Monthly Archives: June 2018

Playing with your Spine.

From head to foot.
When practicing taiji and qigong, we are often conscious of the forwards/backwards and the left/right of the movements, but it’s easy to forget the crown to feet expansion/contraction.
When doing Tai Chi & Qigong, it’s important to keep that structural line intact.

Intact?
By this I mean that any forces that the spine is dealing with are evenly spread over its length; i.e. no part of the spine is taking more force than any other part.  (I do not mean that the spine has to be vertical).
It’s important to keep the spine intact/connected at all times; but we usually don’t.

If you bend a stick, the stress is distributed over the length of the stick.  In other words, each part of the length of the stick supports the other parts.
Most people’s postures don’t reflect this, we do things both with our necks and with our hips that make the spread of force through our spines very uneven.
When working correctly though, it’s yet another example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts; all of our body-systems work much better when the individual parts (in this instance the muscles on either side of the spine) work as a collective.

The Spinal Line

  • Crown of head (not to be confused with the hair whorl)
  • Perineum (muscle between genitals & anus)
  • Point directly on the line between your 2 feet (variable if moving your weight back/forward between the feet)

Feeling it.
The majority of tai chi forms begin with the hands lifting and lowering.
When lifting a heavy object, your feet naturally press downwards as you raise your arms (gravity/weight of object), and as you lift the object, your intention is to rise, so you think your head upwards.  In other words, you automatically lengthen your back (unless you’re lifting the ‘wrong’ way and lifting from the lower or middle back – an example of spinal disconnection).

‘Raise hands’ at the start of a tai chi form.
Your arms together weight somewhere between 16-20lbs (roughly 7-9kg), so if you feel their weight as you lift them, you’ll also be pressing your feet into the ground.
Not only that, if you try to gauge the weight of your arms, you have to relax your shoulders (it’s almost as though you have to isolate the arms, in order to feel their independent weight), and by doing so this helps to sink the body mass further.
The problem for many people who don’t do this is that they end up raising their whole body and become ungrounded (shoulders rise, neck tenses, and hips tighten, head actually compresses); it’s almost as though they are trying to lift themselves off the floor.

Lowering your arms or even sitting down
When lowering the arms and bending the knees in tai chi, (even when sitting  on to a chair), people make themselves a dead weight at the expense of their necks and spines; in other words, they feel as though their heads (and necks) are also sinking.  This means that the vertical expansion of the spine (Peng) is lost; the upper part of the body collapses into the lower part.  In effect, the body has ‘sagged’.
The body ceases to have spring, and becomes soggy; it’s rather like attempting to bounce some putty or a bean bag off the floor; neither object bounces but instead collapses or squashes into the floor.

This time using the spine
So, as you sit down, go with gravity, and feel the body’s mass dropping.  Feel the weight of the pelvis and let it ‘hang’, let the shoulders fall, and feel the weight of your arms, but as you do so, try softening the back of your neck from a point between your shoulder blades and up into your occiput (the hollow at the back of your head where the neck enters), through the base of your skull and to the crown of your head.  
Don’t stretch though; doing it correctly is an UN-doing, not a DOing.

Balance.
For those of you who find balance difficult, you might find that the above helps, but it takes practise as it involves a change of mindset.
This spinal line is very much a physical sense of connectivity within you; there is an actual feeling of a solid line running through the body from top to bottom, as though it were a part of you.

You don’t have to do Tai Chi or Qigong to practise this, you can do it at any time, even when lying in bed.
________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________

Advertisements

Stress, Tai Chi, & Qigong

A brief ‘whinge’.
Maybe it’s only because I’m older now (or having an off day), but life appears to be more stressful these days, particularly in a city.  Pollution, noise, the constant advertising which vies for attention with vibrant colours and incessantmovement, the pressure to engage in the
economics of the society (buy, buy, buy), the permanently ‘in contact’life we lead, and even the lack of real darkness, make me realise that these continuous stresses are one (although not all) of the reasons that Tai Chi and Qigong have so strong an appeal to me.

The ‘Quiet Place’.
When doing Tai Chi or Qigong, I can return to myself; it’s like finding the quiet place, where the outside world ceases its demands, and the focus turns inward.
All those movements are designed to help you find the middle place; every time one part of you moves in one direction, another part of you counterbalances in one way or another; so your centre is never lost.  You’re playing an internal balancing game.
One of the best bits is that you know when you’ve got it right – movement just feels easy, light, balanced, settled, natural (a particularly appropriate word in this context), calm and peaceful.  You feel whole.

Your own solar system.
Add this to the rhythm of the movements, as though the body is breathing not only through the physical construction of the Form (in this case the expansion and contraction of the individual movements), but also in the way that those same movements are performed (Open/Close, the use of the 8 Energies, 5 Directions, etc.), and the system is perfect.  You are balancing your own solar system.

Cut down on your cortisol.
Both Tai Chi and Qigong help the lymphatic system function more efficiently; they quite literally ‘pump’ it.
The lymphatic tissue both transports nutrients through the body, and helps to wash the rubbish out; in the same way that the veins and arteries move the blood around the body, the lymphatic system moves the body’s water around.
When we are stressed, the balancing game between the ‘stress hormone’ – cortisol, (there’s an increase in production), and the lymphatic system, notches up a gear, and if we are stressed for long periods of time (chronic), the lymphatic system can stop doing its job.
As a result of this, our stress levels increase (Catch-22), and we start to collect the rubbish (toxins) in the body, which stresses us even further (another Catch-22), and as the lymphatic system works in close collaboration with the immune system (yet another balancing act), your immunity is compromised, and of course the body has to get ill in order to give itself a break from the stress.  Neat!

Initially, Qigong might be easier.
Of course, the ability to de-stress using Tai Chi assumes, at least initially, that you’re not trying to remember the next move, which is where Qigong steps in.If you’re doing some of the more mobile, repetitive Qigongs, you can sometimes reach that ‘quiet place’ more easily, because the next move is merely a repetition of the previous move, and because of this, you can adopt a more meditative approach more quickly.
If you’re doing Standing Qigong (Zhan Zhuang), there’s no external movement, all the balancing takes place inside you.  You could argue that this is stressful in a different way in that it can be physically demanding, and also because your mind won’t stop hopping around, but this does very much depend upon the individual.
In this respect, qigong is a great way to start learning Tai Chi; it’s certainly easier from a ‘learning movement’ point of view, and yet will teach you the fundamentals of Tai Chi.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

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 Tai Chi 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

________________________________________________________________________________________________