Chi Nei Tsang Unwinds the Belly

by Peter TS Melnychuk

Every navel, open or closed, “outie’ or ‘innie’, button or slit, tells a very personal story.

It is what remains of your initial lifeline, the portal to your mother, and later, the outside world.  It is a proof of birth and your first scar.  The navel is the seed of the belly that grows around it.  Its shape reflects the state of that which is held within your guts, your insides, your very core.

While the benefits of conventional body massage are well known, the idea that health may be restored and improved through gentle ‘massage’ done on one’s belly – the navel, abdomen and the internal organs within – is quite new in the West.  But this, is exactly what Chi Nei Tsang does, as it unwinds the belly. Chi Nei Tsang (CNT) is an ancient Oriental healing art that focuses primarily on the abdomen. – the area below the ribcage and above the pelvis.  In Chinese, Chi means electromagnetic energy or life force and tsang means the viscera (or internal organs).  Chi Nei Tsang (pronouced chee-nayt-song) then, means to work and balance the energy of the internal organs.

CNT was developed thousands of years ago by the same Taoist monks who originated Tai Chi, Qigong (Chi Kung), Feng Shui and Classical Chinese Medicine. These monks were alchemists and had very strong spiritual and martial arts practices. They concluded that the most effective manual method to transform a person’s health was to work gently on, and directly with, the internal organs of the abdominal cavity. The subtle, powerful bodywork they created was first introduced to North America less than 25 years ago by the Taoist Master and prolific author Mantak Chia.  CNT practitioners today use a combination of breathwork, transmitted energy and a deep, gentle touch that trains the internal organs to work more efficiently.

Ancient oriental medical texts emphasize that much of the vitality of humans is stored at or just below the navel at the dan tien or hara. Most martial arts and Qigong (internal energy cultivation) practices dwell on this same area.

The Gut – Our Second Brain

The significance of the belly has eluded the West until very recently.  The research of Columbia University gastroenterologist, Michael Gershon, MD has begun to change this.  His book The Second Brain (Harper Collins, 1998) confirms that the intestines have more neural cells (capable of both feeling and memory) than our spinal columns.  He refers to the gut as the ‘abdominal brain’ or ‘second brain’ and notes that it (and its enteric nervous system) is the only part of the body able to function after connections to the brain are severed.  Taoist recognized the importance of this ‘abdominal brain’ thousands of years before.

Chi Nei Tsang encourages the internal organs to return to their optimal position while restoring their natural unrestricted movement.  Immediately, the result is better organ function.  CNT also restores vitality by triggering detoxification.  It improves digestion, elimination, and stimulates the lymphatic and circulatory systems.  As the body clears itself of toxins, the immune system is strengthened and one becomes more resistant to disease. CNT has also proved helpful in resolving many instances of stress, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), incontinence, painful menstrual periods, as well as certain lingering complaints related to surgery, pregnancy or injury.  Over a course of treatment there is the possibility of improved posture and relief from chronic pains in the back, hips, neck or shoulders.

Indigestible Emotions

Like their Taoist forefathers, modern CNT practitioners recognize that the body does not simply digest food.  It also digests emotions.  When overwhelmed, the body protects itself by burying the energy of a trauma (I.e., an indigestible emotional  or physical event) within the tissues and organs of the body – until the person is ready to process it.  CNT certainly stimulates physical digestion, but for its most enthusiastic devotees, it is also the bodywork which best improves digestion of those old emotional charges that lie buried at the root of so many of our (mysterious) physical symptoms.

Last year, I treated a young man who told me he had been experiencing intermittent, unexpected, terrible pain underneath his right ribcage.  It had hospitalized him several times.  He had been prescribed medication and a dietary change, which he had followed.  This eliminated the attacks but resulted in a 25 pound weight loss from his already lean frame.  In order to regain his strength, he went off the program but the intolerable pains resumed.  The next course of conventional medical action was to remove his gall bladder.  Yet within two months of his cholocystectomy (the surgery to remove his gall bladder), another attack of intense pain under the right ribcage sent him to the emergency ward.  By the time I first talked with him he was gallbladder free but he had had several more attacks.

A friend of his remembered an ad for ‘Unwinding the Belly’ and Chi Nei Tsang and suggested that he investigate.  He was initially a bit wary when I explained I worked primarily on the belly and abdomen (as his pain was under right ribcage) but by this time he was ready to try anything that might help.

Healing from the Inside Out

We began to unwind his belly with CNT (as well as a few Visceral Manipulation techniques).  Initially his abdomen was drum tight.  Before the second session, along with his increased awareness and improved breathing I noticed a little softening of the belly.  In the next two weeks he began to notice the emotional triggers of his symptoms and also recognized the physiological warning signs that preceded the severe pain.  With this awareness he successfully avoided any attacks. He said he felt much better for five days, and then little by little, the tension began to return.

Before his third session (five weeks later), he said the relaxed feeling lasted almost three weeks.  He also reported a situation that would have set him off previously.  But this time he knew enough to get out – remove himself, lie down and shift his breathing.  He kept himself out of trouble. After the third session, we agreed that he would continue to pay attention to any healthy warning signs (the milder symptoms) that his body might send him and to then quickly shift his breathing and work on himself (as I had shown him).  Since then I have seen him twice more, once every third or fourth month, whenever he feels the need.  And so far, so good: no pain, greatly reduced anxiety, and no visits to ER.

Like any effective CNT practitioner, I was able to help my client realize that his physical symptoms were not evidence of a broken body, but instead the only language available to his body.  His intense pains were generated to warn him of some unhealthy situation.  My duty as a CNT practitioner, then, was not to fix anything, but (energetically and kinesthetically) to help my client to listen for and interpret the message  (the emotional root, the internal conflict, the unhealthy situation) underlying his symptoms.  He was able to do this, take the steps necessary to change (with this his symptoms began to fade) and he truly healed himself from within.

(c. 2008, by Peter TS Melnychuk. This article first appeared in the ______ 2008 issue of Mosaic Magazine. Reprinted with permission. No unauthorized republication permitted.)