John: Can you tell me when you first started Iron Shirt?
Michael: I first studied Iron Shirt a little over two years ago. Before that, I was doing Kundalini Yoga which involves a lot of breathing and intense energy. I found Iron Shirt to be even more intense because the air was packed inside, held and circulated internally whereas with the other practices, I breathed in and out and slowly moved the energy around using various sounds. In the beginning I found that I had too much energy in my head for doing Iron Shirt, partly as a result of my other practices. When I started to do Iron Shirt, my face would get very red. As I got better at it, doing it every day, I started to get the energy more rooted, or grounded. I discovered that when a practice is done properly, you are mixing energy from the air with what is in the body, holding it inside where it is somewhat warm, and mixing this with the energy from the ground which is cool. It took me a while to really get the energy down out of my head, and relax before I could begin to practice and feel like I was drawing in some full energy, mixing it and circulating it around.
John: How long after practicing Iron Shirt I did you begin practicing Iron Shirt II and Iron Shirt III? Also, how long do you practice? How frequently every day during all that time, and how much do you now practice?
Michael: I practice every day, almost without fail. I studied the Iron Shirt II a few months later and Iron Shirt III a year or so after that. I continued doing the Iron Shirt I, even when I did the Iron Shirt II or III. I did not continue with the Iron Shirt II practice because I found that the Iron Shirt I and the Iron Shirt III were sufficient. Iron Shirt III, of course, added another level to my practice. A lot of people do not practice Iron Shirt I long enough to get to the other levels. In fact, what I found out in going through the stages of Iron Shirt I is that it is related to all of the other meditation practices, but as your energy gets more refined and you start to pack the energy in your body more, you feel a different quality to the energy as it circulates around. When I really had it right, I could feel a kind of cool radiant heat emanating out of my body. It was not an electric energy. It was mixed with the Yin energy and properly refined. It left my body feeling that it was together really flowing, giving me a nice energy throughout the day.
The other sensation started happening after a year and a half as I was beginning to take longer before doing Iron Shirt I, before packing, to stand and relax more down to the earth. This allowed me to take more cool energy in. I would begin spontaneously to do the full Microcosmic Orbit, down to the leg roots into the ground, bringing the energy back up the front of my legs to the perineum, back to the spine, around the top of my head and rooting to the ground again. As I looked back into the ground, I would then do the Microcosmic Orbit a full body length into the ground below me. In other words, I was pretending that I was buried underground and my head was right at the surface of the earth. I would circulate the energy through myself standing under the ground. I found a very rooted, cool energy and could visualize myself and my energy in the ground below. I pulled the energy back into my body before I even began to pack. I found myself already getting rooted, just with my mind.
Also, at one point, spontaneously, I started seeing a variety of crystals at various points within my body, and in the body in the ground that I was circulating the energy through. This would add another quality to Iron Shirt: refining energy. My practice then continued at a much higher level of energy.
What I finally realized is that when you do the Iron Shirt and you are circulating the energy around in the Microcosmic Orbit, you are also pulling in the earth energy and circulating it around in your body before sending it back down. This is what rooting is about.
John: The variation underground, was that yours or from Master Chia?
Michael: Actually, I asked him about it and he said you could do that when you work from a very high level, and even visualize yourself five body lengths down. I started off visualizing myself all the way down to the center of the earth and pulling earth energy out from there. Then I asked him about it. He said try something closer in the beginning. I found that this position at the center of the earth also worked, but Master Chia warned me that the center of the earth is very molten and I might pull out some very hot energy. It has the same effect though.
I have really begun to notice in whatever I do that there is Chi in my bones. When I am doing Tai Chi, I begin to feel my skeleton with a dense, glowing energy in it. This is what lets me know that the energy is not just in my body anymore, or just in my head. When you swing your arm, the feeling is that the flesh and the blood are really light and not quite there, but in the center you can feel steel, an energy that is packed in. I think you get the same sensation from Tai Chi or anything else, but doing the Iron Shirt III speeds the process up a hundred times faster. I think the main things to caution against are not to get too much hot energy into your head or into your heart. When you hold the energy in for a long time and circulate it around, it can strain your heart. The important thing, then, is to start gradually and bring your body up so that it can handle the energy until you can move it around comfortably.
John: Do you relax after you exercise and walk?
Michael: Yes. This is very important. Some days Iron Shirt I is so intense that I do not do anything else. The energy that I have pulled in and circulated through my body is enough for me to digest and work with. I do not do any other practice, not Tai Chi, not anything, because my body has been fed, even stuffed. In fact, I have to sit down and digest the meal.
John: Have you noticed any specific health benefits related to the Iron Shirt practice?
Michael: Yes. In my other practice with Kundalini Yoga, the energy would be very high, but it would leak out of my body. I noticed in the winter that I would be cold. I was becoming very Yin. It was a very Yang practice, but it used up the energy in my body. I notice now with Iron Shirt that my body is much warmer in the winter. I can withstand the weather, the elements. I was already becoming very healthy as far as not getting very much illness or sickness from Kundalini Yoga, but I feel that this has further increased my abilities to fight off flus or colds, or any similar illness. At one time, four or five family members were visiting me and they all came down with the flu and were out for a week. I felt it try to come into my body for a day or so, and I felt very weak. I was able to push it out. I think that packing the Chi inside your body leaves no room for the bacteria, viruses, etc., once the Chi has been built up to a certain level.
John: One other question about your practices: When you practiced Iron Shirt, did you have someone do the pushing to develop the rooting?
Michael: I was living alone and often did not have anyone with me, which is unfortunate. Periodically I would go over to the center and get pushed again and found that I was breaking at the waist, for example, because I did not have my posture quite right. There are small corrections you really need to make. They probably slowed down my progress in getting it right. I was still studying the energy and still packing it in, but there is no benefit to doing so if you do not do it perfectly. So I would say that it is good to get pushed.
John: Michael, I know you lead a busy life and you have a lot of mental activity; do you find that Iron Shirt III helps you to cope with stress from day to day life? Does it help you on a mental level as well as a physical?
Michael: Yes. Sometimes when I am writing, I will work for fifteen or sixteen hours a day. When I feel that I have used up my Chi, my energy, and my brain is not functioning enough, I will do some Iron Shirt to get the energy going again. At times, I do not want to sleep, I want to keep going and keep pushing myself, but I do not think this is the right way to live. It is smarter to live simply. However sometimes you find yourself in the situation of a deadline and, yes, it definitely helps to relieve the stress.
John: Do you have any general comments about your Iron Shirt?
Michael: I have seen other kinds of Chi Kung, and they involve movement and inhaling and exhaling with those movements, and I think those other Chi Kung are valid and powerful. However, I think that ultimately, this is a higher Chi Kung because it is more internal. In other words, it does not rely on continual breathing, or continued movement of any sort. You do breathe in in the beginning, but as you move along to higher levels of the Iron Shirt Chi Kung, you do not even have to bring in your breath, but can just draw in the energy with your mind, pack it and circulate it around. Movement with your mind emphasizes the internal aspects of the energy; it is also more integrating. That can be a problem in the beginning for a novice whose mind is not integrating with his Chi, and he cannot move his Chi around with his mind. He needs to use more breathing and more movement. I think that if a person sticks with it, it will come in time.
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