Author Archives: Taiji.co.uk - James Drewe Taiji & Qigong

About Taiji.co.uk - James Drewe Taiji & Qigong

James Drewe has been studying tai chi and qigong since 1975, and teaching it for 27 years. He is a qualified teacher (PGCE), as well as an acupuncturist, and runs more than 25 classes per week. He is the author of 3 books on the subject.

Sinking your Boat: (1) The Hull.

Behaving like a boat.
Your body has a keel and a mast.  The question is, how do you experience it?

The hull & keel.
This is your pelvis and your legs.  When a boat sits in water, it tries to sink to the bottom of the sea, it has no intention of floating.  The challenge for us is to try to emulate that sensation; okay, we’re not in the sea, but we’re constantly (and subconsciously) trying to sink towards the core of the planet.
But, by and large we don’t, we try to ‘float’ across the surface of the planet like the wind. We become ungrounded.

Feel it.
To experience your hull, you have to put yourself in the position of feeling exactly how you would ‘feel’ if you were the hull of a boat.  If you don’t feel it, then it’s all conceptual – all in your head.
So, if your pelvis were the hull of the boat, with your legs reaching down into the water (the keel), how heavy would you feel as you attempted to sink to the bottom?  Your upper body, everything else from the waist up, would be the contents of the boat, the deck, shrouds, rigging, sails, etc.
You could still rock from side to side, or forwards and backwards, you could still turn and twist, but all of those upper movements would be coming from a stable platform.
________________________________________________________________________________________________
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

Qigong – is it Yoga?

I’m not a yoga teacher, although back in 1978 I did teach yoga for a couple of years.

One of the aspects of both yoga and qigong is to enhance your potential.  If we always move in ways in which we are ‘comfortable’, certain parts of us remain static whilst other parts of us elasticate and ‘grow’, or at least remain more fluid.
Perhaps that’s a bit like only oiling the engine on the car but not bothering to grease the bearings?  If the engine works too well, it might be at the expense of the bearings which can’t take the strain.
Enhancing your potential applies to both qigong and yoga.

Qigong falls into a couple of categories: Static & Mobile.
In the static postures you get into a position and then, whilst maintaining it, you work within it, your aim being ultimately to increase your levels of qi (one of those expressions that means little to most people).  I’ll get to that in a moment…
In these static postures you aim to relax, but this isn’t a soggy-relaxation experience, it’s more dynamic. You are aiming to do more than just empty the body of tension, you are also aiming to add what I can only describe as ‘educated’ tension.

‘Educated tension’.
To give an example of this: Hold out your arm in front of you, the palm facing you as though you’ve wrapped it around someone’s waist (see the right arm in the photo).  Completely relax it in that position.
The first point is that, even though you relaxed it, it didn’t drop; all that happened was that you disengaged the muscles that were unnecessary to keep it there.
Now imagine someone is gently pushing your forearm towards you; imagine that you can feel the push but do nothing with the arm.
Then imagine that someone is attempting to pull your forearm away from you; once again, imagine that you can feel the pull but do nothing with the arm.
Now try doing both the pull and push sensations simultaneously.

Is this a form of almost-relaxation or of almost-tension?
It’s usually referred to as ‘educated force’, although I think that ‘educated relaxation’, or even ‘educated tension’ as above, would serve just as well.
This isn’t something that you will come across in yoga.

Moving Qigong takes you into and out of postures continually.  It aims to stretch and twist the body in unusual ways in order to increase the body’s potential.
It often works with acupuncture channels, fascial stretches, and the lymphatic system; this is also true of static qigong although the latter is less obvious and  direct.
This might be unintentionally similar to yoga (‘unintentionally’ because yoga tends not to refer to acupuncture).

‘Increasing your levels of Qi’.
Factor 1
In order to have better levels of energy, you need to avoid wasting it.
Energy is easily wasted.  Using the plumbing analogy – if the pipes are furred, if the joints leak, if the fluid (whatever it is) leaks on the way to the outlet, your system is compromised.
If the body holds tension or stress, the muscles contract, the bore of the piping is reduced, the pressure increases, the pump has to work harder, etc.

This analogy refers to the blood flow, the lymph flow, the functioning of the nervous system, the ability of the body to breathe, the heart to pump, and the ability of the digestive system to clear toxins… in fact any body system you can think of!
All of the body systems need to work to the best of their ability.  If they don’t, the body has to work harder, which burns more energy, and has to combat the various forms of inflammation that will likely result from the system’s inefficiency.

Factor 2
We live in a world that is powered by energy. It’s a self-propelled, self-regulating, self-regenerating system. It works, although we don’t understand how or even why.
What we can say is that it produces and uses energy; you only have to watch a plant growing against the force of gravity to witness that.
Qigong aims to allow us to gather and harvest more of that energy, so that as mobile plants, we flourish.

The Kidneys & ‘ancestral’ qi.
One other point worth mentioning is Chinese medicine’s view of the functioning of the Kidneys.
Apart from their standard physiological functioning, Chinese medicine see the kidneys as housing what they call your ‘Yuan qi’ (or ‘source qi’), which can be defined as the qi that you get from your ancestors.  This is what a westerner would describe as your ‘constitutional strength’, i.e. your ability to fight illness, as well as your susceptibilities to illnesses passed down through the family line.
Qigong aims to increase and repair your Yuan Qi, although it is openly admitted that to do this is very difficult, and is only possible in a limited way.
This does not apply to Yoga.

Does yoga aim to increase levels of Qi?
In my limited experience – yoga does not aim to increase levels of qi, but 1978 is quite a long way away, and I was quite young at the time. The only other yoga classes I’ve attended since those days haven’t altered my opinion of this either, the classes often being filled by those with an unusually hyper-extensive ability (perhaps I chose the wrong class).  The hyper-extensive practitioner is most definitely not aiming for qi-expansion!
________________________________________________________________________________________________
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

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Putting Backbone Into It (Shadow Boxing)

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 Spinal Line (when pushing an object/person).
When working with someone else, or even a static object, the correctly connected line of the spine becomes even more important.
In effect, a force against the body needs to be evenly distributed throughout it, so as to lessen the chance of damage to one part, and the spine is the main method of distribution (like the mains water pipe into the house before distribution to other outlets).

To continue the water analogy, it’s the pressure of the water behind your tap that causes the flow, not the water itself.  So, for example, when shifting a piece of heavy furniture, if you overuse the arms, you can strain them (or the shoulder joints); or if you don’t use the spine correctly, you can hurt your back.  In this example, if you treat the body this way, you’re trying to push water out of the system without backup from the mains.

How do you ‘connect’ the spinal line?
When a you push someone/thing, the force passes
⇒ down your arms,
⇒ through the shoulder joints,
⇒ connects across the bridge of the shoulder girdle to the spine,
⇒ runs down your spine to the pelvis,
⇒ passes sideways via the bridge of the pelvis to the thigh bones (mainly the rear leg thigh bone if you’re in a Bow Stance), and
⇒ travels down the leg(s) to the heel(s). (Depending on what you’re doing, it might then move to the toes, and possibly the tips of the fingers at the other end).

Or is it the other way around?
It’s also arguable that instead of thinking the force starting at your hands, you think of it starting at your rear foot, but because it’s a push, most people don’t think it this way.

Pushing furniture.
You need to move a piece of furniture in the room, and you don’t want to lift it.
You put your hands against the side of it and shove.  If you shove with only your arms they’ll get tired, and you might well hurt your neck and back (probably lower).
To move it, (1) you need to connect yourself to the piece of furniture correctly, (2) you need to push correctly, (3) you need to relax whilst pushing (strangely), and (4) your intention needs to lead you in the right direction.

1) Connect yourself:
You apply a gentle push, without intending to make it the object/person move, and you feel the connection between object and your rear foot.
You are creating an energetic line from rear foot to hands, and the easiest places to ‘break’ that line are at the shoulders and/or lower (lumbar) spine.
If the shoulders are raised, the energy from the push will run up the arms, reach the shoulders, and will then ‘leak’ or be ‘blocked’ at the shoulders; some of it might reach the rear foot, but most of it will be dissipated in the upper body.  You are ‘leaking qi’, which, in effect, means that the pipeline from hands to foot has a hole in it.
Similarly, if you haven’t relaxed your pelvis, allowing the lower spine to settle and release, the energy ‘leaks’ from the lumbar part of the spine, and you will possibly risk straining your lower back.

2) Expand/lengthen your line in an integrated way.
In this instance, expanding means forwards and backwards (‘Every action has an equal and opposite reaction’).
Integrated means that you distribute the force equally through your spine, arms, and rear leg.

3) Relax.
This might seem odd, bearing in mind that your pushing something, but sticking with the pipeline analogy, when you lay pipes, you need to ‘bed’ them correctly; in a long run of pipes, if you only support the two ends, the pipe will gradually start to bow over time, so the pipe needs to be able to rest.
So when pushing your object, connect to the object and feel the floor with the pushing foot, but then try to ’empty’ the middle… rest it.

4) Your intent.
Your intention simply focuses the energy, like shooting at a target.  The more finely you focus, the easier the action is.  Rather like a hosepipe, the finer the nozzle on the end, the further the water will travel.

And the point in relation to Tai Chi and Qigong is?
When you have a force that is pushing you, or conversely you are pushing someone/thing, it’s comparatively easy to feel this.  The challenge is to apply and feel this concept when doing solo tai chi or qigong.  Hence the expression “shadow boxing”.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________

What is a Tai Chi ‘Form’?

Is Tai Chi just a sequence of movements?
In a previous blog, I mentioned something that had happened many years ago in a class:
I had a student who, through my own inexperience of teaching, learnt the Yang Long Form in 2 terms, and when we’d reached the end and I suggested that we look at it in more detail, he said, “Thanks, but I don’t really need to; I now know tai chi”.
Of course, he didn’t know tai chi; at best he had memorised a sequence of arm and leg movements.
However, he did know a tai chi sequence, or at least could get from the beginning to the end of one – which is precisely what a Form is: a series of cleverly interconnected movements working in much the same way as a book, a piece of music, a choreographed dance routine, or a film, in that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Like those art forms, it can be of varying lengths, the middle can become more complicated, and the conclusion/denouement can have similarities to the beginning although modified. As in sonata form in music, there can even be a ‘development’ in the middle.

How do you play your tai chi?
As in all artistic works, it can be performed in a very basic way, or with varying degrees of subtlety.  A very simple set of movements can either look ‘clunky’, or can look like a work of perfection depending on the practitioner.  A beginner tai chi Form is, for example, not unlike a Grade 2 piano piece being performed either by a beginner or by a concert pianist; it’s the same piece of music, but the quality of interpretation is completely different.

Performing
There are many definitions of the word “Perform”, e.g.:
To begin and carry through to completion
Fulfill
To enact (a feat or role) before an audience.

So, do you ‘per-Form’ (‘carry the movements through to completion’) from inside you, from the heart, with sensitivity, with feeling, with intention, with connective awareness, with poise, with equilibrium, with relaxation and softness, whilst working with the movement of your Qi?
Or, do you focus on how you position your hands and feet, on what comes next, on whether your knee is aligned with your toes, or if your bottom is sticking out, etc.?

A ‘Form’ is only a vehicle.
A Form strings together a number of postures, (but it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it).
However, there isn’t one way to do it, there are thousands … as many ways as there are practitioners.
If this wasn’t the case, the Form would be dead, and the practitioner would be trying to squeeze into a fixed mould.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

Song 松 & Peng

Following the previous blog, a question was posted about it: “… How does Song relate to the other thing which is said regularly, that there should be ‘Peng’ in every movement? I take that to mean that Peng should be present particularly at the conclusion of every movement, and not as tension but perhaps as extension?

Peng is possible because, although you soften the white muscle tissue (the bulk of the muscle), you don’t exactly relax the fascia, or connective tissue, you extend/stretch it, treating it like an overall flexible/stretchy body ‘stocking’.
Think of your limbs like an audio cable – there’s the core(s) of the cable, which may be any number of wires encased in different coloured plastic, and there’s an outer shield. They are all wires, but the wires on the outer shield are often meshed and can be stretched or compressed, whilst the inner wires are usually long strands without the same flexibility because they are encased in plastic, and are not usually meshed.
For the purpose of the analogy, the cable is a limb; the cores of the cable are your bulk white muscles; the shield is the stretchy, flexible fascia.

Feeling it.
If you lift your arm in front of you as you read this, curving it so that the palm faces you at approximately chest or shoulder height, and relaxing all the muscles whilst still holding the arm in position, you are halfway there. Next you feel as though the back of the forearm is gently expanding away from you, but without involving any muscles; it’s as though the gaps between the joints have expanded, not because you have stretched them (which would involve muscles), but because they have loosened at the joints.  The arm should feel heavy.

‘Unbendable Arm’.
The Aikido exercise, the ‘unbendable arm’, demonstrates this concept perfectly.
If you’re not familiar with it, a brief description of it is that you place your wrist on a partner’s shoulder, and he gradually increases the pressure of his downward push on your elbow joint.
The more you tense your muscles, the harder work it becomes, but the more that you relax and loosen whilst simultaneously gently extending your arm, the harder it is for the person pushing downwards.  Your arm will flex slightly, but it is more like a solid rubber tube bending under pressure than a stick snapping.  A very interesting exercise.

Stretched (but not) & heavy.
The trouble is that people find it very difficult to stop using the white muscle tissue; it feels like a contradiction to relax, sink, loosen, and yet simultaneously lengthen.
It’s probably easiest to work on Song first and then add Peng, rather than the other way around, and this is where Pushing Hands or any two-person exercise comes into its own. It’s very helpful to have someone else to gently and sensitively test you by providing a small amount of resistance.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

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