When Awakening the Soul – Seated Qigong and Meditation instructor Rebecca Clio Gould dropped out of law school in 2005, she couldn’t foresee teaching qigong and meditation becoming her life’s calling. “In 2006 I enrolled in the Asian Healing Arts and Healing with Whole Foods program at the Heartwood Institute in Garberville, California,” Gould recalls. “I didn’t know much about qigong, but tai chi was part of the program I was in. One of the teachers offered a sort of extra credit field trip to a qigong workshop one weekend. I decided to go.” Though unfamiliar with the myriad types of qigong, Gould found herself drawn to the art. “I had an image in my head of qigong being a lot of statically held postures and thought it would be boring and uncomfortable. I couldn’t have been more wrong!”
Gould’s initial foray into qigong was a system called Sheng Zhen (pronounced “Shung Jen,” taught by Master Li Junfeng, founder of the International Sheng Zhen Society. Although Sheng Zhen does involve cultivating qi (vital life force energy), in recent years it's come to be known as Sheng Zhen Meditation in Motion and Stillness, as the heart-opening, qi cultivating practices really are meditation in motion - and stillness.
These Sheng Zhen practices spoke to Gould with a deeper resonance than others. “It has a big focus on opening the heart and the idea that Love is an energy that is always with qi (vital life force energy),” she says. “During that first workshop, I had so much fun and definitely felt a heart-opening. I had recently gone through a divorce, and I felt that this system of meditation and qigong was very healing for me emotionally. And, physically, it wasn’t boring or uncomfortable as I had thought it would be. Master Li encouraged us to smile and laugh and have fun with it.”
“That first day that I experienced Sheng Zhen, I knew I’d found my calling” Gould recalls. “I wanted to learn the forms and become a teacher. It takes a minimum of two years to become a certified teacher, so I dove right in and started practicing daily and attending as many workshops with Master Li as I could.” Gould says that through daily practice she noticed tremendous changes in her energy and mood level within the first month. “I felt a big personality shift. I hadn’t even realized how unhappy I had been until Sheng Zhen helped me become a happier, bubbly, confident person. This just confirmed that original gut feeling that I was meant to be a teacher and share these practices with others.”
Gould and Master Li established an auspicious teacher/pupil rapport, and in 2012 she was elated when he requested her help with rewriting his instructional book, Sheng Zhen Wuji Yuan Gong: A Return to Oneness, which has just now recently been published as “Sheng Zhen: Meditation in Motion and Stillness.”
“It was such an honor to be asked to help,” she says. “Master Li had noticed that over the years I was always taking copious notes at his workshops and teacher trainings. We also always communicated with each other very clearly and easily. Someone once asked me if I spoke Mandarin, and I said, ‘No, but I speak Master Li!’”
Working this closely with Master Li was a life-changing opportunity for Gould. “I packed up my car and moved from Seattle to Austin, not knowing if I’d be gone for a few weeks, a few months, years, or if Austin was going to become my permanent home,” she says. “While in Austin, (we) met …on a regular basis to work on the editing the instructional part of Return to Oneness. We also wrote the instructional part of the advanced organ forms for future books. I also had the privilege of attending his full day of back-to-back classes once a week. Getting to watch him teach that often definitely has helped me become a better teacher.”
Gould says she went into the project thinking she’d be helping Master Li make the movement instruction of his texts more detailed, but she discovered his goal was the opposite. “I thought that was part of why he asked for my help—because I am very detail-oriented! But it turned out he actually wanted to make some of the instruction less detailed,” she says. “I learned from this that sometimes getting caught-up in too many details can get in the way of the relaxed ‘Sheng Zhen state’ that is ideal for learning. It’s important to be focused and sincere, but some of the precise details that I previously thought mattered really don’t.”
Inspired by her work with Master Li as well as her studies of integrative nutrition and women’s sexuality, Gould found herself penning her own book. “In November 2016, I published my first book The Multi-Orgasmic Diet: Embrace Your Sexual Energy and Awaken Your Senses for a Healthier, Happier, Sexier You.
The diet discussed her book redefines “soul food” with a menu full of various types of practices to do before meals or when emotional eating impulses come on. “The idea is to help women fill up on the pleasure of life rather than filling a void with food,” says Gould. “The practices are designed to help women feel more energized, at peace, and happy prior to deciding what or how much to eat. There are over 80 practices in the book, and some of them are indeed qigong and meditation practices.”
More recently, in September 2020, Gould published her 2nd book, Detox Your Life: A Practical Guide to Detoxing your Body, Mind, Home and Relationships. And once again, Sheng Zhen is one of the tools included in her book.
“Detox Your Life was originally going to be a chapter in my first book, but I decided it needed to stand on its own. It’s a short and simple, holistic approach to letting go of whatever is weighing you down or blocking your energy flow. It’s full of simple ways to clean up your body, mind, home, and relationships.” Gould was happy to get this book published in the midst of the pandemic, to help more people navigate self-care during these tough times.
As for what she’ll be teaching in her class, Gould says Sheng Zhen puts emphasis on the heart, as will her class on a whole. “In Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, the Heart is the commander of qi, and qi is the commander of Blood,” she says. “So opening the Heart helps qi flow, which then helps blood flow. That explains the physical benefits. But Sheng Zhen also benefits one’s emotional well-being. When we learn to relax the body, the Heart can relax, and then the mind can relax. And when the Heart is open, we feel more joy. Sheng Zhen is a particularly playful and joyful meditative practice. There are many forms within the Sheng Zhen system, some seated, some standing, some with lots of movement, some in total stillness. Awakening the Soul is a good place to start.”
Awakening the Soul is a seated form with just 8 movements, and each movement is accompanied by a poetic contemplation. “The contemplations and the focus on heart-opening set Sheng Zhen apart from other meditation and qigong practices,” says Gould. “And what sets apart Awakening the Soul from the other forms within Sheng Zhen is that it’s really meant to be a gateway into the other forms. The movements are extremely easy to learn. And the contemplations are powerfully uplifting, comforting, and inspirational. All forms of Sheng Zhen benefit the physical, emotional, and spiritual. Personally, I feel that this form has extra emphasis on the emotional. And for those who are looking for or open to spirituality, this also provides a powerful form for spiritual growth.”
For her part, Gould looks forward to sharing in her students’ learning process by taking on the perspective of a beginner, the questions students bring and the unforeseeable way she finds herself responding to their inquiries. “For some students, this class will just be something they enjoy once a week, and although it’s enjoyable, it’s not a big deal. For others, it can be profoundly life-changing, as it was for me.”