. This is because more than anything, this practice results in body-wide release of tension. That in turn improves overall physiological functioning, especially immune function. Just as chronic stress can catalyze chronic illness, daily cultivation of the nim tao state calms the nervous system and creates the right environment for emotional and physical healing.

Wellbeing improves because the release of bodily tension leads to the ability to feel more, which leads to the ability to more fully experience life.

Fatigue decreases and energy increases as bodily tension diminishes. Energy also increases as you learn to move from your center, which is the most energy-efficient way to move.

The ability to improve your physiological and psychological functioning also catalyzes self-empowerment and self-efficacy.

Reality isn’t what you think. In this class you will experience how your thoughts actually distract you from reality. Your thoughts are nothing but mental constructs that are continually spewed out by the brain. They are a false reality created in your head.

This practice is about how to feel moment-to-moment experiences rather than thinking about them.

Redirection: Another way to do that is through mental redirection. For example, you can redirect your mind from an idea of not feeling well to being fully present with pure sensation without interpretation. This is a way of reducing suffering when there is any type of discomfort.

Name it and Tame it involves scanning the body with your body-mind and then transmuting interpretations about discomfort or pain into pure sensation.

Planting a little seed of intention as often as possible throughout the day will engender clarity of purpose and direction.

Here is an example of how I use the planting of a little seed of intention: I go for a high-speed hike in the hills every morning before it gets light. It is very common for me to be in the middle of the hike when I suddenly realize that my pace has slowed. Typically, it’s when I’m on a particularly steep incline. Where I used to be self-critical, telling myself I’m being lazy, now, each time I have that awareness, I plant a little seed of intention, which in this case involves getting an intensive exercise workout. Self-care without self-criticism helps lead to the nim tao state.

Mindful relaxation as learned in the Little Idea Form, unlike what we normally think of as relaxation, is a way of generating greater aliveness and awareness by freeing up internal energy that is otherwise blocked by emotional distress and bodily tension.

The little seed of intention will keep you on track with minimal effort and stress.

Escape from the prison of the mind. Because a calm mind allows us to objectively observe the constant stream of mind chatter that is part of the human condition, the practice of mindful relaxation allows us to walk out of the prison of the mind and begin to enter the nim tao state. This occurs as the calm and centered mind allows us to recognize thoughts for what they are, simply mental constructs created by the brain, which commonly don’t serve us.

Energy flows where attention goes. Thoughts about being unwell are not conducive to health. Viewing oneself as healthy reduces stress and improves immune function. The active nature of this dynamic practice is used to transmute negative, unhealthy thought patterns.

Mindfulness is a practice, not a philosophy.

  • In his book Full Catastrophe Living, arguably one of the best books on mindfulness ever written, author Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness: “It is the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.”  He also describes it as: “a living practice, a way of being.”
  • He emphasizes that: “The essence of mindfulness is denatured or lost if viewed as a concept rather than as a practice and way of life.”  The practice, in his words: “emphasizes that it is a living, evolving understanding, not a fixed dogma related to a museum honoring a culturally constrained past.”

What is it Like Being in this Class?

In this class I will be your tour guide on your inner journey and adventure. We’ll go on the expedition as a group. You will all be having your own unique experiences, while Lisa (my assistant) and I will be available to help you along the way. Each time a new class starts, we’ll be meeting new people and going to new (inner) places.

The Little Idea Form is the larger practice you will be learning; in it are contained multiple internal sub-practices that are done while going through the choreographed series of movements.

There are also two-person practices, which include the varieties sticking hands.  Sticking hands will allow you to test what you have been developing in your solo Little Idea practice and they provide an objective set of measures to keep you on track in the cultivation of your desired benefits.

The two-person practices also happen to be fun and create a sense of community in the class.

One of the most powerful benefits of sticking hands is that it provides you with the skill to stay focused and centered in stressful interpersonal interactions. The way this works is that when doing sticking hands, you train yourself to keep practicing the various internal components of Little Idea Form regardless of what your training partner or anyone else says or does that would otherwise distract you.

The single most challenging aspect of the class for everyone is mindful relaxation. To give you an idea of how difficult this is, just the act of trying to relax creates additional bodily tension. The ability to achieve a deep level of mindful relaxation results from practicing Little Idea correctly. Striving to concentrate and to practice correctly also creates additional bodily tension. Cultivation of the proper mind state over time leads not only to mindful relaxation, but also to the health and wellbeing benefits. An attitude of acceptance rather than striving, along with frequent practice, is key to success.

The two-person practices also enhance mindful relaxation and mindfulness. Sticking hands is one of the two-person practices to test each other’s level of mindful relaxation and level of mindfulness in a fun way.

Beginners can start in any of the five times per year that the class is offered at College of Marin.

Through Charismatic Mindfulness, you learn to hold yourself in a more relaxed and open posture—both physically and mentally. This results in others (and animals) feeling safe around you. In addition, holding yourself in this mindful, relaxed stance helps you to feel more open to and accepting of others.  Much of the stress we live with is the result of lifelong habits of holding various muscle groups tight for self-protection, which is not only dysfunctional, but actually reduces our sense of aliveness and wellbeing.

Mindful relaxation is equal to power; the more relaxed you are, the more powerful you are; this applies physically, mentally, and emotionally.

We are all limited by our self-imposed limitations. This practice will help you to recognize thoughts and beliefs for what they are, nothing more than mental constructs spewed out by your brain, which are commonly not based in reality and serve to create unnecessary suffering.

Practicing is an act of self-caring and self-valuing.

Practice is not something to squeeze into your day. Personally, I build each day around Little Idea, practicing every chance I get throughout the day and evening. This may seem austere, but once you start experiencing the benefits to your health and wellbeing, along with the joy of the sensations associated with mind-body integration, you will always be looking for spare moments when you can get in more Little Idea practice.

Whenever I arrive somewhere a few minutes early or I am between two tasks or activities, I remind myself: “This is my time, my life, and I deserve to be able to take these few minutes for myself to be able to practice my dynamic mindfulness.”

In addition, in each class there are many helpful tools to help you mindfully return your attention to the action you are engaged in. Here is an example: Don’t finish that sentence. This is one of the most difficult and rewarding practices. We all tend to think our thoughts are terribly important, and so, we want to finish our sentences, even when no one is around to hear our thoughts. Throughout the class you will be coached in how to return to physical centering each time you notice thoughts that are taking your attention away from the Little Idea Form or from any other present-moment activity, even when you are in mid-sentence, in fact, especially when you are in mid-sentence. Obviously, it is a good idea to finish your sentences when you are in interpersonal conversations.

Some of the sub-practices within Little Idea are:

  • Symmetry, Uprightness, and Balance
  • Internal activation or internal connection
  • Rising up in the spine and feeling a channel opening up from coccyx to crown of head
  • Mindful Relaxation (a form of relaxation that creates greater aliveness and that increases energy and power) Mindful relaxation is relaxation with direction.
  • Effortlessness in movement (a result of release of bodily tension)
  • Optimal Angle (has to do with directness, economy of movement, and ties in with joint rotation)
  • Centerline and Forward Focus (triangulation)
  • Elbow Force (refers to power coming from a specific way of using the joints and does not include muscle)
  • Holistic Awareness (awareness of the entire body, not just the hand that is moving)
  • Precision of Movement (has to do with placement and is related to the other skills as well)
  • Joint Rotation (relates to vectors of force, none of which has anything to do with muscle)
  • Cultivation of lightness (a result of moving from center of mass)
  • Retaining the calm inner state (a result of focused practice)

Over time, you will be able to apply those practices to managing stressful daily life situations and to getting more joy out of life. What happens over time is that you will find yourself incorporating many of the above listed practices in all your daily activities.

Symmetry, uprightness, and balance examples: when we practice symmetry, uprightness, and balance, brain function improves and stress diminishes. To test this, try taking any type of cognitive test sprawled out on a soft couch. Then take a similar test while standing tall and practicing being physically balanced and symmetrical. Your mind will be much sharper when you are in good posture. Another way to test this is to get into a stressful conversation with someone. Test to see how your posture affects the way you handle the conversation.

Mindful relaxation example: Usually, we tense up when in a stressful conversation or when we are confronted by a any type of stressful situation. Daily training in mindful relaxation frees up energy in your body and mind. It also allows you to see more objectively and to have a more neutral view of things.

Holistic awareness example: The opposite of this would be tunnel-vision or narrow-minded, black and white thinking.

More on How the Act of Practicing is an Act of Self-Caring and Self-Valuing

  • Practicing for the sake of practicing is an act of self-care.
  • Consciously choosing to practice is self-empowering.
  • Especially when you don’t feel like it, consciously choosing to practice is an act of self-caring and self-valuing.
  • Consciously choosing to practice is a message to yourself that you matter. Ask yourself if you value yourself enough to set aside practice time as a very special time that is just for you.
  • Not practicing is an act of self-abandonment.
  • Don’t ever practice because you think you should. During periods of low motivation to practice, find a way to make daily practice satisfying. Some days it is extremely challenging to find the time, but as long as there is something in it that is satisfying, we make the time.
  • If we dread practicing, we won’t, and probably shouldn’t. However, at those times when the motivation to practice is lacking, it is important that we explore what we really want from the practice, because that can then provide motivation.
  • If you maintain a daily practice, then, during those times when you are confronted with a particularly stressful period in your life, the practice can carry you through it, providing support and continuity.

Here are some additional examples of how I practice throughout the day: 

  • I practice pivoting as I walk. The way I do this is to initiate all turns internally. Intention to rotate the spine and pivot activates physical rotating and turning. I find this to be a very satisfying practice.
  • As I sit, stand up, and walk, I practice symmetry, unifying my upper and lower body and balancing my left and right, all the while moving from my center.
  • When I’m holding a heavy pan in one hand, I maintain symmetry.
  • When I am bent over, I remain centered.
  • I have found that washing pots and pans, cooking, opening and closing the refrigerator doors, and moving the heavy roaster with a chicken in it are all opportunities to practice principles such as symmetry, uprightness, internal activation, optimal angle, precision of movement, and elbow force. I also ask myself if I am recruiting more muscle than would be needed if I was more relaxed. I go inward and explore how relaxed and centered I am in my body.
  • Whenever I notice stressful thinking, I immediately put my mind in my center.
  • The question I ask most throughout the day, whether opening a door or getting up from a seated position is: Am I using the minimal amount of muscular exertion possible to get the job done? Being able to generate power with minimal muscular exertion is the result of a combination of maintaining mindful relaxation with optimal body mechanics.

Where is your Center? If you are fit, your center of mass and center of balance could be thought of as a vertical axis that is just anterior to the spine and it is where to put your attention. However, at a very high level, the center is thought of as a point rather than as a line. Living and moving from your center is a life practice and an antidote to living in your head. Living in your center means living in the moment—being fully present and fully awake to your moment-to-moment experience.

When your mind is in your center, you will remain calm in situations that otherwise cause you to get flustered or to lose your cool.  When living in your center, unpleasant emotions such as anger, rage, frustration, sadness, and despair are more likely to be experienced as pure emotions, which means, since your mind is in your center, those emotions will not be problematic. You will still feel them; in fact, you may feel them even more deeply, but you won’t get caught in stories about them. It is the stories we create that add to our suffering.

In living from your center, you practice mindfully recognizing when you get triggered by an individual or a situation. Focusing outwardly on the behavior of the other person prevents you from living from your center. This does not mean closing your eyes and ears to all the craziness going on in your environment. It means being aware of your surroundings and being part of the dance.

As humans, we live primarily in our heads—in our thoughts. This is a practice that trains the mind to come home to the body. This is achieved as we learn to direct the body with the mind. What I am describing has nothing to do with thinking about the body or about the connection between mind and body. Rather, it is about using mind to direct body movements without any analysis and without any muscular exertion. This is mind-body integration.

When we fail to train the mind to come home to the body, it is like abandoning a big part of ourselves. Spending our waking moments analyzing external situations is another way to abandon ourselves. When we put mind in the body, we are home. Part of the human condition involves performing tasks that are not always fun and are often even unpleasant. Practicing moving from our center can serve to give greater meaning to everything we do, including those unpleasant tasks.

The spine can expand. Striving, straining, muscle tension, poor posture, and non-diaphragmatic breathing contract the muscles around the spine and block energy. When the energy is stable to flow freely, you are likely to experience sensations of increased space between the vertebrae and have a sense of gaining height. Energy is generated when the whole body moves in a relaxed, coordinated way. When mindful relaxation, symmetry, balance, uprightness, and the other dynamic mindfulness principles are practiced, there is considerably more movement throughout the spine and the rest of the body.

Practice cultivation of a gentle, natural smile. This serves to catalyze state-bound memories of when you experienced optimal wellbeing, which then recreates that same psychophysiological state in the present.

Practice maintaining a soft gaze. Relaxing the muscles around your eyes actually improves your vision, especially your peripheral vision and allows you to take in more of your surroundings. The opposite would be tunnel vision, where the muscles around your eyes are tense and your eyes are focused on one thing. Maintaining a soft gaze allows you to take in all your surroundings with a relaxed alertness. It will allow you to be more in tune with the environment around you.

Practice conscious choice. Whenever you find yourself using “have to” language, adopt the attitude that you are taking care of yourself, such as in “taking myself for a walk”. Loving self-care of your body will optimize its abilities to perform for you.

Training the Wandering Mind: Each time you notice your mind has wandered to ruminative thoughts of the past or future-centered planning, gently and lovingly return your attention to mindful relaxation and centering. Because we are human, our attention will always wander, thereby negatively impacting our performance and joy in every activity. Every time our attention wanders, we are less fully alive and engaged in life. The solution is simply to adopt the practice of lovingly returning our attention to these body-centered practices as soon as we become aware of the loss of attention.

It is none of your business what others think of you: Never allow yourself to be distracted and worried about what others are doing or thinking (the result of being in your head). Regarding what others may think about you, it is none of your business. That type of outward concern is the result of losing your center. Fill your day with mindful doing or mindfully taking action. This means acting without thinking about how you are doing or what anyone else thinks. If you fear being judged, maybe it is because you are judging yourself, which is another result of living in your head rather than in your center.

This process is like a reversible reaction in chemistry. Physiologically, an example of a reversible reaction is the process by which carbon dioxide and water form carbonic acid and then the carbonic acid can break down into carbon dioxide and water. Relaxing the mind serves to relax the body, just as relaxing the body serves to relax the mind. There are biochemical reactions throughout the body that strongly associate with stress; those reactions reverse when we go into a calm state. Biochemical reactions can be influenced by our state of mind.