ACCUMULATING ENERGY WITH ZEN YOGA
Jason, his wife Ann and I spoke at their studio, Zen and Yoga. As we chatted their one-year old son Benjamin took control of the space, which included greeting a few inquisitive potential customers. When Ann wasn’t reeling in Ben, she was helping translate the concepts..
Ivan Nahem, Yoga Teacher Magazine: So tell me a bit about where you came from and how you came to do what you do.
Jason Kim: I’m from South Korea. I did my first yoga in 1991. In Korea they didn’t call it yoga, but it was yoga. But they did all the stretching like asana. It’s Korean style or more Buddhist style. They call it Zen in Korea. Sun bup ‒ in English they say Zen. So first they stretch the body, along with the meridians. Once the body is relaxed enough after stretching, then they do energy exercise and meditation.
Nahem: Do they still do it the same way now as when you began your studies?
Kim: They do it the same way. Right after stretching they do breathing exercises and even some postures, with breathing exercises, lying down, sitting down and standing postures. There are different levels. The stretching exercises prepare for the breathing exercises which are a very important step. It has levels. You know, like Taekwondo has levels?
Nahem: Is it similar to what we practice as pranayama?
Kim: Yes but the main focus and purpose can be a little different.
Nahem: How is the purpose different?
Kim: The purpose is building energy and accumulating energy. So first they let you feel the energy, so stretching helps you open up the meridians and the first step of the breathing is to feel and sense the energy. The basic level. Once you can feel energy, in the chakras, you’re learning how to accumulate energy in your body. We call it dantian. In East Asian culture they name three dantians, not seven chakras as in India. It is like the lower dantian is where the second chakra is; the middle dantian is below the nipples, and upper dantian is where the sixth chakra is, here [pointing to forehead].
Nahem: Does the breathing purify, then? How does the breathing work with that?
Kim: Through the breathing, first you sense the energy, then once you sense the energy you accumulate energy in your dantian, then you circulate energy in your whole body and purify your whole body. Then it opens up your body’s meridians. It’s like water which gets enough then it opens up. Enough energy. The lower dantian is the focus of physical strength, once you have enough strength to accumulate energy, then the focus is opening the middle dantian to open your emotion and heart, then the upper dantian is to clear.
Nahem: To clear the mind, find lucidity.
Jason presenting student Nadette Carron with her teaching training certificate.
Nahem: Is there an indication of the soul, or anything like divinity, involved here?
Kim: Yes and no. Where your main focus is, it tells whether you’re heading in that direction, or not.
Nahem: And so you studied and became advanced on this level.
Kim: Through practicing.
Nahem: And did you have a master ‒ one teacher, or many teachers?
Kim: I’ve had masters, not just one master. Now I have the best in Korea. I used to have other masters, a mentor, too, now I have one, who is alive and healthy.
Nahem: You’ll see him when you go to Korea later this month?
Nahem: So where did this knowledge come from? You’ve mentioned the Yellow Emperor. I remember reading about the Yellow Emperor in the I Ching. The Yellow Emperor is a source of this practice?
Kim: In the practice itself, the main focus is the energy and meridians, that’s why that book can be like a very good bible to guide you (Ed. Note: This is the Huangdi Neijing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huangdi_Neijing) For instance, when you’re practicing yourself, you wonder, why do I feel this way? Why this morning is it opening this way? Connections, reasons why, answers are there, through the meridians. The Yellow Emperor says this is the way to get healthy, physically, mentally, spiritually. All those things are affected by energy and the meridians, these are the main tools.
And there are acupressure points which are the gates of the energy. It comes in and out. So when you have blockage at the acupressure points then the meridian lines have problems, then you have physical problems, you get sick, or you have problems with the internal organs. And also meridians are connected to your emotions and thoughts, too. So sometimes it’s very hard to think about how to control emotions and thoughts but the Yellow Emperor expressed it in a scientific way, which you can figure out through the meridians. This explains the connection between the mind and thoughts and body. So it expresses the approach, how to be happy physically, mentally, spiritually. All my practice of yoga is based on the meridians, on focusing on the energy, it’s based on that, ultimately connected with body, mind and spirit.
Nahem: And do the postures you do help awaken the energy in the meridians also?
Kim: It’s a kind of way to open up your body. The asana are designed to open up your meridians.
Nahem: How does the breath work with that?
Kim: Usually when you do stretching asana they don’t deeply focus on the breath itself. When you start the new pose, inhale, and to come out, exhale, it’s similar to Indian asana. But the breathing is at different levels when you do it with the poses. For example, five seconds inhale, five seconds exhale, at first. And first they repeat, inhale exhale, and then they observe their breathing, and then once you can do five seconds continuously, then you increase to ten seconds, inhaling and exhaling. Then the poses themselves are not easy. For instance, I will show you one of the postures. [He demonstrates. (And no, it doesn’t look easy!)] You keep this posture for twenty breaths. Inhale and exhale are one breath. You keep the pose for three minutes and you observe your own breathing. And while you’re observing your breathing these poses open certain meridians and you’re watching your breathing and you can feel energy in your body. In the beginning you do the same timeframe for inhale and exhale, five seconds and five seconds. Later, when you get to a different level, you can naturally hold the breath and your framework changes, and you’re really deep into the breathing, and without any intention you’re holding your breath, and the time of the holding of the breath gets longer and longer. And at that time the energy is accumulating in your dantian. At that time the breathing isn’t happening with your nose and mouth, it’s happening with your whole body. So you see some yogis they bury their bodies, their whole body in the sand, and they do practice. Their meridians are open, and they can breathe with their skin, yeah. Your whole body’s breathing.
Nahem: Is it always the purpose to open meridians? Do you ever want to close a meridian?
Kim: Closing the meridian means no life.
Nahem: It’s like blocking a vein, in other words.
Kim: Yes. It’s nature. Our body’s self is a small universe. With the Yellow Emperor, they knew that the body is a small universe.
Nahem: Like a microcosm.
Kim: Yes! So each acupressure point and meridian has its own name and meaning. And purpose! Human nature is like nature. We promote a natural way.
Nahem: Making the microcosm more natural.
Kim: For example, our lungs protect our body. The chi makes energy, in a lung exercise first. And we do joint exercises. Most problems are joint problems.
Nahem: How do the meridians get blocked? Everyone has some blockage, right?
Kim: Two things. Too much usage. And the energy gets lower, the blood circulation gets lower, blood gets sticky. Stagnant blood, stagnant energy, and that results in blockage, and then you have problems, like joint pain. If the energy circulation is better, chi circulation is better, energy is better, no pain. No low back pain, for example.
Nahem: So you can use these methods for general health, but also for therapy, correct?
Kim: First thing we focus on is general physical health. If you want more, you want to open your emotions, you try that. I want a clearer mind, okay, there are different exercises for that.
Nahem: Do you find that Western medicine is useful at all? Are there times we need the Western medicine?
Kim: I personally think Western medicine is very important. When you are very sick to be healed this way takes more time and patience. Your body might not have enough strength for the practice. If you have no job, and you have plenty of time, you’re in nature, and you have no worries, you can heal yourself. But if you don’t have that, you start with a combination of Western and Eastern. Once you have enough information from there, when you start healing, it’s more possible. If we asked Benjamin to speak Spanish or go to college now, he couldn’t do it.
Nahem: In other words, different responses to different situations.
Kim: Yes. There are levels. When I first practiced in the beginning, myself, I tried to be healthy with Zen practice and help others do the exercises. But now if somebody’s sick and they cannot do the exercise, they need therapy too. That’s why I also studied acupuncture and became an acupuncturist.
Nahem: That’s another way to approach the meridians.
Kim: Yes. Because not everybody can do the exercises. Some people need acupuncture to be helped.
Nahem: Do you use sun bup mostly for therapy? And I know also you have your classes here at the studio, Zen yoga.
Kim: When I teach people who know Indian yoga, like vinyasa flow, they wonder if it’s really yoga, they think it’s different. But if they never tried anything, they appreciate it more. And when they practice for a long time, they realize what can be done with it. The flow yoga is more for muscles. It’s not only for that. But mostly people think it’s for muscle toning. But when they learn about Zen Yoga, there’s more to appreciate. It’s also used in a therapeutic way, when they have a problem, like a health issue, they go to physical therapy, recommended by a doctor, but they wind up coming for private session and they see improvement. Right now for example I have a client who has multiple sclerosis, and she came to have a private session, she didn’t know about Zen at all. And now after emotional release, five or six sessions she can see that her posture is better, she can breathe better, her emotions are better. This is way more than physical. She’s enjoying it and she realizes her problem can be healed. Unlike in India, here yoga is focusing very much on the physical. They think yoga has a lot of benefits but it’s physical, not in a deep way. But as you know we are not just physical beings, so through the Zen practice we are approaching health.
Nahem: In a holistic way.
Nahem: Is there a relationship to Japanese Zen?
Kim: Actually with the Yellow Emperor, it’s not different. The Japanese culture was the last one to learn, they share the culture.
Nahem: It started as Chán Buddhism in China, right?
Kim: Yes. Tao. But the Japanese culture came to the west very fast, so they call it Zen. That’s how it happened. Ultimately they’re the same. They know that originally the philosophy came from Asia. China, Korea ‒ they are like tribes, but ultimately it’s the same people, same culture.
The purpose of Zen Yoga, sun bup, is that our body is a microcosm and needs to go back to nature, through approaching the opening of the meridians which all have their own functions, and then you can have physical health when your internal organs are working properly, meridians opened, emotionally released, mentally clear. It connects your body and makes you open up spiritually, you have spiritual clarity. It’s a tool.
Jason Kim teaches Zen yoga, and is also an acupuncturist. He and his wife Ann own and run Zen and Yoga studio in Forest Hills in the boro of Queens, New York.