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.
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)
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.
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.
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