The Martial Side… Should You Bother?

Group tai chiYou don’t have to be interested in martial arts, fighting, defending yourself, or contact sports of any kind in order to do taiji.
Most people are quite content to do the solo exercise, learning all the basic solo skills that it has to offer…  balance, coordination, relaxation, postural awareness, opening & closing the body, and more.
But the words ‘martial arts’ means much more than fighting and defending; yes, it is a feature, but all martial arts are more about understanding your own body, being in complete control of it, and maintaining your physical and mental integrity in adverse conditions.
This is very hard to experience in solo tai chi practise, where you have nothing to ‘test’ your posture.
How are you going to know when you’ve got your solo tai chi ‘right’?

Learning the Tai Chi Form.
When I first started learning taiji, the most important thing for me was to get through the sequence of movements in the right order.
I tried to get my movements to resemble as accurately as possible what the teacher was doing, and, looking back at it, I can see that, apart from the superficial shape of the Form (the sequence of movements), I missed out on almost everything else that the teacher was doing – alignments (knees, elbows, hips, etc.), sinking, relaxation of my neck, internal rotations, and many of the structural connections that made the body work as a single unit.

Getting it ‘right’.
When you’re standing in a tai chi position, it is very hard to know if you’ve got it right, isn’t it?
Standing QigongPerhaps you can see that it looks okay on the surface, but it might also feel a little uncomfortable, and, if you’re asked to hold it for more than about 30 seconds, it can get very uncomfortable.
On top of that, how a posture, or even the act of moving through a sequence of postures should feel inside is hard to describe, if not impossible.
A teacher can tell you that the postures should feel easy, relaxed, natural, balanced, as though you’re ‘going with the flow’, comfortable, connected, etc., but these are subjective descriptions.
If you are a very tense person, you have no idea how it feels to be relaxed, in the same way that if you are intelligent, you don’t know how it feels not to be (or the other way around!).
It’s like trying to describe the taste of an orange to someone who’s never tried one.

What is ‘testing’ the posture?
At its most basic level, ‘testing’ a posture means that someone helps you by gently pushing against one part of your body in the direction that is opposite to your intention.
If my movement against that force makes me tense up, or feel unstable, there’s a good chance that I haven’t successfully implemented one of the parameters of the movement, and my body is mis-aligned somewhere.

‘The opposite direction to your intention’.Push Hands 2
If I am pushing my hands forwards, my intention is in the direction of the push.  Therefore my partner pushes towards me.

But the entire body is also involved.
If I’m pushing one hand forwards, the other hand must be doing something else. It doesn’t just die or go to sleep.
If it does nothing and just hangs, the left and right sides of your body are no longer working together.  You’ve actually weakened yourself, because, when the body unifies, the adage “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” comes into play.  (Bear in mind that we’re only talking about the balancing of the arms for the moment).
This is where testing comes in.  It is a comparative process to find out what works best and makes you feel most stable.

For example, if you push ahead with both hands against a partner’s arms or body (simultaneously moving your weight from you back foot to your front foot, i.e. moving into a Bow stance), but you tilt your pelvis sideways so that one side is higher than the other, you will find that you have to work much harder than if the pelvis is relaxed.

Testing is about comparison – what works and what doesn’t work. It’s about body awareness and self-observation.  It requires ‘help’, not challenge from your partner, and requires what you might call ‘educated strength’ in the partner’s push.

Only then do you really learn about your own stability, how strength plays no part in the equation, and how relaxation or softness is the key.

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James Drewe teaches Taijiquan and qigong in both London and in Kent. Details of weekly classes can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Taijiquan on one Saturday a month.

CONTACTS:
http://www.taiji.co.uk
http://www.qigonghealth.co.uk
Email: taijiandqigong@gmail.com
Phone: 07836-710281 or 020-8883 3308

How Do I Relax My Neck?

Dealing with Tension Neck Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, and Home Remedies ...For many people, tension in the neck must be a major cause of so much daily discomfort, this part of the body being one of the major holding places of stress, as well as one of the hardest to relax.
But we ‘get used to it’, don’t we?  
We start to accept it as part of our day to day lives, and put up with it.

What causes it?

  • Stress
  • Poor posture
  • Office/desk work
  • Text and phone neck
  • Shoulder bags, and haversacks
  • Repetitive actions
  • Poor eyesight/wrong strength of lenses

Standard remedial exercises.

4 Simple Exercises to Manage Neck Pain - YouTubeOut of curiosity, I googled this before starting to write about it.  I have my own ideas about this, but was amazed to find so many exercises that recommended movements that seemed to me to exacerbate the problem rather than help it.
This was things like, stretch your neck to one side, or force your chin down to stretch the back of the neck, etc.

Mechanics

Axial and nonaxial ranges of motion of the Cervical SpineThe person in this drawing apparently has a tense neck on the right side, and is trying to stretch it.  This is what all of us do to try to relieve the tension, myself included.  Sometimes we can even make it ‘click’, ‘pop’, or ‘grind’ which gives us a temporary relief, but the relief is temporary, and the problem returns.

When you attempt to open the vertebrae (or stretch the muscle) on one side, in doing so, you compress the vertebrae (or are tightening the muscle) on the other side.  In other words, you always have to use the opposite side of the object (a neck in this case) to create an action on the first side.
Most of the time, it doesn’t improve the situation, although there may be a temporary feeling of relief.
This applies to turning your head or any of the other actions in image 1 above.  You could almost argue that you are attempting to make something better by making something else worse.

My own experience…

In my late 20s and for most of my 30s my back was in a terrible state through a mixture of bad posture and a lot of stress.
As all of you who have or have had back problems will know, this was mainly lumbar (lower) spine problems – very debilitating, and making it difficult to function normally.
Like a great many people, I used to try exercising my back as hard as I could in an attempt to force it to get better; I had the idea that if I really worked and stretched the uncomfortable muscles, I would get rid of the tension.
What I didn’t understand at the time was that the area was inflamed, and, far from solving anything, it was inflaming it more and making everything worse.

Okay, so what should you do?

Nothing…. don’t DO anything… you need to UNDO.
Neck Pain - ACE Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine InstituteThe main body of the spine is divided into the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar vertebrae.  For the moment, our main focus is on the neck vertebrae – the cervicals. 
There are 7 of these, and, for most people, the easiest one to find is the bottom one (Cervical 7 or C7); this is because it sticks out slightly further on the back of your neck than the other ones.  When you bend your head forwards, it will be just above the shoulder line.
This vertebra is particularly important for neck release as it is the connecting vertebra to Thoracic 1 – the bone immediately below it. 

An exercise

Either sitting or standing, feel as though C7 is settling to join all the vertebrae below it – almost as though it is attempting to become a Thoracic vertebra!
Whilst doing this, observe (without doing anything, so don’t try to force it) what is going on in both in your neck and your shoulders.  If you feel anything, and you might not, don’t try to encourage it, don’t even dwell on it, stay impartial.  Stay watching the experience like an outsider, and see where it leads.

concentric contraction - Google Search | Anatomija | Pinterest | Muscle ...Tension is caused by muscles contracting, and the best way out of contraction is to watch them expanding or undoing on their own.  If you try to FORCE them to expand, you are contracting a different set of muscles (usually on the other side of the body or the limb) to force a stretch.

If you force a tense muscle to stretch by using muscles on the opposing side, you might manage to stretch it a certain amount, but the main problem is that, because you are tensing the other side of the body or limb, the pivotal point in the middle is being compressed.
Axial and nonaxial ranges of motion of the Cervical SpineUsing this same picture again, the right side, although stretching a certain amount, is still under pressure (because the muscles don’t want to undo), but the left side is now very tense.  If both sides are under pressure, where does the tension go?  It can only go into the spine (the central pivotal point), and the vertebral discs become compressed.

 

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James Drewe teaches Tai Chi and Qigong in both London and in Kent and online.
Details of weekly classes both live and online can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Tai Chi on one Saturday a month.

CONTACT:
http://www.taiji.co.uk
https://www.qigonghealth.co.uk
Email: taijiandqigong@gmail.com
Phone: 07836-710281

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Tensegrity & Tai Chi & Qigong

tensegrity 3We are held together by this concept.  Every part of us, whether it be a finger, an arm, a leg, a hair, an organ, or the torso, has its own ‘tensional integrity’ – something that holds that part of our anatomy in its shape, and also in position in relation to all our other parts.

Noun: The property of skeleton structures that employ continuous tension members and discontinuous compression members in such a way that each member operates with the maximum efficiency and economy.
http://www.dictionary .com

Tensegrity, or tensional integrity is defined on wikipedia as: “… a structural principle based on a system of isolated components under compression inside a network of continuous tension, and arranged in such a way that the compressed members (usually bars or struts) do not touch each other while the prestressed tensioned members (usually cables or tendons) delineate the system spatially.”

How does this relate to our bodies?

Isolated components under compression…’ = Our bones
‘…inside a network of continuous tension‘ = housed within our muscles & tendons
………………………arranged in such a way that
the compressed members (usually bars or struts)‘ = our bones
do not touch each other‘ = do not directly touch/press/exert force on each other
………………………while
… the prestressed tensioned members (usually cables or tendons)‘ = the muscles/tendons
…delineate the system spatially.’ = form the shape of the object, in this case, the body.

In Tai Chi & Qigong

We use this concept all the time for everything, including:-

  • to balance our entire structure,
  • to harmonise or integrate our bodies,
  • to produce the ability to withstand physical pressure,
  • to walk without falling,
  • to carry objects,
  • to de-stress,
  • and even to breathe.

We only feel healthy when this process is automatically working, and we experience discomfort when it isn’t.

The 5 Elements

5-elementsIn TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine, the ‘5 Elements’ are used as a way of explaining the interrelationship between the body’s organs and the way that those organs affect each other. The concept is a good example of internal tensegrity.

The 5 elements, and bear in mind that the idea is analogous, are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, & Water.
Each element refers to a pair of organs in the body, and describes how each pair of organs can affect other organs.
In its simplest form, there is a ‘creative‘ cycle, and a ‘destructive‘ cycle, so, looking at the list (Wood/Fire/Earth/Metal/Water), Wood produces Fire, Fire turns matter to Earth, Earth is the source of Metal, and Metal is the only one that can turn to liquid – Water, which then produces Wood etc.. This is the ‘creative’ cycle.
The ‘destructive’ cycle does the opposite, e.g. Water rusts Metal, Metal cuts Earth, Earth stops Fire, and Fire destroys Wood.
It is only a way of explaining the functioning of the body, but also explains the tensegrity of the organs of the body.

“The Whole is Greater than the Sum of the Parts”

In Tai Chi, once you’ve learnt a set of movements (a Form), you can start to work on integrating the body, so that tensegrity becomes experiential.
Once this starts to take place, you can experience an increase in energy, as well as greater ease of movement generally. In effect the body stops fighting itself, and all parts of you begin working together. This is truly a case of “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”.
The interesting part of this is that, when you perform a movement ‘correctly’, you know, absolutely, that you have got it ‘right’… you can feel it – the movement is no effort at all, and almost leaves you wondering why you had any trouble beforehand!

Balance is everything

Balance is also true with your general health though. We all know the concept of a ‘balanced’ diet, but if you look at it from the point of view of tensegrity, it starts to take on a slightly different perspective.

As a rather extreme example, if you eat too much sugar, the body starts to suffer, and ultimately you might be in for a longterm illness; the same could be applied to an excess of meat, or, in fact, an excess of anything.

seesawIt’s a little like a seesaw in a children’s playground; to make it work properly, both people need to be matching weights.
The Chinese would term the dietary imbalance as ‘an excess of Yin’ (sugar), or ‘an excess of yang’ (meat).
Incidentally, trying to balance it by eating both a lot of sugar and a lot of meat is not the answer! This would be like two very heavy people on the seesaw – they would break the device.

In conclusion

tensegrity-3-1All Qigong is designed to harmonise the organs of the body, but styles of Qigong go about it in different ways.
A good example of ‘moving’ Qigong is the Ba Duan Jin (8 Brocade exercises) where each exercise relates to one or more acupuncture channels.
In ‘static’ Qigong (Zhan Zhuang – Standing Pole, or Standing Like a Tree) the harmonisation of the organs works in a slightly different way… through tensegrity.  In this, the latent tension of the position is so well spread over the body, that no part of you works harder than any other part – the load is spread.

It’s not unlike having a business or organisation that is running perfectly, where every person in the business is not only responsible for his/her own functioning, but at the same time is keeping an eye out for all the other parts – a collective.
In Tai Chi, we have the greater challenge of putting this into practice whilst simultaneously moving from one posture to another.

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James Drewe teaches Taijiquan and qigong in both London and in Kent and online.
Details of weekly classes can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Taijiquan on one Saturday a month.

CONTACT:
http://www.taiji.co.uk
https://www.qigonghealth.co.uk
Email: taijiandqigong@gmail.com
Phone: 07836-710281

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RELAX!! What Does That Even MEAN?

shoulders 1A couple of weeks ago, two people in two different classes asked the same question.
During both classes, in order to get people to relax their lumbar spines, I suggested relaxing the muscles that make up the bum/backside/bottom – the ones that surround the pelvis.
Someone asked, “I don’t know how to do that; how do I relax?”.
I have a number of ways of trying to explain relaxing, but all of those ways come down to… “Stop holding on to …” (whichever part it is), or “Stop gripping …”.
Saying “relax” just isn’t good enough; most people don’t know how to RELAX.

I don’t like negative instructions, but sometimes they seem to work better than a positive one.
Leaving the pelvis out of it for the moment, try something yourself whilst reading this:
1) Relax your shoulders.
Now try:
2) Stop holding on to your shoulders.

It might only be me, but the second instruction seems to add another dimension and go deeper. The first instruction is active, whereas the second one is more passive.

Relaxation – the mechanics

muscle-1Relaxation is an undoing – a not doing. You can’t make yourself relax because that implies a ‘doing’; it’s active.
A tense muscle is one that is contracted, in other words, the ends of the muscle (the origin and the insertion) are moving together – closing the gap.
A relaxed muscle is one that is expanded, in other words, the origin and insertion are moving apart – separating.

So where does that leave us?
The only thing you can do is to feel inside yourself in order to release the ends of the relevant muscle(s).

What does ‘relax’ mean?

If you look up the definition of the words ‘relax’ and ‘lax’ (the prefix ‘re-‘ just means ‘back’ or ‘again’), you end up with various words that may or may not help.
I’ve found, when teaching, that a description that works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.

Sponges and stress balls

Hand holding natural sponge on white background.

A tense muscle is therefore one that is squeezing together or contracting, for example a squeezed sponge or stress ball.

spongeA relaxed muscle, on the other hand, is where space has formed between the fibres of the sponge or stress ball, or, if it’s a muscle, space has been allowed between the cells and fibres.

Finding what works for you

It comes down to language; words will trigger totally different perceptions and perspectives, depending on experience.
If you apply some or all of the bulleted points below to your shoulders or neck (easier than the pelvis), there’s a good chance that some words will work better for you than others.
Using the first three bullet points as examples: 1) Loosen your shoulders, 2) Open your shoulders, 3) Release your shoulders … and so on… i.e. working your way down the descriptive words below.
If you suffer from any kind of headache, definitely try the neck as well.

Lax

  • Loose
  • Open
  • Release
  • Deficient in firmness
  • Not stringent
  • Not tense
  • Not strict
  • Not rigid
  • Without rigor
  • Lacking precision
  • Lacking definition
  • Not taut
  • Not firm
  • Not compact
  • Slack (a lax rope)
  • Languid
  • Relieve from tension or strain
  • Less compact or dense
  • Set free
  • Soften
  • Reduce
  • Widen
  • Decrease tension
  • Spread apart (a lax flower cluster)

A couple of observations

  1. Making yourself feel ‘heavy’ can help – try making your shoulders feel heavy.
  2. ‘Playing dead’: You might have done this as a child – you make yourself as heavy as possible to avoid being picked up off the floor.
  3. I’ve noticed that when people think they’re relaxed their shoulders, they can in fact let go even more.  This becomes obvious if I put my hands on their shoulders after they think they’ve fully relaxed them.  But you can even do this yourself without someone’s help; release your shoulders, and then feel what it would be like if a pair of warm hands were rested on them.

Comfortable with what we know

Qigong relaxation 1In many ways we are our own worst enemies; we know what we know, and we recycle it; it’s very difficult to see outside that box.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons we push ourselves to learn new things all the time; by doing so, we widen our perception which leads to a wider perspective.
In the case of relaxation, we need to widen our perception first of all by sensing or feeling inside our bodies, and not taking it for granted that our tension is ‘just who we are’ and we’re ‘stuck with it’.  By being more aware of the tension, we alter our perspective and are immediately on the way to doing something about it.  We start to be in charge again.

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James Drewe teaches Tai Chi and Qigong in both London and in Kent and online.
Details of weekly classes both live and online can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Tai Chi on one Saturday a month.

CONTACT:
http://www.taiji.co.uk
https://www.qigonghealth.co.uk
Email: taijiandqigong@gmail.com
Phone: 07836-710281

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Muscle Atrophy the Fast & Easy Way.

I’ve learnt a lot about recovery from illness in the last 12 months. I realise now how difficult it can be, and in particular how easily muscle wastage can happen, and how quickly it actually takes place; it really doesn’t take very long at all.

I taught almost every day through the 2 years of Covid. I was in front of the screen constantly demonstrating; there was no opportunity to stand back to observe how the rest of the class was doing because, with about 70 people doing the classes most days, everyone had to have their video off.  The classes were therefore like miniature TED Talks.

Catching Covid.

In December 2021 I got Covid. 
Not doing things by halves, I got it badly.  I wasn’t hospitalised, but was in bed for just under three weeks, pretty much unable to move, and unable to eat most of the time.

Losing your way.

By the end of the three weeks I felt very weak.
Although the worst of the virus was over, I hadn’t fully recovered, partly due to having pneumonia, but also because I had lost so much muscle tone from lying still in bed for those weeks. It was amazing how quickly it vanished!
I particularly noticed that the deterioration in my health altered the way that I thought about my life; I was living in a new (changed/weakened) reality, and I couldn’t see how I could ever get back to how I had been physically, prior to catching Covid.

After 8 weeks, having recovered (in that I was eating again and able to go out), I felt so weak that I was seriously considering either cutting down heavily on the number of classes that I did, or stopping teaching altogether and changing what I did.  This seemed to be the only option.

Returning to exercise.

I have noticed exactly the same thing taking place with many of my students.
1) There is a loss of strength – before Covid and two years of lockdown, their legs were much stronger because of tai chi and qigong.
2) After two years of lockdown and isolation, there appears to be a change in attitude and a sense of having had their lives altered irrevocably making it very hard to return to how things had been.

Dealing with setbacks.

There’s a negative idea that we have about setbacks and ageing.  Someone said to me the other day, partially jokingly, “Once you hit 60, it’s all downhill”.

Personally, I think this is isn’t anywhere close to the truth; I think you can undo a multitude of ailments, and can change anything, but you have to want to, and it has little to do with being 60+.
Muscle wasting (in my case), along with many other setbacks, can be reversed. 

In my own post-Covid experience, for quite some time I didn’t entertain the idea that I could strengthen my legs again; it felt as though I’d never be able to.  It was a watershed moment. 

Anything is possible.

I’m very glad that I made the decision to persevere with my own recovery to strength, as it didn’t take as long as I’d thought to repair the damage. 

What I’m saying is, just because something isn’t working correctly in your body, in my case my legs, it is not a reason to give up.  I mention strength of legs, not just because it was my experience, but because they are a major reason for the deterioration of your over-all health.
Once you start using your legs less, you are going to be sitting down a lot more; things are therefore only going to get worse – how could they do anything else?

The body starts to stagnate, and not only in the leg department. All your organs gradually start to slow down, the body gradually congeals and collapses in on itself, muscles lose tone and become slack, and many start to shorten as they are no longer being stretched. Your general health can only deteriorate.

The mind is a powerful tool.

I realise that Covid has created a great deal of stress.  Isolation and disconnection do that, and, in that state of mind, motivation is doubly difficult.  However, once you’ve got going again, even in the smallest way, you realise very quickly that it doesn’t take that much to alter your perspective.

My own view is that the mind is far more powerful than we think. We can alter our perspective of anything, and by doing so can heal ourselves without resorting to medicines.

Placebo.

Recently I read several studies on the ‘placebo effect’.
The general view is that, if you are prescribed a sugar pill for an ailment, the mind is capable of triggering the body to produce for itself the necessary chemicals to start healing. Those chemicals do not have to be input into the body in the form of a chemical pill or injection.
The most interesting thing is that studies have shown that it works even when the patient knows that it is a placebo.

Finding your way… Your perspective.

So if you’ve lost your way either with your mental or physical health, you can try changing your perspective.
The most important thing to realise is that the way that you look at things or feel about things is not reality, it is just one way of looking at things – it is never the whole picture.
Changing your perspective will change how you perceive things.

How?

I read a book a long time ago about ‘altering your reality’.
One of the examples in the book was about how to win the lottery. The author told you that you had to put yourself in the position of feeling as though you had just won the lottery (imagination isn’t enough, you had to feel it).

How would it feel to be in that position where you’re just won several million pounds; how would it alter your life (feel it); how would it affect your work (feel it), your family (feel it), your confidence (feel it), … well, everything and anything? You should run your life as though this has already happened – which doesn’t mean you have to spend lots of money that you don’t have, but you feel all your encounters with everyone and everything as though it has happened.

In other words, live your life with an altered perspective, as though you are already living the new life that you’ve chosen.

Winning the lottery.

The book was not only about the lottery, but nevertheless I tried the lottery idea in a minimal way; I did all the feeling part of it, and maybe didn’t put as much into it as I should have done.

The result was that I won the lottery.
Okay, so it was only £10, but I’d never won before on the occasional times that I’d bought a ticket.

About a year later, having not bought a ticket even once during that 12 months, I tried exactly the same process again, and this time won £7 the first time that I tried it.

The best version of yourself.

For me the message was very clear. This works, and I have used it countless times since in my everyday life, both with my health, and with anything that I want to achieve, for example, getting back to tai chi or qigong classes, or any other form of exercise that you prefer.
In effect, you become a different person, the person you want to be. I’ve never tried the lottery since – I’m not that interested in being a multi-millionaire, and you do have to really want what you’re asking for, because this is the person who you would like to be – the best version of yourself.

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James Drewe teaches Tai Chi and Qigong in both London and in Kent and online.
Details of weekly classes both live and online can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Tai Chi on one Saturday a month.

CONTACT:
http://www.taiji.co.uk
https://www.qigonghealth.co.uk
Email: taijiandqigong@gmail.com
Phone: 07836-710281

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Why Tai Chi & Qigong as Exercise?

I’ve always loved both tai chi and qigong. Initially my interest was sparked by a close encounter with violence in the street, and it was then fuelled by watching ‘Kung Fu’ on TV with David Carradine.

At this stage, it was all about wanting to feel able to ‘handle myself’; I didn’t want to feel at the mercy of a larger-than-me angry man who I banged into by mistake when he was coming out of a betting shop (I assumed that he’d lost!).
After watching the TV series, I then wanted to be able to move smoothly, with poise and grace, and be able to ‘look after myself’… (at the same time, I also wanted to be very wise, with deep meaningful sayings oozing from me).

Having taken up kung fu and simultaneously tai chi, meditation, yoga, diet & nutrition, as well as learning about herbs and healing, I set about trying to understand how to make my body function more efficiently.

I guess that the pleasure that I derived from tai chi after that was more about learning sequences of movements – Forms. I wanted to know more about the mysterious ‘qi’ or life-force, being under the impression that, once you had enough of it, you were pretty much impermeable to most problems, both mentally and physically.
If you had plenty of it, I thought, life flowed through you, you flowed with life, and nothing affected you. By this stage I was about 25 years old, or thereabouts.

Forms are good.

After learning a great many ‘forms’ (sets of movements), hand forms of different ‘styles’ of tai chi, sword forms, fan forms, 2-person hand forms, 2-person sword forms etc., I gradually became much more interested in the way that you did the movements, rather than the forms themselves.
Forms are good – essential in fact; you need to have something to work on, an unchanging shape, in the same way that an artist needs an outline, or a concept, to begin to draw.
Various different styles of Forms are also good; they show you different approaches to the same subject matter in the same way as a pianist might learn music by Chopin, Beethoven, Glass, or Oscar Peterson. It’s all music; the notes are still the notes, but the combination and rhythms differ, and you end up with a different ‘feel’.
You need different styles to practise and develop your technique, although, having said that, it’s not essential, and many people never go that far but still get tremendous pleasure from only doing one style of tai chi (or one musical composer).

What is the appeal of both tai chi & qigong now?

Is it because they are slow moving, or gentle, or relaxing, … what is it?

Your body functions at its very best when you use all parts of it collectively.
This is easy to feel; if you only use your arm to push or pull something, it’s much more exhausting than using your whole body. The expression, ‘put your back into it’ makes sense here.
In both tai chi and qigong, we are learning to ‘balance’ the body, to make it work so that, when doing an action, we are also aware of what the other half of the body is doing.

For example, if, when turning my right shoulder towards you, I only think of the right shoulder doing its action, I’m no longer aware of the body acting as a unit; I’m thinking of only one part of it.

If, on the other hand, whilst turning my right shoulder towards you, I also note how my left shoulder is turning backwards and away from you, I suddenly become aware of the body action as though it’s revolving from a central axis.

Making the body work as one.

This applies not only to the front and the back of your body, but also to the left and right, and the top and the bottom.
There are 2 points here:
1) When you are able to bring all aspects of the body into harmony in this way, the body starts to act like a ball; nothing is stagnant. When one part of the body moves, all parts move, and because your focus is on the centre, it starts to feel as though only the centre is moving.
2) If however your attention moves to the periphery of your body whilst turning your centre, it can feel as though the centre is hardly moving at all but, because of that slight movement, a maelstrom is created on the outsides of the body.

A spinning bicycle wheel demonstrates this easily; the outer rim of the wheel moves very fast whilst the hub moves slowly.

So…

When you are able to make your tai chi and qigong movements function in this way, although the body might be moving forwards/backwards, or left & right in the space you’re using to practise, there is a sense of stillness within the movement, as though everything is in harmony, and the movement is ‘perfect’.
Furthermore, as you gradually refine the more subtle details of the movement, this sense increases, because you begin to note how the elbows work with the hips, the wrists with the ankles, the shoulders with the hips, how one elbow works with the other, and how the knees start to relate. Observing all of this means that, when one of those bits of anatomy do something, there is an instant affect on all the other bits. Nothing works in isolation.

The best thing of all about this is that you feel and know when you’ve got it ‘right’; no one needs to tell you!

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James Drewe teaches Taijiquan and qigong in both London and in Kent and online.
Details of weekly classes can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Taijiquan on one Saturday a month.

CONTACT:
http://www.taiji.co.uk
https://www.qigonghealth.co.uk
Email: taijiandqigong@gmail.com
Phone: 07836-710281

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Our Perspective of Time

Who is Moving?

Most of us think of ourselves ‘travelling through time’ – we start the day, the sun has risen; we finish the day, the sun has set. It’s as though we’re in a car and moving from A to B – starting the journey, passing various sights and events along the way, and arriving. The road stayed where it was, and we moved along it, and, in doing so, other things changed simultaneously… e.g. we passed a variety of sights, we stopped for a coffee, it rained, and so on.

However, what if we didn’t move at all, but everything moved through us. That’s not possible, you might well think, just by getting into the car and driving means we’re moving.

But how we can alter our perspective on this.

The first question to ask yourself is who you are… what/who is your ‘essential self’, the being that you actually are. This has nothing to do with your ego, or being male or female, or blue/brown/white/pink or green, or with blue/blonde/brown hair or whatever.
This is about your ‘essential you‘, the part of you that, once everything else has been cleared away, still remains; the core of who you are. Maybe you have no problem with this concept and have considered it before, and maybe this is all double-dutch and at this moment you’re thinking of stopping reading any further.

The ‘essential you’ isn’t something, or somewhere, in your head – that’s your mind; it’s not a thinking part of you.
Neither is it a part of your body.

Those of you who have meditated will likely as not know what I’m talking about, and those of you who have been involved with mindfulness might also know, as might those of you who have a lot of experience in Tai Chi and Qigong.
You have to ‘feel’ this place, not ‘think’ it, and to do so you have to be in the present.

“Sitting Quietly Doing Nothing”

Try looking at it this way.
Imagine you are sitting in a chair, and let’s say that you’re sitting in the middle of the pavement in your local High Street. You are completely calm, sitting with the ‘essential you’ (imagine, if you like, that no one can see you), and people are walking past, traffic is driving past – horns blaring occasionally, people are talking to each other, or on mobile phones, some are stopping to talk, some are hurrying, others sit on a bench, occasionally there’s a bit of drizzle, then the sun comes out… etc.

You are completely calm, gently breathing, allowing the hubbub of life to carry on around you. Gradually the morning passes and turns to afternoon, and eventually the sun starts to set. All this while, you have stayed still, and life has continued around you.

You get up, still staying with the essence of who you are inside, and wander into a shop to buy some food. As you do so, people move past you, sounds are all around you, colours change around you as you move through the shop – you only observe without comment – you are seeing, hearing, and smelling everything without judgement, without a viewpoint; this is just what IS.

If you’ve ever sat on a beach on a hot day, with the sound of the sea in the background, and let the sounds of life pass by you, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Everything around you is moving; you are still.

Of course you don’t have to be in the middle of the pavement on the High Street. You can experience this walking, sitting in a café, or on a bench… but that’s the point… you can experience it anywhere, and those of you who have experienced it, will know the amazing sense of calm that you arrive at (or return to).

You may think it’s a ‘waste of time’, but when you’ve been there, you realise that you have totally engaged in Life, and have stopped running after dreams of what you think Life is really about, and have met the real thing.

Life has literally come to you to show you its multitude of manifestations, and your mind, limited by its pre-conceptions, hasn’t had a chance to tell you what, or in what way, to view everything.

What about Tai Chi or Qigong?

The tai chi ‘form’ is a set of of predefined movements, not so different from a piece of music that’s been written down.

At first glance it seems as though there’s no opportunity for improvisation… in a preset Form, you can’t change which movement or posture comes after which. However, there IS plenty of scope for 1) interpretation, and 2) for bringing the body, mind, and spirit into the same state as described above.

1) Interpretation: It’s not necessary to spend much time in describing this, and perhaps it’s enough to say that the way that you perform the movements, the way that you think about what the movements are intending, will automatically change the performance.

2) “Moving quietly, feeling everything”: When you start to move from the inside, when the internal part of you starts to create the movements, and when you allow that internal movement to spread outwards to the limbs, the body and mind start to work as one unit, and in a strange way, there is only one thing that the body can possibly do whilst keeping within the framework of the form.
For example, if, whilst doing a movement, you allow (for example) one arm to lag slightly behind by mistake; the connection between the inside and outside of your body is broken.

Your personal universe

When connected correctly, your own personal universe revolves and rotates, moving left or right, forwards or backwards. You don’t need to worry about balance, it is automatically okay; there’s no tension in the body and you are upright and relaxed. Your breathing sorts itself out, and becomes slow, smooth, calm and continuous. Your central nervous system settles, and your centre of gravity lowers.

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James Drewe teaches Taijiquan and qigong in both London and in Kent and online.
Details of weekly classes can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Taijiquan on one Saturday a month.

CONTACT:
http://www.taiji.co.uk
https://www.qigonghealth.co.uk
Email: taijiandqigong@gmail.com
Phone: 07836-710281

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Stepping – Putting a Foot Forward

When learning tai chi and qigong, one of the first problems encountered is learning how to step correctly.

Most beginners ‘fall’ into a step, without controlling how or where they step.  Because they are reluctant to bend the supporting leg (i.e. the one they are going to leave on the floor whilst moving the other one), the stepping leg won’t reach the floor unless they do a ‘controlled’ loss of balance and fall on to it. This reluctance becomes noticeably more extreme as people age… understandable as tendons contract with age, and sedentary lives lead to weakened muscles.

In tai chi and qigong, you are trying to maintain balance and control whilst stepping.  Bearing in mind that tai chi is a martial art, you don’t want to be off balance when you move because this would be a particularly vulnerable moment were you to be pushed.


How to Step.

It sounds remarkably obvious, but actually what happens is that, instead of one action taking place, most beginners usually do it as two actions. 

What they do is:

  1. they bend the leg they are standing on, and then
  2. they stop bending it, in effect freezing it, and then place the foot where they want it to go.

The key is to keep bending the supporting leg until the stepping heel or toe touches the floor.
Most people will try to move their weight on the stepping heel or toe before it touches the ground, i.e. by falling forwards. Particularly with older people, it seems as though they are trying to relieve the unpleasant pressure on the leg they are standing on by sharing the weight with the stepping foot as fast as possible. The majority will not only put weight on it, but will also try to ‘launch’ the foot further forward to make the step bigger (longer or wider) because the word ‘stepping’ implies a progression in a particular direction.  It’s during that ‘launching’ that the body moves into free-fall.

‘Sinking your Qi’.

When moving one leg outwards from the supporting foot, you need to settle into the foot that is connected to the floor.  This means that you release/free up one entire side of your body, thereby enabling movement. To make this whole process more efficient, you need to ‘settle/sink the qi’ into the supporting leg. 

This is one of those slightly mystical Chinese ways of explaining something; so to debunk it, allow gravity to compress your weight into one foot. 

This is very easy to say, but is a bigger subject than it appears as it requires that you feel or listen to what is going on inside all the muscles, fibres, tendons, ligaments etc., not only within the leg, but also within the entire body.  This compression is a sense inside the body, not dissimilar to that of the silt in a pond that has been stirred up, gradually settling into the bed of the pond again.

Try an Experiment.

If you want to try an experiment as to how this feels as you read this (standing or sitting), feel your weight settling downwards through your feet (if you’re standing) or through your bottom on the chair (if you’re sitting). Don’t stop there, for then you need to follow the settling with your shoulders and shoulder blades as though they are dropping to meet your hips.  Simultaneously, release the back of your neck (don’t stretch it, just stop holding on to it).
If you tried the above experiment, you’ve gone part of the way to ‘sinking your qi’, or what the Chinese would call a feeling on ‘Song’.  It’s the start of learning how to really relax.

Turning your Hip to Step.

Stepping in tai chi and qigong is basically walking… in a rather exaggerated way. If you try walking across the room without moving your hips at all (keep them square to whatever you’re walking towards), you will end up with a rather robotic walk, the movement is only coming from the hip joint, and the rest of the body isn’t involved very much, if at all.

When we walk, we constantly turn our hips… it makes sense… if I want to put my right leg forward, it’s attached to the right hip, and by turning the hip also, I am able to get a slightly bigger step.

Horse’s Bums.

If you look at an animal from behind as it walks – horse, dog, cat – its tail goes from side to side because its hip is turning from side to side.  In fact, if you think about a horse’s leg, we talk about a horse’s ‘haunches’, i.e. the buttock and the leg are all one unit – we think of the leg as being part of the buttock also.

So when a horse (or any animal) moves, the pelvis is very much involved; it’s even doing a slight pelvic tilt in order to bring its leg forwards.

But humans are the same, we just happen to be standing.  And yet, as soon as we start to do something like tai chi or qigong, it all goes to pieces, probably because we start to realise that, although this is an action that we’ve done for our entire lives, we don’t actually have a clue how we do it!
SO… when you’ve settled your silt into one leg, and are also bending it to gently extend the other foot forward (whilst still maintaining your balance on the first leg!), turn your hip so that the hip on the side of the extending/stepping leg is moving slightly towards the direction in which you want to step.


Practise it as often as you can… it might take you twenty times as long to get round the supermarket, and you might look very strange, but your legs will get a lot stronger, and your posture will gradually improve!

Grief and the Present, Past, & Future

Over the last year, following a bereavement in Autumn 2020, I learnt what you might call a technique that I thought was very relevant to both tai chi and qigong.

Not being in a very good place at that time, a friend, who was a counsellor, offered to give me a session to try to help me. I readily accepted, and what he suggested to me tied in so closely with what I do in Tai Chi and Qigong that I thought it was worth passing it on in case it was able to help anyone else.

As he was taking me through the exercise, I realised that what he was teaching me was almost identical to something that I do in my own classes, but with an additional slant.

In my case, and possibly in most cases, I found that grieving was making me constantly live in either the past or the future – memories, and thoughts about what might have been.

Staying in the present was almost impossible for any length of time, and everything I did, everyone I saw, everywhere I went triggered a memory, the thought of going anywhere I’d been before was almost unbearable, and any plans I might have had had become defunct and meaningless.

In my classes I do what I call a “grounding exercise“. This involves standing upright and ‘connecting’ yourself to the Earth/planet by gradually focusing on working upwards from the feet to the head.

First you relax the feet, then move upward through the knees, pelvis, etc. releasing your muscles, tendons, connective tissue and joints as you gradually work towards the head.

Mechanically, it’s about finding your vertical axis and alignment, whilst allowing yourself to be subject to gravity; as you do it, you’re learning how to relax your central nervous system, consequently de-stressing simultaneously. In many respects it is a mechanical exercise, but also has the additional aspect of your needing to relax the mind in order to get the most out of it.

The exercise that the counsellor taught me is so simple, that I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before and made it part of the ‘grounding’ exercise.

Sitting or standing, you simply work through the five senses. Notice any of the colours around you, for example, which ones stand out most. There is no need to judge any of it, you just notice.

Can you hear anything around you? Once again, no judgement is necessary, no comment of any type, just notice. If it’s a conversation you can hear, you don’t need to listen to the words; perhaps you hear only the quality of the sound of the voices; it’s as though your listening ti the sound of the wind in the trees, or a stream passing over stones.

Can you hear anything around you? Once again, no judgement is necessary, no comment of any type, just notice. If it’s a conversation you can hear, you don’t need to listen to the words; perhaps you hear only the quality of the sound of the voices; it’s as though your listening ti the sound of the wind in the trees, or a stream passing over stones.

What can you smell? Perhaps nothing, but just notice. Again, no need to judge whether it’s a pleasant/not so pleasant smell.

Can you feel anything? If your hands are lying on your legs, maybe you only feel the fabric of whatever you’re wearing, but don’t forget that your whole body can feel, so perhaps you’re feeling the wind against your skin, or a tingling in your hands, or the splash of rain.

What can you taste? Just notice. 

It’s as simple as that, and it brings you completely into the present because none of those things exist in the past or future.

What’s so good about this is you can do it anywhere , at any time.

QIGONG & TAI CHI LIVE ZOOM SESSIONS – 6 days a week.

TAI CHI & QIGONG LIVE ZOOM SESSIONS.

We are now on the 47th Zoom session.
There are 6 sessions a week:
11.00am (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, & Saturday)
4.00pm (Tuesday, & Friday).
The first class is FREE to try out, and there is a payment scheme for following classes.
The classes consist of anything out of the following:-
  • Warm-ups,
  • Qigong for the Immune System
  • Qigong for Health Preservation
  • Support the Lungs (Qigong for the Lungs recently developed in China in December for prevention of pneumonia and to help combat Coronavirus)
  • Stretch exercises
  • Work on relaxation and how to move ‘correctly’
  • The Yang 10-Step tai chi Form
  • Abdominal breathing
  • Balance & posture
  • I will be doing the Ba Duan Jin (8 Strands of the Brocade) in the next few weeks.
Video: I make a video of every session (better quality than Zoom) which you’ll receive – usually later on in the day (unless there’s a tech problem).
Payment (after session 1): There’s a method of payment which I’ll send you if you’d like to go beyond session 1.
If you’re interested, please contact through the website (below).

__________________________________________________________________________________________________
James Drewe teaches Taijiquan and qigong in both London and in Kent. Details of weekly classes can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Taijiquan on one Saturday a month.

CONTACT:
http://www.taiji.co.uk
https://www.qigonghealth.co.uk
Email: taijiandqigong@gmail.com
Phone: 07836-710281 or 020-8883 3308

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