Integrative Bio-Systems Design.

Shamanism, Chi Kung, and Ancient Techniques of Ecstatic Trance

shamansmallThe most ancient roots of chi kung reach back in time to pre-history, and the shamanic traditions of the nomadic hunter-gatherers of northern China, Siberia, Mongolia, and the circumpolar cultures of Inuit and Sami. Sources claim that the ancients beat drums, sang songs and communed with animal spirits.

Shamanic traditions exist in almost all cultures. Typically, shamanism involves the use of specific rituals and techniques that allow shamans to enter a visionary state of trance. In this state, they are said to be able to communicate with spirits, heal illnesses, and engage in spiritual struggles for the lost souls of patients afflicted with otherwise inexplicable ailments.

Anthropologist and neo-shaman Michael Harner has described some of these rituals in his discussion of core shamanism. These practises are said to include repetitive movements, hyperventilation, dance, rhythmic clapping, and the assumption of specific postures, as well as the development of visionary skills. In most shamanic traditions there is an awareness of vital energy, which is discussed in terms highly reminiscent of chi. Frequently, shamans will pursue quests to discover and harness their vital power, and learn how to shape it, using it for healing, spiritual protection, to influence animals and the weather, and to combat malicious spirits.

shaman0003smallSome of the most ancient chi kung traditions are known as the five animal movements. These movements involve postures and gestures reminiscent of animals, and practitioners are encouraged to embody the very essence or spirit of the animal. Wong Kiew Kit maintains that these movements arose spontaneously from very deep states of chi-kung as natural expressions of chi moving through the body and were only formalised later. This is very similar to a core aspect of shamanism - therianthropy, which is the transformation of a shaman into the shape of an animal.

This is a recurrent theme in shamanism, and is often linked with the idea of assuming some of the spirit-animal’s special attributes or powers. Some of the most ancient examples of human art, the rock art of southern Africa, reflects experiences of therianthropy and other aspects symbolic of shamanic trance experiences. Contemporary san hunter-gatherers still practise shamanic trance dances, which form a key aspect of their spirituality and social life. The terms with which they describe their experiences are again highly reminiscent of chi - they speak of n/um, a boiling energy which resides at the base of the spine and rises as a result of trance dancing, rushing up the spine.

When this happens, the shaman will often experience involuntary rhythmic convulsions, shudders or twitches. This too is a common experience among advanced practitioners of chi kung, who will sometimes allow chi to course spontaneously through their bodies, directing their movements. Anthropologist Bradford Keeney has researched this phenomenon in depth, across many different cultural and historical settings. In all these settings, shaking was perceived as an ecstatic, healing, and inspired manifestation of spirit.

All of these interesting correlations suggest that, though chi kung was refined over many millennia, and influenced by different ideologies like taoism, confucianism and buddhism, the core phenomena and experiences are based on the anient shamanic techniques of ecstatic healing and bliss.

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