Welcome to the third interview in a series with female leaders, teachers and practitioners in the holistic therapeutic fields. These are women whose teaching has inspired me and I have been keen to learn more about their personal philosophy, experiences and the influences on their professional practice. I hope you enjoy hearing their story too! Let us know your thoughts, Nicole.
Cindy Engel BSc PhD of WildHealth BodyWork offers health support via Qigong, Neigong, Tai chi, and hands-on therapeutic bodywork. She has been a professional bodyworker for over 18 years. Her Qigong instruction is accredited by the College of Elemental Chi Kung (London), Dragon & Tiger Qigong of Energy Arts International (Bruce Frantzis), and Taoist Internal Alchemy (trained in Wudang, China, with teacher Hu Xuezhi, author of Revealing the Tao Te Ching). She is an instructor and continuing student with Lotus Neigong (Damo Mitchell). She is a graduate and post graduate of The Shiatsu College (Norwich) and is a certified instructor of Fascial Fitness (Robert Schleip). With a thriving practice in Suffolk/Norfolk, she has taught bodywork therapy for dogs both in the UK and Europe. She has a PhD in the physiological correlates of behaviour in mammals from the University of East Anglia, UK.
Why did you choose to learn Qigong, what brought you to the practice?
I came across Qigong due to chronic ill-health and emotional dysregulation. I was overweight, depressed, and fatigued. Exercise was impossible. Even speaking was too draining. I discovered that Qigong involved slow gentle movements which did not exhaust me, and even included static postures which I could do without fear of injury from lack of fitness. I recognised a practice that was quite literally a life-saver. The attraction of Qigong was that it didn’t seem to involve a lot of huffing and puffing (my lung capacity was weak) and I didn’t have to be incredibly fit in order to do it and I could set my own pace. Importantly, it wasn’t competitive, and I could do it on my own without any specialist equipment. Also, of course, it addressed my primary problem—energy.
What does Qigong mean to you now, what purpose does it service to you as an individual? Nowadays, Qigong is my method of self-regulation and self-monitoring. It’s an important part of my therapeutic program which I offer to my clients and, as such, has become part of my income. My own student base very kindly fund my continued training with expensive teachers in far flung lands. But I have to say that Qigong is now so much an integral part of my life that I don’t even consider it a separate practice.
Qigong has also developed (for me) into a method of understanding the world. Not only do I use it to learn about myself, about my body, mind, and emotions, but the more advanced practices are a valid way of exploring the nature of reality.
What is your philosophical approach to your practice - as a teacher and as a therapist? (i.e. what do you see the purpose of your 'healing' practice in the life of the individual - why do it?)
My main motivator in life is curiosity. Qigong provides me with a path of transformation which is endlessly surprising and interesting—even if I get stuck on a horrible pain or an unpleasant memory. One reason I continue to teach Qigong is that the process of breaking down techniques, skills, aims, so that students can understand what is going on, is an important part of the process of deconstruction for me.
Who or what, has been the biggest influence on your path as a practitioner and why?
When I was at my most unhealthy, I attended a taiji class in Norwich where I was impressed by the down to earth nature of the teacher. He presented me with a viable option for movement in a world where movement seemed impossible.
What significant lesson/s did one of your teachers teach you?
There have been a few significant lessons for me. One, I remember was from Bruce Francis who told me I had to do “fuck it” Qigong because I was taking things far too seriously and being far too intense. Softening my intention has been a major life lesson. Trust has also been an issue. Damo Mitchell, of Lotus Nei gong, has had a strong influence on me by sharing my curiosity and experimentation with various techniques and skills.
With the insight you have now, what if anything, do you wish you had known at the beginning of you journey?
I wish I had trusted the process sooner. It took me years to surrender.
What benefits or hindrances, if any, have you encountered as a female practitioner or noticed when teaching women?
Hmmm. Tricky one. I am dismayed by the sycophantic way that many women behave towards male Qigong teachers. It’s as if we are all looking for a father figure, a guru, a man who knows all the answers. There is often a readiness to hand-over control.
I find a balance of men and women in my classes. Men do not seem to have too much of a problem being taught by me and I do not find that men and women differ in their ability to skill up with Qigong.
What advice might you give to student practitioners training now?
Make sure you know the difference between the techniques and skills. You will get taught a lot of techniques but few teachers tell you about the skills (the embodied skills) that you are supposed to be developing.
What is the next step or stage for you? What are you working on developing professionally, or personally?
I’m currently working through some even deeper holding patterns and so each practice there are new revelations about myself and my habits. I tend to go through phases of progress and then a bit of stagnation—or 'consolidation' if we are feeling generous. Of course, I’m also working on continuing to release tension which seems to be a never-ending process. The skills that I am developing are Ting and Sung—which, again, are unlikely to ever be fully attained. I like that though; the endless nature of progress, the never completing the journey.
Any other reflections?
It is important to remember the cultural context of the material you are studying and teaching. If material is embedded in a culture which has strong gender and/or racial sensibilities about your work, you may have to find your own way through. Test it, check it. Adapt it.