It has always been said that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.
As a yoga teacher trainer, yoga anatomy teacher and healer, I have always felt in my viscera that the abdomen is a big missing link that most modern healing modalities overlooked. Have you ever experienced any tight knots in your belly? Have you ever experienced sick stomach when you feel stressed? Are you aware that your mood tends to be negatively affected whenever you feel bloated in your guts?
In my yoga experience, it seemed that no matter how much I stretch there was always this constant tightness in the left side of my abdomen that I suspected to be pulling on my spine and contributing to my neck pain and limiting my backbend. Not to mention that I was extremely annoyed by this constant tightness. I even felt them while I was just sitting. I wanted these knots to be released so badly but there weren’t many people who know what to do in my area.
Therefore when my roommate of a teacher training trip in California offered to give me a “belly massage”, I jumped to my feet and said “Hell Yes!”
Before we get to my first Taoist Abdominal Massage experience, I would like to share some of the background to set a context of this session. First, Tahnee (my healer roommate) and I knew each other four years ago at another training with our teacher but it wasn’t until this trip that we connected and clicked. Secondly, I was very down emotionally and was stressed out with finance, career and relationships. With my regular meditation and spiritual practise, I could still maintain a calm mind and joyful spirit, but the loop of obsessively thinking just kept playing, and there was such heaviness on my chest and shoulders.
For the session, we picked a half-day-off to do it so we could be nice and relax. After we have sorted out the music and grabbed some olive oil from our retreat centre’s kitchen, Tahnee started her magic. I lay on my bed with my top rolled up to expose my belly. As I allowed myself to be healed, I shut off my analytic brain and simply trusted my dear friend. I don't remember all the details but I remember at the beginning of the session how she gently pressed the femoral arteries across my hips and then pressed around the rim of my belly button which I found so deeply soothing.
Then she kneaded, pressed, spiralled, scooped, shook, rubbed, pumped, elbowed different parts of my abdomen and even my diaphragm. Now EVERYTHING hurt. My grimacing and groaning must have caused concern in her.
“Hey dear, are you okay?”, asked Tahnee, while she was releasing yet another tight knot.
“I’m alright. I’m alright. It hurts but I know I need them to be released”, I was bitting my lips as I mutter theses words.
“Maybe you would like to ease off with the coffee, it causes your intestine to twist. And ease off with the stress too.”
Bingo! Coffee and constant low-grade stress were my trusted companions as an independent yoga teacher in Hong Kong - I wouldn’t be surprised if my intestines were all twisted.
At the end of the session, she laid her hands on my navel and I felt a strong current of chi/energy rushed both down towards my feet and up towards my head. And a heavy layer of veil being lifted off from my brain.
I lay there in another zone for a good 15 minutes.
“Oh my God thank you! This is the best massage I have ever had!” I said with deepest gratitude, “What is that?”
“It’s called Chi Nei Tsang. I learnt it from Master Mantak Chia four years ago. You know, right after the last training that we did together in Thailand”
And for the next few days, I was surprised that my obsessive thinking has decreased by 90% and I slept so much better - waking up without the sense of tightness in the stomach and chest that I had have for years.
I became very curious with this Chi Nei Tsang thing. And then I found out that Master Mantak Chia has a training that miraculously fit my already-packed schedule.
There is no coincidence in life. When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
I’m not suggesting every session would be as magical (or as painful) as the one that I received because it depended on a lot of conditions - time, place, people, energy, state of being, the stars, but people do consistently report significant improvements in digestion, constipation, tightness in the abdomen, lower back pain, sciatic issues, neck pain, TMJ (jaw issues), urogenital issues, vitality, emotional and mental wellbeing etc. with the help of Chi Nei Tsang (CNT). (And before you're scared off by the pain that I described, please relax. While certain discomfort might be experienced, we usually work progressively so the discomfort will be manageable. Tahnee and I both knew I needed and could handle that level of intensity, and we were in a Buddhist retreat centre in the redwoods with no phone reception.)
So you might wonder "how does it work?”
It was believed that CNT was developed by ancient Taoist sages who through their meditation and internal practice observed that energy blockage created tangles and knots in the abdomens, which in turn, created more blockages. What could cause these energy blockages? Negative emotions such as fear, anger, hatred, anxiety and depression, bad postures, diet, stress, overwork, accidents, surgeries, toxins, unhealthy lifestyle… Unfortunately, these all seem too common in today’s world.
And these sages discovered that by directly working or massaging around the navel centre which is where every life begins, they could detoxify and tone the organs, remove knots and tangles, and allow chi to flow better.
According to Taoism, each internal Organ has its own set of characters. Each one corresponds to one of the five fundamental elements, harbour a particular pair of positive/negative emotion, process a particular mental aspect, has its own energy pathways that course through the body (i.e. meridians), possesses a particular taste, colour and sound, just to name a few. And when we talk about Organ in Chinese Medicine, we are talking about an organ network of function, not just an anatomical organ as it is depicted in the Western medical system (hence the capital O to differentiate). Therefore when we detox and tone the Organs and bring these networks into harmony, it could result in wellbeing on so many levels.
As a movement teacher who works with physically and mentally healthy people and other healthcare professionals on a regular basis, I was fascinated by what gap CNT could fill where other methods can’t. Throughout the years I have seen people and myself having spent so much time and money on treatments that only target the “muscles and bones” or expensive and invasive surgical interventions (which usually cause more harm than good down the road) but not get any better. Not to mention the emotional strain and financial pressure these chronic pains entail.
My “gut feeling” of Organs playing a big part in these chronic issues that aren’t healed by purely musculoskeletal therapies was affirmed by Master Mantak Chia in his book Chi Nei Tsang -
“Muscles are like backup tanks. When the organs become overloaded with negative emotions or toxins, they unload their energies into the muscles. When you have problems in the organs, you will feel aches and pains in your muscles. “
This is NOT to say musculoskeletal therapies aren’t effective. Far from that. What I’m suggesting is that if there are chronic issues that just won’t go away no matter how many massages, physical therapies or even surgeries you have done, it’s worth taking care of the organs with CNT. And CNT do effectively and directly target an important muscle which was nicknamed the “muscle of the soul” by some traditions, the only muscle that connects the spine and the lower limbs and is located at the centre of our core - the Psoas.
The “almighty” psoas is surrounded by some important structures of our body - our internal organs, the spine, the aorta, the vena cava, solar and lumbar plexi, large concentration of lymph nodes, the femoral arteries, ilioinguinal & genitofemoral nerves, the hip joint, the diaphragm (with their tissues basically blended together) etc. Also including the different muscles there, it makes the abdomen a complex area with great wellness potential and equally great possibility for complication. This topic worths another blog post for some other day so I will just leave it at that for now.
We should all be free from pain. When we are in harmony and in vibrant health - our most natural state, we shouldn’t experience disease and suffering. If you feel CNT might resonate with your “gut” and your “heart”, find a practitioner at your area to have a try.