Accessing an Alternative to Anxiety
“Sheng Zhen means unconditional love in Chinese, and its purpose is to produce that within ourselves,” said Bryce Lupoli. “What that means practically is that Sheng Zhen helps us live with a quiet mind, a relaxed and healthy body, and an open heart.”
Lupoli is one of only a few local teachers of the practice comprised of gentle, graceful, and healing movements and contemplations that stimulate the body’s life force energy (qi), producing a deep sense of inner-peace and well-being. Lupoli, who has been studying and more recently leading Sheng Zhen in town only since 2018, started reading about ancient wisdom at 16, when he was struck by existential depression. For the following eight years he unsuccessfully tried to use philosophy to think his way out of depression before spending five weeks in an ashram where he discovered the benefits of meditation.
“Meditation fundamentally changed my life,” explained Lupoli, who talks in a slow, measured pace that in itself evokes calmness. “I was depressed for seven years, two of which I was suicidal. I thought I was a foundationally sad person. But through meditation, I discovered my depression was a product of attaching my sense of self to my personal story and my thoughts. When I detached from the stories, my mind was quiet, and love, meaning, joy, and peace automatically came flooding in.”
Seeking a movement practice that could help integrate the stillness of his meditation practice into much more dynamic everyday life and also heal a serious auto-immune disease that had resulted in joint pain, Lupoli came across Sheng Zhen, and was instantly drawn to the practice that combines Qi Gong-style moving and non-moving meditation. He immediately attended a 36-day Sheng Zhen retreat with the practice’s founder, Master Li Junfeng, who had previously achieved international fame as a popular film actor, action director and the coach of the Beijing Wushu team. Soon after, Lupoli started teaching, with a desire to spread the practice to his friends, family and community.
“Sheng Zhen is the most accessible meditation I’ve ever come across,” Lupoli explained, adding that the aspect makes it perfect for those who are suffering but think they can’t sit still or quiet their minds. “The body acts as a portal – when it relaxes, the mind is able to relax into a state of quietude. We do the rhythmic, smooth motions and then pause in still meditation, and the quietude remains.”
Sheng Zhen differs from Qi Gong or Tai Chi because it teaches that to move well is a good thing, to feel chi in the body is also good, but not so important as to live with love and peace, Lupoli said. “Master Li – who comes from China and has extensive experience in Qi Gong – told me that those practices are wonderful but sometimes the teachers never speak about or seek to embody love, even though the mastery of any arts or practice inevitably results in love.”
Lupoli recently returned to town and started teaching Sheng Zhen regularly at Yoga Soup and other locations around town. Then the situation with the coronavirus intensified. He decided to both broaden the practice and make it available online to help alleviate the high level of anxiety, sleeplessness and even panic many people are experiencing in dealing with or imagining the extent of the crisis.
“Sheng Zhen is a specific, proven means for gathering perspective and peace and strength and love within oneself, and thereby becoming a seed for those qualities that can spread to one’s family and community,” he noted. “I wanted to bring it to the community, because we are social creatures who derive strength and encouragement from being around each other. Meeting with others who value and embody peace and loving-kindness helps these qualities bloom within us, too.”
Santa Barbara locals can practice together with the sun, ocean, wind, and sand as a backdrop in person at Lookout Park (aka Summerland Beach) from 5:15-6:15 pm on Fridays, and 10-11 am on Sunday, beginning this week. For those who are unable to attend in person, or want to stay sheltered at home, he’s also offering half-hour sessions every day save for Fridays, either at 5 pm or 10 am on the video conferencing platform Zoom (https://us04web.zoom.us/j/4927511554). All of the classes are free.
Lupoli also encourages those who have a more formal practice such as prayer, deep breathing, yoga, or a different form of meditation to get deeper as the days grow darker.
“I encourage people to find whatever their practice is, and make a commitment to do it, and with the community. It’s not about a specific practice, but a way of being.”
(For more information about Sheng Zhen, visit https://shengzhen.org. For Meetup details, visit https://www.meetup.com/Sheng-Zhen-Meditation-of-Santa-Barbara.)