This is going to change your life and rock your world, if you have aspirations of doing frequent and long sessions of sitting meditation.
I wrote this article originally in 2015, a friend recently asked me for tips on loosening legs/hips for sitting meditation, as this is a universal dilemma, I’m sharing these notes here. When I first learned it, I wanted to order up thousands of these sticks and send them to all the various monasterys around the world. I haven’t done that yet because there is a learning curve to this technique, and people have injured themselves from doing it incorrectly. So all standard health and safety disclaimers apply, you accept the risk if you want to try this on your own.
On this directory, there are two videos. First video you should watch, a lady is demonstrating how to use a dense foam roller that physical therapists use for the back, legs and hips. I didn’t listen to what she said, so I take no responsibility for that, I use that video only for the visual demo. The Gorilla stick should be applied to all parts of the body, though the yin parts of the body (parts that are ticklish, sensitive in general) be especially careful with how much force to use.
The second video shows bear using something very similar to GST. Some have commented they believe the bears are just scratching to relieve an itch. That may be part of it, but primarily it’s the massage/acupressure bliss. If you’ve massaged cats, dogs, combed horses, you know it’s not just an itch that’s scratched, they like a good massage as much as you do. If you’re doing GST properly, it should be as enjoyable as the bears with the tree trunks.
There is one big difference between how I practice GST and how I learned the original way from the inventor. The inventor has a no pain no gain mentality is the fastest way to progress. My believe is 90% pleasure/10% mild to tolerable pain is the best way to progress, and only slightly slower to progress, but pleasurable the whole time, just like the bears are having a good time. Please share any results you have, good or bad.
Gorilla Stick Therapy (GST)
What is GST?
GST is a healing modality invented by monk in Asia, 2013-2014. The exercises using the GST stick were designed to heal, reduce, and eliminate back, hip, and leg pain experienced by serious meditators. However, since GST uses fundamental healing principles of Accupressure and massage, the benefits are far wider in scope. Anyone who practices GST properly and continuously will experience a healing, strengthening, and rejuvenation of the entire body.
2018 note: name of inventor, and original name of technique altered, for legal liability reasons. It’s easy to hurt yourself with this technique if you don’t have proper training, so all standard safety disclaimers apply. Start with foam roller first, don’t put full body weight into it, ease into everything very gradually. Use at your own risk.
Why should I do GST?
Why is GST an essential part of my total health plan along with 2 hours a day of yoga and taiji?
precise control of pressure: from comfortable up to very high pressure using entire body weight
fast, efficient, comprehensive coverage of body
Positive effects of GST not easily obtained from other healing modalities
other health benefits
precise control of pressure
Variable pressure: use your own body weight to apply high pressure massage. You can control how much pressure - usually when humans massage you they don’t have enough strength or skill to deliver the amount of pressure you need. Most give too little pressure, some too much. Too little pressure has no benefit. It’s like getting massaged by someone who has weak hands; no comfortable feelings from massage arise. If a strong person applies too much pressure, it causes excessive pain. In response, your body releases stress hormones. This is not healthy in the long run in my opinion. Those stress hormones are your body’s fight or flight response, designed to supercharge your cells to get out of life threatening situations. So they have their benefit, but those stress hormones damage your cells. It’s not meant to be done on a regular basis. People who have a higher pain threshold, a higher tolerance for pain, perhaps they can bear pain up to a point without those stress hormones getting released, and maybe they can improve their body condition faster. I don’t know, but it’s possible. The only experience I have in this area is getting healing treatments from a highly skilled Chinese medicine doctor. His treatment was very painful, applying very high pressure massage and accpressure with his hands, but a few hours later and the next day I could feel qi channels being opened and stagnant energy being released. A few hours after the treatment when I was taking a nap, my heart felt unusually but comfortably warm, I started laughing for a couple of minutes (no mental cause, just heart channels opening in response to doctor’s treatment).
By following the middle way, I got the best results. That is, using enough pressure that there is a little pain, but mostly pleasant feeling just as when you’re getting a very good massage by a person. I found that about 10-20% pain and 80-90% comfortable/pleasant feeling gives me good steady results. I’ve been doing at least one hour a day for many weeks now, sometimes even two hours per day, and each day there is some improvement in health. The reason is by following the middle way, the sessions are enjoyable on many levels. They feel very good physically in the here and now, and mentally there is a lot of joy because I know how it improves meditation. So this creates a positive feedback loop, a long term formula for steady improvement with a built in incentive for continuous practice. If I rush and use too much pressure, perhaps the results are faster but the GST is so uncomfortable and unpleasant to do that I wouldn’t do it for one hour or longer every day, and it would feel like a dreadful chore.
Fast, efficient, comprehensive
GST’s rolling action covers large areas of the body quickly. You would need to spend much more time if using your hands to do accupressure. Just as a person using a wheel barrel or cart only needs a small fraction of the energy and time needed to move a large amount of cargo compared to the same load of cargo being carried by hand in sacks. GST, using the power of wheels and your own body weight, also quickly delivers the large amounts of pressure you need to large areas of the body.
Positive effects of GST not easily obtained from other healing modalities
I’ve been doing yoga, taiji for decades, also using a back-foam-roller on my spine regularly. GST uses the same technique as the foam roller, but GST delivers much more pressure and healing results. GST helps open and improve flow of qi channels that yoga and stretching can’t easily do. GST is an essential part of the total health plan. When I first started GST, it was a reliable pitisukha generator for about 3 weeks. That is, after doing GST, my meditation would have copious amounts of euphoria from the piti-sukha. The foam roller is a good primer and has the same effect as the GST roller up to a certain level, but using GST will deliver much higher pressure, go deeper and open up hard to open channels. if you use proper technique with GST, you can feel the difference in your meditation immediately.
GST not only does accupressure. It’s also doing stretching in small segments. For example when rolling your spine, with your body on top and the roller between you and the ground, where your body contacts the roller is one end of a segment, and where your body touches the ground near the roller, two places, one in front of the roller and one behind, those are two segments that are being stretched. Normally when you do a yoga forward bend, the loosest part of your back muscles get the stretch, and the tight parts that need to most stretch don’t get very much stretch. By doing the GST spine roll, you can really work on the tight segments of the back.
Another benefit I noticed is when I do GST, say for 30-60min right before I go to sleep at night, when I wake up 3 or 4 hours later, my body still feels unusually light, open, sensitive. Meditation, yoga, taiji all contribute to this, but GST’s therapeutic effect especially on opening up qi channels and capillaries in the extremities is what makes it have a very noticable difference upon waking up.
if you don’t get piti sukha easily, or don’t get it at all, I believe GST will help. If you already get piti sukha, you probably will have the same experience I had where (sometimes or for certain periods) it’s like a piti-sukha supercharger or amplifier. You definitely know that doing the GST amplified the piti-sukha compared to not doing GST. Important reminder: you can’t use the coarse physical pleasurable parts of piti-sukha to judge the qualitiy and progress of your meditation. But piti and passaddhi bojjhanga, as the 4th and 5th factors of enlightenment, are an important part of our practice, and it would be wrong to dismiss or excessively downplay the importance of piti and sukha, and bodily pacification.
Other health benefits
I’ve noticed other nice effects from doing GST. This isn’t caused only by the GST therapy, and no one should believe doing only 5 minutes a day of GST will give you miraculous results. But what I feel GST has impacted more noticably than the other exercise and healing modalities I do in my daily routine, because it more stronglt impacts the weak areas and bottle necks in my body such as the extremities, improving circulation of blood, lymph, and qi:
reducing cellulite in areas of my upper arm which was noticable. A western doctor who was doing GST explained that it’s not only invisible qi channels that are getting more open, but the capillaries that were not getting good circulation have physical matter that are clogging them up. The rolling pressure and squeezing physically pushes the waste matter along, allowing more blood and lymph flow, and the body is gradually able to clear out the waste matter.
improving health of skin, especially noticable in the extremities, including the face
reducing cold hands and feet, it feels like one day this will be completely healed
The disadvantage of GST is a steep learning curve. However, I can’t emphasize strongly enough that it’s well worth it to invest the time to figure out how to use it effectively on your entire body. I recommend starting with a high density foam roller (low density foam gives too little pressure) to roll your spine and other body parts, and gradually start to integrate the hard stick of GST on the body parts that need it most. Another way is to wrap the stick with a yoga mat, or high density foam padding that you can get from a hardware store to have a similar effect to the dedicated high density foam rollers that back care specialists sell to their clients. Even experienced GST practitioners still can use foam rollers in their practice. For example, if I’ve been ill or body’s especially achy, starting with the foam roller as a warm up before switching to the the hard roller is much more pleasant and I believe healthier. Just as if you stretch your body too vigorously while it’s cold and stiff instead of doing some warm up first, it’s easy to tear or sprain body tissue.
Which body parts need attention?
How do you know how much pressure and what parts of the body need GST? Anywhere in your body if you massage that part and it feels good, it hurts, or you get unexpected effects like coughing, farting, burping, ticklish sensations, other parts of the body feel like electrical current, heat, vibrations, it needs to be massaged until the massage produces neutral feeling.
The first few weeks when I massaged the spine around my lungs, both on the back side and chest side, I would feel really weird sensations and abstract emotions. So weird and abstract I can’t really describe. But also an abstract feeling of grief. As if all the grief in this lifetime were the root cause of all the knots and tension in the blocked qi channels in my lungs and the GST was rolling it all away. A few weeks of rolling, and the weird sensations and emotions have subsided by about 80%.
sides of the neck -
don’t neglect rolling these areas. probe carefully and slowly with GST. I discovered some interesting painful meridians that I didn’t know were there. When I roll with GST, I feel electricity and heat run along the side channels from the neck all the way down to the heels of my feet. Also I feel stronger piti sukha rolling these neck meridians than the piti sukha rolling other body parts. On a related note, here’s a technique I learned from a meditation master for Anapanasati. He recommended sometimes doing Anapansati with the center of attention not at the nostril area but at the back of the neck. He didn’t say why. I first tried it years ago, I didn’t notice anything special. But when my qi channels were open enough that I had some piti sukha in my meditation, I found that if I used the back of the neck as the central focal point instead of the nostril, it unleased piti sukha in a way similar way to using the GST roller on the sides of the neck (and also the areas between the sides of neck and back of the neck). So it seems clogged qi channels and tissue in the neck area literally is a bottle NECK that prevents the juices of piti and sukha from flowing freely. Meditators who have better posture and a lifetime of continual awareness of proper body movement maybe won’t have the cumulative tension built up in their necks and no need for these neck techniques. However, I think many modern meditators like myself had sedentary lifestyle, worked in cubicles in a sterile office and perhaps had parents who demanded academic success. All those hours of hunched postured reading of books on a table or sitting in front of a computer is guaranteed to cause lots of cumulative damage.
if that area feels good
When GST feels goods, it’s the qi channels having stagnant energy that need to be pushed out, and your body is giving your brain endorphins (pleasure chemicals) to induce you to exercise or do acupressure to completion. That is, keep doing therapy on that body part until the stagnant energy is fully clear, and the qi channels are open and allowing proper amounts of qi flow. When the channels are clear, you’ll feel neutral feeling, like the massage is unnecessary and you could do just as well without one.
if that part hurts
If massaging that part hurts, it can mean a number of different things, and the root of the pain usually isn’t in that exact area that you’re massaging. It’s beyond my field of expertise or knowledge on what the optimal way to fix the parts of the body that hurt to be massaged, but I found that the dumb approach of doing GST on every part of the body, especially the parts that feel good and the parts that hurt, leads to gradual and steady improvement in opening all the qi channels and to the gradual disappearance of painful spots.
I can see there will be a day were I can do GST on every part of the body without any pain, because everyday there is improvement, however minor, and small retrogression from too much sitting gets fixed that day instead of accumulating tension and blockage over time.
Right now, my extremities, ankles, feet, wrists, hands forearms are the weak areas (this is true of everyone, that qi channels, capillaries, and tissue in the extremities are relatively in worse shape than the rest of their body). I believe overall improvement is faster by giving extra time and attention to the weakest body parts. Since the body’s blood vessels, qi channels are all connected together in loops, the weak areas are a bottleneck that cause problems in all the other organ systems of the body. Just like if your home’s plumbing has a blockage in a central area, the bathroom, kitchen, laundry will all be hindered or completely shut down.
skin is also an extremity
One reason GST (and in general acupressure and massage) is so effective and can’t be replaced by yoga, taiji, and western physical culture (jogging, weight lifting, etc.) is because GST is physically manipulating extremities of your body that yoga, taiji, stretching, muscles contraction exercises can’t easily reach. Just as the hands, feet of the body tend to get more wrinkled, weak, cold, more easily than the body parts close to the body center, the entire skin covering the surface of the body and tissue near the skin is also an extremity where blood, lymph fluid, qi, can’t easily reach because of deterioration over time due to age, poor diet, lack of proper exercise, etc. GST has an effect of gradually repairing all that plumbing ( capillaries, qi channels, etc) through the rolling and pressing, squeezing action of high pressure massage.
How do you know the qi channels are working better?
You may feel like more nerves and sensation in your body are coming back online. It’s like a two lane freeway that was constantly getting congested from traffic got expanded to 4 lanes, then 8 lanes. Instead of stop and go traffic, you can drive fast, smooth, easily.
You may feel heat, electricity, warmth, comfortable vibrations, piti and sukha all over the body. It’s more prominent when the initial repair is happening.
Doing the taiji forms, I’ve noticed over the years that as the condition of the qi channels improve, so does my nervous system, and my reflexes are faster and more responsive. My brain power also has increased over time, I can think faster, short and long term memory work better. When I recall what my body was like years ago, it feels like I have a completely different body. It’s like switching from a 20 year old beat up hand me down automobile to the latest and greatest luxury super car. When that twenty year old car is on the freeway, even at 45mph it starts rattling, shaking, feeling like it’s going to fall apart. The luxury car cruises along at 125mph and it feels effortless and so smooth, like you’re going just 15mph. It’s like the difference between a baby and an old man. You can see the baby is soft, movement is smooth, easy, strong, very pliable.
After the qi channels are mostly fixed, you just feel light, comfortable, at ease, without the euphoric high of piti sukha can have. Just as the piti and sukha of the jhanas can vary a great deal, you can’t rely on those two factors alone to judge progress, improvement of your health and qi channels.
Use your creativity and common sense
You don’t always have to just do rolling motion. You can vary the speed of rolling, the rhythm, direction of rolling, and pausing and holding (no roll) on problem spots, doing deep breathing and visualize the flow of your breath energy dissolving tension, pain in problem spots and flushing out toxins. When you burp and fart, you are releasing toxins so it’s not just imagination.
You can also roll laterally along the edge of the roller (perpendicular to normal direction) instead of just rolling with the direction of the wheel. (more description below under zig zag technique)
If you have many painful spots in the body, then you might avoid rolling at first and just use your hands to place the roller under different parts of your body slowly, inch by inch, or better yet cm by cm.
You can roll in small patches where your body can handle it, and use careful manual placement where body has more sensitivity to pain.
zig zag technique -
I cover most of the surface area of my body with a zig zag pattern, like walking up switch back trails on a mountain. I control the pace, amount of pressure, and pause at problem areas, making sure to generate piti sukha or at least some comfortable feeling. It’s better to see video, but if video is not available. you’re lying down on your back. The GST roller is under your spine between the back and ground, at a perpendicular direction. Rolling laterally, the GST roller stays stationary, and your body rolls clockwise and counter clockwise along the edge of the roller from left to right. Then you move roller a few millimeters up or down and repeat the lateral rolling process and this will cover the entire surface area of your back, or chest or backe of the head.
diagnostic tool -
when I do GST, I always do it with mindfulness and awareness. How my body feels in response to pressure of GST tells me what I need to do. It may need 60-90 minutes to properly address all issues, or if I’m in a hurry, I may just spend 10 minutes on the spine and most critical bottle necks.
which healing modality to use when you have limited time?
First we should be clear on the strength and weakness of each healing modality. In 24 hours of the day, 4 noble truths, eightfold noble path, right mindfulness should be active the entire time, at least we should do our best. The continuous, non stop application of proper dhamma principles is the foundation for success in every aspect of life, whether supramundane or mundane.
Then by using proper mindfulness, we can observe from empirical evidence of exploring different combinations of modalities what works best for our situation. Everyone’s health and body are different. For me, what works well in my yogi lifestyle is a minimum of 20-30min duration exercise routine. For example, if I do a 1 hour sitting meditation, followed by 30min exercise routine designed properly, I can do another 1 hour meditation after the exercise comfortably. That is, 1 hour sit, 30 min. exercise, followed immediately by another 1 hour sit. The noteworthy impact of GST is that my second hour sit feels just as good as the first, if not better (since the first sit may not have had any exercise to loosen things up). I can also do a 2 hour sit, followed by 30 min of taiji+yoga+GST immediately followed by 60-90min sit that feels just as comfortable if not better than the first sit. As a point of comparison, if I did 30min. of walking for that exercise period instead of a 30min routine that includes stretching and GST, the second sit would get uncomfortable about halfway through, with lower back, hip getting sore, legs getting some pain. If you are a serious meditator and the example I cited sounds familiar, you probably should give GST a try.
Usually I’ll start with taiji, get the energy moving in the body, also also scanning the entire volume of the body to see what needs attention. Then I do some yoga on those area that feel tight and need stretching, and then some GST to finish things up.The amount of time on each modality depends on what mindfulness of the body told me needed to be done. Or if constrained by time, I hit the critical areas. In the evening when I have more time, I spend 60-120min. doing a full session of taiji+yoga+GST.
Be Happy, convergence
Whether doing sitting meditation, anapanasati, yoga, taiji, jogging, GST, I found that it’s possible to generate piti, sukha, general feeling of comfort in all of these activities (both physically and mentally). And they all use the same basic principle. By relaxing deeply, completely letting go of all tension, breathing comfortably and with full mindfulness, piti-sukha arises. At first, just small moments here and there, but as your qi channels open more comprehensively it’s more easy for full body saturation of piti-sukha as in first jhana. If we’re happy doing our practice, it’s easy to do every day and have a positive life long pattern. If we figure out how to do the practice so that it’s pleasant and enjoyable, it’s very easy to do every day. We look forward to it. If it’s painful and unpleasant, it’s hard to develop the habit of continuous practice.
(original article around 2015)
My thinking right now is that even after my whole body is fixed with GST, i.e. no more pain when rolling any part of the body, I probably still need to do at least 20min of GST daily both as a diagnostic tool to see if any parts of the body has developed a problem, and to maintain the physical body’s health that decays over time no matter how healthy our diet and lifestyle are. I believe that if one follows proper health principles, including GST, we can live into our 90’s with all of our faculties working well, walking and performing all essential acitivities of daily living without assistance from family and friends.
(update 2018 jan.)
I do about 5 min. a day, more if needed. When I first learned the technique, I would do about 2 hours a day, and it felt wonderful the full 2 hours. I do an avg. about 5 min. a day now because that’s about all I need. When qi channels are open, massage, acupressure, etc, aren’t necessary. Just as an advanced yogi in 4th jhana all the time, eats very little, sleeps very little, because there’s no need, so the body doesn’t give you endorphins (pleasure chemicals in the brain) to compel you to do that.