This publication can be found online at http://awareness.media.mit.edu/pub/awareness-practice-joi.
Joi Ito - Qigong, Sleep and Drinking Alcohol
Joichi Ito
Notes on my awareness practice as part of the Spring 2016 Principles of Awarness Class - MAS.S68.
One of the students in the class asked me to share notes on my own practice.
April 22, 2016

Qigong

As I prepared for this year’s class, I thought about what new thing I’d try to do. I had been doing Qigong on and off with Peter Wayne, my Qigong teacher. Because of the complexity of my schedule, the sessions had been sporadic and while I could feel myself improving and “getting it” more and more, I didn’t yet feel like it had become a part of my routine.
Peter suggested that I try a 100-day practice. It’s a pretty simple thing. The idea is to do a simple routine for 100-days. If you miss a day, you start over. It sort of “gamifies” it by creating an incentive not to miss a day, but it’s kind of funny and so simple that I figured I would try it.
A few times, I’ve found myself mashing it in late at night just so I won’t miss the day, but I always felt happy that I did, even though when I start the routine, sometime I feel like I don’t have time. I’m currently on day 45. The routine is pretty simple. Here’s a dropbox link to a PDF of the routine that Peter gave me to try.
The routine is pretty basic and fairly easy to do. You can do it in as short as 20 min but it feels best when you take an hour. Depending on my mood and physical state, I’ll extend different parts of the routine. Sometimes, I will settle into one of the standing meditations or I will take extra time on some of my favorites like Washing with Qi from the Heavens, Spine Curls and Dragon Vein Stretches or Spinal Cord Breathing. Having said that, almost all of the elements have become “favorites.”
One of the interesting things for me about Qigong was that I really liked it from the first time I tried it. The point of Qigong isn’t to “master” it. You’re always a beginner and you’re always as good as you need to be.
Of course, you get better at it over time and you begin “understand” and feel the practice elements more and more, but that’s not the “point” but rather the byproduct of doing it. I have found that doing it every day has a very different - almost essential daily feeling - than when I was doing it “on special days.”

Meditation and Qigong

The standing meditation in Qigong is different than sitting on a cushion. During the movement, the energy and connection with the body helps your mind get out of your head and into the body and the swirling energy. Then, for instance, the A-frame standing can start to… “charge up” your energy so when you go into something like “Embracing the Orb” your hands are work and the energy is sort of swirly. Then your awareness can sort of settle inside of the “orb” of energy between your arms.
For me, the standing meditation has a lot of similarities to sitting meditation but feels more “active” and “full body” but can end up in most the same place as a “successful” sitting meditation. I also like it because standing and moving feel better than sitting for me.
I’ve been meaning to try to do a longer session with sitting meditation after my standing meditation to see how that goes.

Sleep and morning practice

I’ve been monitoring my sleep and trying to get better sleep. I’ve tried to move all of my “official” meetings in the morning to 10AM so I’m not rushing in the morning and I can do my Qigong, have a proper breakfast and get through all of the “panicky” tasks in my inbox so I don’t have them stuck in my mind as I begin the day.
Alcohol and jet lag are my two biggest impediments to getting proper sleep. There are a lot of “tricks” to try to deal with jet lag that I can cover in a future post, but it will always suck at some level.
Alcohol is under my control and something that I should manage better. Obviously, I get the best sleep when I don’t have any alcohol. One drink at an early dinner seems to have a de minimis effect on my sleep. Two drinks - depends on how early the dinner is. Any drinks beyond two drinks and especially later or after dinner starts to erode my sleep.
While I “know this” I continue to have mornings where I think “why did I have that last drink?” when I get up in the morning. At the beginning of the year, I took a month and a half off of drinking and it “reset” the habit for awhile, but I’m occasionally having the “why did I have that last drink again?” again. I’m going to stop again from today for awhile.
Interestingly, it wasn’t until I really focused on sleep quality and my morning practice that I really started to notice the effect of alcohol on my sleep. Even if I’ve had a drink after dinner, once I get up and have my coffee, I’m “fine.” It’s not like I have a hangover. It’s just that I don’t have that joyful feeling of overflowing energy during my morning Qigong practice.
I was talking to a neurologist about sleep the other day and he told me that after you turn 50 years old, good sleep gets MUCH harder and that I should “get my house in order” before then. I’m turning 50 this year so I guess this is as good a time as any to do that.
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