Vision Statement

John Dao Productions is a venture to clarify fundamental internal arts principles.  While the author is writing from the context of the western eastern-influenced internal arts scene, the principles are broadly common.

“John Dao Productions” is not about promoting any specific tradition, school, teacher nor method.  It’s an attempt to clarify rock bottom ubiquitous mechanics underlying countless methods across traditions.  The basic ideas are few and simple; this will be a short blog.

“John Dao” is a pseudonym chosen to represent the ideal that esoteric principles can be communicated in a way that anyone can understand and apply.

Essential posts on theory/principle:
1. Internal Arts: Common Fundamentals
2. Enso, Emptiness and the Deep-Centers

Additional posts illustrate theory, or are otherwise adjunct:
1. Qi Sphere: Beginning
2. Finger-Knitting Mudras (part 1 of 2)
3. Finger-Knitting Mudras: Kuji-in

John Dao

 

 

 

Finger-Knitting Mudras: Kuji-in

This is the second essay of a two part series on finger-knitting mudras.  The first finger-knitting essay provided concise theory and two individual mudras.

“Kuji-in”, in Japanese, literally means “nine hand seals”.  The kuji-in are a set of nine finger-knitting mudras that have a broad history across geography, countries and traditions by which they’ve accrued quite a number of accompanying esoteric practices and mythologies.  They’re currently made popular through the Buddhist and martial traditions of Japan.  All of which could make rich complex study, and all well beyond the context of this brief photo essay.

My approach here is spartan simplicity, utility and art: just the hand positions.

The kuji-in, the 9 hand mudras alone, have practical application for the average person:
They are brilliant set of mudras that serve to open the channels, from the bottom step-by-step up sections of the torso, culminating at the crown and resolving back down into the lower belly.

All four common fundamentals are illustrated by this method.  It’s extraordinarily efficient:

  • unifying breath and awareness – if you practice conscious breathing while you do this.
  • opening the tissues and channels – as described in the previous finger-knitting mudra essay.
  • centering – specialized interlocking of the fingers promotes channel and brain left~right integration.
  • vertical integration – unlocks vertical sections of the body sequentially.

Minimalist instruction:

  • The mudras are practiced as a set, in sequence.
  • Each mudra should be held upright at the level of the body that it primarily affects.
  • Hold each for as little as several comfortably deep breaths, or – if you like – for more meditative duration.
  • You should feel a comfortable flex in the positions; do not strain yourself.

If you desire more in-depth instruction I encourage you to seek out additional resources.

Once you’ve established familiarity, the set is remarkably effective even from a very short practice session (less than 3 minutes).  Stress relief and body integration for those on-the-go.

MUDRAS

#1. Base of torso. (Only as low as you can go without strain.)

  

#2. Just below belly button.

  

#3. Solar plexus (receiving ascending from below).

#4. Solar plexus. (receiving descending from above).

  

#5. Rib cage.

#6. Rib cage and neck.

  

#7. Up under jaw pointed through top of head.

  

#8. Crown.

#9. Just below belly button.  Conclude.

 

FREE VISUAL REFERENCE pdf
Kuji-in: a free visual reference to assist in learning the mudras (pdf).

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
Thank you to Wu Lao Xie, Sifu Christopher Matsuo, Grandmaster of Dragongate Sanctuary for introducing me to the kuji-in and this ‘finger-knitting’ (my colloquial term) style of mudra in general.  He offers numerous videos that go into this area in extensive depth and detail, not only of the kuji-in set, but of this style of mudra skillfully paired to enhance qigong movements sprinkled throughout his system.  All of which is way beyond the scope of this essay:  a minimalist visual learning reference for beginners.

 

Enso, Emptiness and the Deep-Centers

This essay is an anonymous picture-book-style internal arts autobiography that spans several decades, illustrated using variations of the enso (Japanese circle).  This is not an “everyone do correctly in this order”!  It’s just one person’s story, stripped down to simplest common underlying mechanics.  Hopefully there’s something relatable n’ useful among my bungles and resolutions; I suspect they’re typical.  Maybe just enjoy the art.  🙂

The sequence starts with the strong sense of self formed during adolescence, moves quickly through initial opening and explorations, then unpacks in a more detailed way the topic of “deep-centering” which was briefly introduced in my common fundamentals essay.

~ under construction ~
I recently finished the art work (most of it anyhow); it’s been a long process.  So, for now, I am just posting the pictures.  Over time I’ll fill it out with sparse captions, user-friendly explanation, and reading references.

 

solid individual

 

first opening – surprise!: spacious awareness.
sudden dissolution of the subject / object split.

Symptoms might include annoying over-enthusiasm and lack of wise social boundaries.  😉

Often such an event, however it came about, makes a lasting impression and an irrevocable inclusion of the internal process within one’s life.

 

 

attraction/aversion, acquired conditioning.
excavating, sorting out
through the usual various modalities:
talk therapy, body-wisdom discipline/s, breath, meditation.

 

 

transmission

 

higher energies are a solvent.
without skillful means
refining, dissolving can go too far.
how to progress *and* promote integral integrity?

There are at least several indispensable answers.
This essay focuses specifically on the process of “deep-centering“, which is relevant to any center along the vertical line.

central channel (aka: center line, sushumna)

 

Center, deep-center, bindu.  Structure, goal, process (by feel).  [currently editing this caption]

Long term orientation:
ignite bindus as natural anchors of
transpersonal spacious awareness
into individual structure with
increasing fluency, depth.

 

enter any center.
finding the quiet deep-center:
feels like ‘nothing’.
The deep-center is the skillful nexus
between concentration and openness.
Though it is inherent in our structure,
it takes time to ignite and to mature to fluency.

 

abide
How to sustain focus in a space that feels like nothing?

As a focusing tool, within the deep-center, visualize something:
pearl (illustrated), jewel, cool candle flame, mantric syllable, flower.

During this kind of practice, whatever visualized will be made:
luminous (conduct light, glow),

spun (various directions, smaller ~ larger),
dissolved (into luminous emptiness).

… sometimes in concert with focused breathing.

 

spiral: blend, refine, dissolve.

 

dissolve: duality breached

 

luminous emptiness

 

 

 

embodied light, integration

 

more than one center

 

same basic refinement mechanics.
still points along the center-line,
in each:
enter, abide, dissolve.

 

multiple deep-center refinements culminate in
whole central channel and egg: lit.

light bulb maintains focus on its’ own filament.

 

Traditions and reading references:
My premise is that the phenomena of “centering” is inherent, built into each of us at all levels (very physical through very subtle), whether in or outside of religious traditions.  Centering is as non-sectarian as breathing and you’re likely to find relevant material where ever you are, whatever your philosophical orientation.  That’s my primary encouragement.

Yet, the process that I’m calling “deep-centering” is a major key to transpersonal integration and the literature is found mostly within religious meditative traditions.  So, with apologies to the non-sectarian ideal, I’ll point out traditional terminology and books with which I’ve a little familiarity (mostly eastern influenced).

In General:

By Tradition:

The Secret of the Golden Flower by Thomas Cleary

 

The Six Yogas of Naropa: Tsongkhapa’s Commentary entitled A Book of Three Inspirations is the reprint of Tsongkhapa’s Six Yogas of Naropa by Glenn H. Mullin word for word, page by page – relevant phrase throughout:enter, abide, dissolve“.

 

Various:

 

Internal Arts: Common Fundamentals

“the short list”

This concise overview of the internal path contains several fundamentals that are pervasive: both obvious at mundane first glance and of esoteric bedrock depths.  The overview is based upon several decades’ experience in the western eastern-influenced internal arts scene (yogic, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, modern American mysticism) yet, I suspect, has universally broad application.

An example of such a common fundamental is “breathe and be present”. Readily relatable. No special background required. Yet the sustained union of awareness and breath is ground zero for stillness meditation as well as integral movement practices in virtually every internal arts school everywhere.

I have some hope that this overview is both accessible and of utility across a broad spectrum of atheists ~ agnostics ~ theists.  I’m not trying to convert anyone to anything, nor start anything new.  I’m trying to help clarify a few essential mechanics of what’s commonly inherent, where ever you’re walking.

a functional overview of the internal path

The above picture symbolizes three common fundamentals:
1. Opening the Tissues and Channels
2. Centering
3. Vertical Integration

Most folks immediately relate to just that simply stated list. Pretty obvious, even. It’s what we all do naturally, anyway. There are some details that get pretty interesting; here we go.

PERSONAL WORK

1. “Opening the Tissues and Channels”  (basis: the body)
Jade is both hard and soft, and so symbolizes being well blended.  The jade ring represents opening and preparing the body, through regular exercise (cardiovascular, etc) as well as through various bodywork and body-wisdom-disciplines.  In bodywork it’s generally understood that trauma of various levels (psychological and other) is often stored physically (and in some energetic layers close to the physical).  In this context I’m using “channels” to refer mostly to the channels described in Chinese medicine (12 regular and 8 extraordinary, not just du and ren), opened through various modalities.

This area is extensively addressed through myriad available resources, both secular and across most internal art traditions. Beyond framing it as an essential category in this little outline, I’ve nothing to add. 🙂

TRANSPERSONAL WORK

It is individual integration with forces larger than the individual,
in a way that both transcends and supports the individual,
that imbues internal cultivation with long term functional depth.

2. “Centering” (personal basis: deep-center, transpersonal basis: spacious awareness)

People commonly have some immediate sense of the noun/verb, “center”, whether vague or with specific mechanics in mind.  Certainly it denotes focus.  It doesn’t take specialized sectarian belief to smile into the light of your own heart, or to feel stabilized and empowered by your relationship to the ground, or to stay centered as yourself in conversation.  With just a little bit of experimentation it becomes clear that centering relates to a broad spectrum of inter-related human physicality, psychology, and deepening of awareness related to meditation.  While inclusively relevant, my emphasis here is deep-center as nexus of personal ~ transpersonal, concentration ~ openness.

Returning to the picture metaphor, the paper represents spacious awareness, also known as the one medicine, the big light, luminous emptiness, sky of mind.  The paper is most clearly seen both outside-of and through-the-center-of the jade ring: The quiet deep-centers (and related central vessel, sushumna) of the personal have special resonance with the universal, the skillful nexus of drop ~ ocean.  Various concentration, refinement and stillness practices are relevant.

3. “Vertical Integration” (personal basis: myofascial web, transpersonal basis: heaven and earth)

The trigrams above n’ below and the jade ring between symbolize the interplay of the energies of heaven and earth through a person. These energies are neither distant nor abstract, but are kinesthetically felt flowing through the body. “Earth” is felt as heavy, “heaven” as lofty. Lofty and heavy are coursed through the body with increasing skill and depth of integration by practicing relevant internal arts. The myofascial web refers to the continuum of connective tissue: fascia ~ tendon ~ ligament ~ bone. In recent decades, western bodywork therapies and exercise systems have become aware of the importance of the myofascial web. Eastern systems, especially the classic three Taoist internal martial arts (tai chi, xing yi, and bagua zhang) and related systems of qigong, emphasize the development of connective tissue as conduit to the energies of “heaven and earth”.

The flow of earth ~ human ~ heaven is also integral with the centers. Impossible to separate this stuff. 🙂

Conclusion

So, in review, common internal arts fundamentals:

  • Union of breath and awareness
  • Opening the tissues and channels
  • Centering
  • Vertical integration

Brown bag generic, simple, relatable, startlingly comprehensive, obvious yet integral with inexhaustible depth.  Representing not static accomplishments, but dynamic living process.

As I’ve said before, I’m not trying to create a new system/school.  I’m suggesting that those fundamentals are likely integral with any internal arts system that you’re already in, or choose to explore, with much more detail than I could ever provide here.  Take a look.  With a little use and resulting familiarity you’ll find that these few fundamentals help orient and are broadly utilitarian across varying terrain, yet fit on a matchbook cover.

I have modest hope, tempered by realism, that this will make some small contribution toward the cause of establishing relatable common ground sans dogma among widely differing paths. Maybe just even among a few friends. 🙂

Finger-Knitting Mudras (part 1 of 2)

Qi Sphere n’ Finger-Knitting: Peas n’ Carrots

My previous essay, “qi sphere: beginning”:
– engaged the energetics of the hands,
– produced palpable results in a jiffy,
– illustrated common fundamentals:
1. Opening the tissues & channels,
2. centering
3. vertical integration.

heart’s & hands’ qi spheres,  “vitality” finger-knitting mudra

I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t present “finger-knitting mudras” (FKMs) along with the qi sphere, as this style of mudra is remarkably effective along similar lines as sphere work, yet on a more physical level.  Finger-knitting mudras complement qi sphere work wonderfully.

PeasAndCarrots

Finger-knitting mudras also contrast with the qi sphere by being more complex in several ways (understanding theory, initial doing, historical baggage).  My approach here is simplicity so I’ll cut through those jungles as best I can.   🙂

 

A Little Theory

The basic theory of FKMs is much the same as I described in more detail in the qi sphere essay: The qi flows with increasing dynamics at the ends (arms -> hands -> finger tips, similarly w/ legs) plus the interaction of left~right hands’ polarity triggers centered integration not only to create & work with the hands’ sphere but also by resonance fostering similar effects within the torso, brain, center-line in general.  Get it?  😉  Bottom line: a lot of the right things add up well to make hand energetics effectively spark n’ shine, good results with little effort.

The finger-knitting mudras differ from the qi sphere in that fingers not only physically touch, they cross-weave, much like macrame, with a creativity and variety that you’d never imagine. Deeper physical engagement of the fingers emphasizes opening of denser tissue layers within the body.

“mind seal mudra”, detailed later in this essay

Most of the finger-knitting mudras are pretty safe to get into, but people vary.  Simple caution: don’t ever strain your fingers, hands, wrists.  The mudras should produce a feeling of comfortable flex.  If you feel strain, you’ve gone too far.  Don’t do that. 🙂

As to detailed theory, the specific energetics of each finger and in-depth understandings of what each finger-knitting mudra does, both could be the basis for extensive study and are beyond the scope of this essay.  I find that alignment with general principles and palpably good results are sufficient.  You can feel and judge for yourself.

 

Getting Started with Finger-Knitting Mudras

Start with learning one or two mudras.  The kuji-in (set of nine mudras, presented in part 2 of this essay) tend to be the most popular and are often presented first.  However, finger-knitting mudras are unusual enough that you’re likely to “whaaaa …???” when first learning.  One or two are plenty to start, lol.

1. Vitality Mudra

Sifu Matsuo instructs re: the Vitality Mudra:

Video clips used with permission.  Thank you! to Sifu Matsuo.  Video and ordering information are in the youtube description of the video.

 


“vitality mudra” (left: from the inside, right: from the outside)

Getting into the Vitality mudra begins with peace:
1. Peace signs with both hands.
2. Right wrist over left wrist (hands vertical, chest level).
3. Interlock the fingertips of the peace signs.
4. Interlock the pinkies’ fingertips.
5. Thumbs touch middle fingers.

Once your hands are successfully in the mudra: relax, breathe comfortably deeply, feel what you feel. … for how long?  People often feel some effect within the space of three comfortably deep breaths.  (Yes, they really work that quickly.)  Hang out with it as long as you like, from a few moments to more sustained meditative lengths.  More extensive instruction in Sifu Matsuo’s video, above.

Notice that interlocking fingertips are emphasized, which is common in finger-knitting mudras.  Clever and effective: Chinese medical theory describes the fingertips as places where the qi is very dynamic and acupuncture treatments at the ends tend to activate the whole channel.

2. Mind Seal Mudra

 

“mind seal mudra”

1. cross pinky fingers to the hilt, opposite thumbtips gently hold ’em in place
2. ring fingers point upward, resting along each other
3. cross middle fingers, opposite index fingertips gently hold ’em in place

This concludes part 1 of “finger-knitting mudras”.  I suggest you become comfortable with one or both of the above mudras, give them time to soak in for days, weeks, as long as you like.  Then, *if* you find that you are hungry for more, part 2 presents a classic set of nine mudras: Finger-Knitting Mudras: Kuji-in.

 

 

Qi Sphere: Beginning

The hands’ qi sphere is one of those things that is taught in the beginning that then shows up repeatedly, in various ways, throughout intermediate and advanced development. It’s simple, immediately accessible yet has depth.


1. hands as bowls. lights on.

2. press hands’ spheres together …

3. … into one sphere.

While much could later be said about the theory and progression of the sphere, I find that the most important guidelines for beginners are the simplest: 1. Feel it and 2. Enjoy. The benefits are largely built-in and emerge naturally as a result of practice, even while knowing next-to-no theory. Especially for beginners, it’s important not overwhelm your self with many parts. Over time the very simplest gets you a long way.

Sifu Matsuo’s Kuan Yin Magnetic Qigong (KYMQ)

I learned qi sphere work from Sifu Matsuo’s excellent Kuan Yin Magnetic Qigong 1hr20min video. However, there is enough to get you started in a short 2 minute section (from 1m26s through 3m22s) of this 9 minute KYMQ preview video:

While there are too many sphere maneuvers in the full KYMQ video to mention here and, beyond KYMQ, sphere work is applicable throughout Sifu Matsuo’s bagua qigong system … Again, I suggest that you become comfortable with the most simple maneuver described in that small 2 minute section first. (If you are interested in purchasing Sifu Matsuo’s detailed full length KYMQ video, ordering info is in the youtube video description.)

Hands’ Sphere Activates Core

Ok, now for a little bit of “what’s next?”. You’ll find that, as the qi sphere of your hands gets established that it will resonate and activate the spheres (chakras, etc) inherent in your torso along your center-line (aka, “central channel”, “sushumna”, “golden thread”). For instance, alternately expand ~ concentrate your hands’ sphere at the height of your heart center and simply include your heart center in your awareness. Through resonance, if you allow it, your heart center will participate in the cycling of expansion ~ concentration. So, the hands’ sphere becomes a tool to activate and refine all of the torso’s spheres, up and down as far as your hands reach.

There are some standard maps (spine & nerve plexuses, sushumna & chakras, channels & acupoints) that are often presented to guide this kind of work and, while they’re likely useful later, I’d like to temporarily set them aside in favor of three simple ideas about what it feels like on the inside – because that’s mostly how you navigate internally, by feel. So, a kind of tactile map for beginners: 1. center-line, 2. pockets, and 3. knots.

The center-line is of course right through the center of the torso, top to bottom. When working on sections of the center-line by playing with the hands’ sphere in front it you’ll have an increased sensation of the center-line and of the general core of your torso. Physically, emotionally, whatever is there… it’s your own excavation process. As you move the hands’ sphere up or down resonating in parallel along the center-line you’ll occasionally feel a “pocket“, a space along the center-line where the sphere settles in a little. That’s where you want to spend more time expanding ~ concentrating the sphere. Those pockets (aka, “deep-centers”, Hindu: “bindus”, Daoist: “mysterious pass” and other monikers) are keys to gradually deeper centering and harmonization. There are major and minor pockets of varying potency, some will correspond to standard simplified maps, others won’t. Find whatever you find as you travel up and down your own center-line. Explore for yourself. “Knots” I’m using to mean any obstruction of any degree along the center-line, or pain etc around a pocket. Be kind to yourself: spend some extra time with the sphere to dissolve some knots.

Pretty simple: center-line, pockets, knots. Through this process of working with the hands’ sphere and torso’s sphere in tandem, you’re basically harmonizing, centering and integrating yourself vertically.

An example practice session: Create and start working with the hands’ sphere at a level somewhere in the lower torso (anywhere below the belly button). Then slowly work the sphere upwards, feeling into your core, and spending more time at any blockage along the way, and at each pocket you arrive at successively. Once you are up to the level of your solar plexus, move back down to the lower torso, then back up to the level of the heart, then back down to bottom, then again up further to the next mark, and so on. You can work with any variation of this that suits you, along any section of the center-line that feels appropriate. Conclude by pressing the hands’ sphere into your torso.

How Much Practice Time?

As to “how much time to put in practicing?” I’ve an array of answers below, largely based on your own interest level. Higher priority than any set of stock instructions/answers, however, is your feel of how much is appropriate for you at any given time. #1: Listen to your own body.

Practice balance: The lower centers have denser energy and generally need more practice time to refine. Conversely the upper centers naturally have more refined circuitry and, if focused on too much, can be opened excessively out of balance or even temporarily kind of burnt / blown out.
The promotion of centeredness, integration and structural integrity are inherent in sphere qigong. However, if you do go through a destabalizing cathartic episode after a stretch of longer practice sessions then please be kind to yourself and slow down: shorten your practice sessions (or take a break, get some exercise, etc, etc) in order to re-stabalize.

Amongst methods, sphere qigong is relatively easy to access and establish. Typically (assuming some sensitivity, resonance, interest with this method) (and acknowledging that people vary *so* much)… anyway, typically: A student will put in some progressive work (practice most days / week, often twice a day) over 1 – 3 months in order to prompt and establish an initial opening, after which beginning-the-harmonization-process becomes more readily accessible, with little practice time. Once thus established you can then ease off, practice maintenance, progressively cycle deeper … all in your own timing.

An array of practice times, take your pick:

1. 30 seconds

Sphere qigong is often felt as quickly as you can guide someone through the practice. It’s one of the few internal arts practices that is accessible and fun enough to share with others in a social setting, or to access for yourself when you have just a moment. Results: Don’t expect to make any progress beyond initially feeling the hands’ sphere – which people often like immediately, so that’s pretty good for almost nothin’.

2. 5 minutes, 5 minute sets.

You can actually accomplish a little bit with this in 5 minutes. I suggest that you can even practice while watching TV, 5 minutes or longer. Do this off and on during a movie and you could easily put in an accumulative 20 or 30 minutes of practice during that leisure time. Granted that it is not as effective as exclusively focused practice time, but not everyone is that seriously into it, nor need they be. :). And, imho, the more important thing is to get in consistent practice time over the longer term. However you get that done, good on y’.

3. 15-30 minutes, once or twice a day.

Progress becomes more substantial in this territory, even progressive (strongly moving forward).

4. 1 hour per day (for a few days only)

An hour per day is the *maximum* that I suggest that you practice sphere qigong. And, if you practice for 1hr/day then I suggest limiting it to a stretch of just a few days, perhaps 3-10 days. New students often are encouraged to practice a lot in the beginning in order to initially open things up: good idea. However, I’ve seen new students practice variations of sphere qigong for an hour a day for an entire month and it ends up being excessive, way too much to process.

In the long run you’ll experience faster, sounder, stronger results if you limit yourself to moderate digestible amounts of practice on a consistent basis, versus exceeding the speed of harmony out of unwisely applied enthusiasm which typically leads to crash and repair.

Finally, a couple of points of theory:

As to the ends (hands and feet), Chinese medical theory says that the qi goes through especially dynamic changes of quality distal to the elbows and knees (that is, from the knees to the feet, from the elbows to hands) and *especially* at the ends (hands and feet). The acupoints along there (called “shu” or “antique” points) are especially potent and the qi channels that run through the limbs are the same that continue and run deeply through the torso. This means that the energetics of the hands are not only especially effective at refining energy in the sphere itself but also that by working with hand energetics you’re activating channels that run through the torso. Simply put: Over time, hands’ sphere practices open up a kind of ventilation system into the rest of the body.

As to the core, the potent points along sushumna that are the “seeds” (bindus) of the chakras have a latent and inherent connection to the deepest spiritual energies (“Luminous Emptiness” or “The Big Light”). So, working with the chakras in a way that refines, opens, and concentrates into our deepest centers, over time, gradually, connects to our Deepest Nature.

Working with qi spheres does both at once: Activates the ends and connects to the core.

John Dao

 

p.s.’s

1. The qi sphere can be practiced in bed while sitting or lying down (easiest on your back with knees bent, feet flat on bed). This is especially helpful for those who are bedridden or simply lazily experimental.

2.  Foots sphere?  Feet sphere?  Football?
Some tinkering along this line some of you might find useful.