Category Archives: tai chi

Change in Taiji & Qigong

Going with the ups & the downs.
How do you ‘convert’ one movement to another in Tai Chi or Qigong?
Perhaps, if I can understand these changes, for example, when the body starts to move back when it’s been going forwards, or turns left when it’s been turning right, I’ll be able to use it as a tool to understand the way in which I deal with change in my everyday life.  So, if I can make sense of that transition in Tai Chi and understand how to make it feel unforced and comfortable, with a sense of liquidity, I hope to be able to apply those principles to the changes of everyday existence, and get life’s unexpected alterations to work more smoothly.

Changing from Yin to Yang; what is ‘change’?
At some stage, energy will always alter to its opposite.Energy Black Hole
I’m a little concerned about this statement, particularly as in a recent discussion with someone, he said that consciousness always expands… although I can’t see how you can have a separate rule for consciousness.  However, for the moment, leaving consciousness out of the equation, this is essentially about the finite points of duality.

  • When the universe has reached its furthest point of expansion, it will start to contract.
  • When summer has run its course, autumn takes over.
  • When a human has grown to his/her full size, he/she will start to shrink.
  • When you’ve finished breathing in, you have to breathe out.
  • You cannot always cycle downhill; at some point you’re going to have to go uphill.
  • One bacterium, amoeba, mollusk, insect, fish, or animal gives up its life to prolong the life of another.

… and so on; everything ultimately degenerates and turns back into earth (given enough time, again) – more food for the bacteria, which will produce the next plant, etc.

So, to repeat… Energy alters to its opposite at some stage, this being one aspect of the concept of Yin and Yang.

How can we feel this change in taiji & qigong?
When performing taiji/qigong, some people do not really ‘finish’ a move, i.e. don’t allow a move to reach its natural conclusion.  They might do a forward movement, stop, do the next (backward) movement, stop, then the next, stop, etc., etc.  Even if they don’t ‘stop’, there is a break in the ‘flow’ of the movement.
By ‘natural’ I mean that first of all they aren’t feeling where and how a movement naturally changes into the next movement.  Yes, they do the movements in the right order, but the movements are almost mechanical, and are coming from the head and not from any sense of awareness of body elasticity.

What does this mean in real terms?
To experience this, breathe in, and before finishing the in breath, breathe out, and then again before finishing the out breath, breathe in… etc.  The whole process becomes forced with your taking excessive control of your respiration.

So how do you breathe with fluidity, sensitivity, and awareness?
You don’t control it, you become an observer and you feel.  I’m not saying that you can’t control it, but the respiratory system tends to work better when you leave it alone, especially when you observe where the in or out breaths naturally end.
When you do this, there is an internal softening; no tightening occurs in the tissues, and perfect fluidity is achieved.

The basic exercise.
First of all you need to find this ‘point of change’.  Finding this feeling of change is very easy; all you need is a movement that is simple, but is absolutely clear as to where its energy ‘runs out’, leaving no option other than either to stagnate, or to change into its opposite.

This is a very simple exercise; it’s sole aim at this stage is to show (as far as is possible) the extremes of Yin & Yang.
24move-50Start in Bow stance (photo 1), and sit back into an Empty stance (photo 2).  How far can you go back before you fall over backwards?
You reach the point where you have no other option than to either go forwards again, or to stop completely (assuming that you don’t want to fall backwards), i.e. stagnate.
If you do this slowly, towards the end of sitting back, you can feel the backwards potential of the movement literally running out… becoming weaker and weaker (more and more ‘Yin’), 24move-515until you have to convert it to the yang movement (moving forwards into the Bow stance) yet again.
You can do the same when moving forwards into a Bow stance, (either allowing the body to lean or not, it doesn’t matter).

In other words, you reach the end of a movement, and there is no choice other than to go back to where you began.
It’s only an exercise with the sole intention of demonstrating one idea.

Experiencing the moment of change too abruptly.
So then there’s the opposite where, in effect, you mistime the change.
You’re arguing with someone and suddenly realise that you’ve totally missed the point.
You drive round a 90 degree bend too fast.
You’re not watching the temperature of the chocolate that you’re tempering and take it 2 degrees too high, destroying the beta crystals.
You don’t feel the wind direction when sailing, and accidentally, and forcefully, jibe.
In other words, we experience everything differently if it catches us unawares.  If we’re watching, everything tends to go more smoothly.

The moment of change. 
So how do you create gentle and appropriate change? How do you convert that moment at a party when you’re talking to someone and have exhausted all the mutual topics and you can’t see a polite way out?
The moment of change of any kind needs a softening and a considerable amount of awareness and sensitivity. In Taiji and in Qigong, you need to feel this change with your whole body; there is no jarring in the change.  [This is one of the reasons for doing some pushing hands in a class; when you first begin to do partner work, you can really discover your own clumsiness – something that is much harder to feel when doing solo taiji].

The sensitive gardener.
This sensitivity is similar to that required when pulling an unwanted weed out of a flowerbed.  You can’t pull hard, and you can’t pull too softly; you have to try to feel the weed, right to the bottom of its roots as you pull.
The same applies when doing Tai Chi moving from one position to another.
We’re all familiar with the Chinese method of teaching Taiji or Qigong by number:

  1. Raise your hands to shoulder-height
  2. Bend your knees lowering your arms… etc.

The silk thread connection.
But the sensitive moment – the change, takes place where ‘2’ takes over from ‘1’ (or ‘1’ gives way to ‘2’). It requires softening, release, and Song (see previous blogs: 1, 2, & 3 -part 2), and needs to be achieved with such fluidity and smoothness that, instead of two movements, there is in fact only one, with the apex of movement 1 feeling as though it’s ‘melting’, ‘transmuting’, or ‘metamorphosing’ into movement 2. The move described above might look like a vertical line that rises and falls, but inside it there is the feeling of a circle.

But you experience it several times a minute every day. 
We all know this really, you only have to breathe normally to see it.  When you’ve finished breathing out, you don’t suddenly breathe in, you automatically find the apnea of the breath – that moment when it’s slightly unclear as to whether you’re still breathing out or you’ve started to breathe in, almost as though you’ve stopped breathing, but you haven’t.  It’s a resting, a gentle loading up (or releasing?) of the spring, in archery it’s the moment when you ‘become one’ with your target, it’s the moment of focus and meditation.

No I only have to work out how to apply it to the rest of my life.
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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

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How on Earth do you ‘Relax’?

Relaxation v. De-stressing.
You might think that relaxation is the same thing as de-stressing,  but there’s a difference.  De-stressing can use a variety of techniques that don’t necessarily involve relaxation of muscles.

It’s relative.
How relaxed you are is a relative matter; perhaps there’s an ultimate, but it’s always in comparison to either how you were before, or to how someone else is.

 

 

 

How is ‘relax’ defined?

  • The state of body and mind being free from tension and anxiety.
  • A loosening or slackening.
  • The lengthening of inactive muscle or muscle fibres.
  • Returning to a state of equilibrium having been displaced from it.
  • A form of mild ecstasy coming from the frontal lobe of the brain.

Other applicable words:
•  Letting go
•  Undoing
•  Loosening
•  Releasing
•  Softening
•  Sinking
•  De-stressing
•  Settling
•  Song 松 (Chin.)

You can always relax more.
It’s quite astonishing how much more you can relax your body.  You think you’ve reached the full extent, and then someone rests their hands very softly and gently on, for example, your shoulders, and you find there’s more to go.  I’ve seen it in the people I teach, and I’ve experienced it myself many times.

Why’s it so hard?
You have to become an observer to relax; to experience your body you have to ‘stand outside yourself’.  That’s the relative or comparative part – you need perspective.  In order to make this comparison, you produce a memory of when you felt more relaxed, which you then put alongside how you currently feel, and measure them against each other.  This ‘standing outside yourself’ lasts for the briefest of moments.
You can only ever work within the field of your personal experience of relaxation – you can’t experience someone else’s sense of relaxation.  It’s therefore what you might call ‘personally-comparative’; when relaxing, you are aiming to be more relaxed than you were a moment ago.

Physical technique.
1) Make fist and squeeze it as tightly as you can.  Let go of it and observe the sensation of release.

Perspective.
2) Change the perspective on your body.  At this moment, whilst you reading this, you might think that you’re relaxed, but perhaps you’re only semi-relaxed.  Try relaxing every inch of you from scalp to feet.

Imagery
3) It doesn’t work for everyone, but for some people imagery can help, e.g. looking at a picture and imagining that you’re there.  But even that must be based on memory.  In this picture, if something disastrous had happened on the beach, you possibly wouldn’t feel so relaxed.

Visualisation.
4) Think of your shoulder, imagining a finger very gently pushing into the muscles on the top.  Try allowing that imaginary finger right in, so that you feel no discomfort.  You might have felt a slackening or undoing in that shoulder.

Breathing.
5) When you breathe, the muscles in the chest, and also in the abdomen ideally, are compelled to stretch and then release.  This is an all-body version of the finger-in-the-shoulder exercise above.  In the above imagery exercise, you were stretching and then releasing one muscle; when breathing, hundreds of muscles are involved.
So you can use conscious breathing as a very useful tool for both muscular and mental relaxation.

 

At the end of the day, it all comes back to this.

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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

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Qigong – Why all the Stretching & Twisting?

Leaving aside ‘Standing’ qigong (aka Zhan Zhuang, Standing Pole, Standing Like a Tree , etc.), there are many types of Qigong which are not unlike very short and repetitive Tai Chi Forms.
These exercises quite simply move the body from a static, usually feet-together position, into a particular posture, and then out if it again, not unlike some yoga exercises.

Professor Zhang Guangde’s qigong ‘sets’.
The type of qigong that I am focusing on for the purpose of this blog is Daoyin Yangsheng Gong, compiled and constructed by Professor Zhang Guangde, whom I’ve had the privilege of working with on a couple of occasions in China.
In this type of qigong, there are sets – usually there are 8 or 9 exercises per set, and some of the sets focus on specific organs in the body.  For example there are sets for the Heart, Lungs, Spleen & Stomach, Kidneys, Liver, as well as sets for Diabetes and many ‘General Health’ sets.
Professor Zhang is a TCM practitioner and all of his qigong sets of exercises are based around the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Digestive system qigong.
For example, the set of exercises for the Spleen and Stomach work not only on the spleen and stomach acupuncture meridians but, based on 5 Elements theory, also work on other organs, in particular the Heart and the Lungs.
This isn’t too surprising really, because the organs that pair with the Heart and the Lungs are the Small Intestines and Large Intestines, both of which are part of the digestive system.

The purpose of Daoyin YangSheng Gong.
Because the exercises are based on TCM, they are a wholistic approach to health.  Using the example of the Stomach/Spleen set,  the movements are in fact about balancing all the organs of the body so that they wor
k as a harmonious whole, but with an emphasis on the Digestive system.  One way in which this idea is put into practise is by making use of the theory of 5 Elements  (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) which explains how one organ directly affects or influences another.

How do the exercises work?
By means of twisting, stretching, pulling, pressing, and even hitting the body on specific acupuncture points, energy is moved and redistributed in the body.

A brief intro to ‘5 Element theory’.
To give a brief example using the Spleen/Stomach again, in 5 Elements theory these two organs take the role of ‘Earth’.   The order of the 5 Elements is Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water.  ‘Earth’ lies between ‘Fire’ & ‘Metal’.  ‘Fire’ refers to the functional activity of the Heart and ‘Metal’ to the Lungs.  It is therefore said that ‘Fire’ (Heart/Small Intestine) is the ‘mother’ of ‘Earth’ (Stomach/Spleen), and ‘Metal’ (Lungs/Large Intestine) is the ‘son’ of ‘Earth’.
The logic of all this, which at the end of the day is only a way of explaining and remembering things, is that an over-bearing, over-controlling mother (in this case the Heart) will sap the energy of the child – Stomach/Spleen (taking away the child’s ability to make decisions etc.).  An over-bearing, demanding child (in this case Lungs), will therefore sap it’s mother’s (Stomach/Spleen) strength.

In practical terms.
So, if your Digestive system is weak, it could be because the Heart (mother) is too active, but could also be because the Lungs (son) are too active.  On the other hand, if your Digestive system is too active, it could be because either or both of the Elements on either side are too weak!
This is simplistic (you can see from the diagram that there are other aspects involved), but it demonstrates one use of 5 Elements theory which at root is only a functional model, the aim of which is to understand the energetics of the organs in the body.

Why do qigong?
Apart from the TCM reasons above which are about making the organs work together harmoniously – rather like servicing the engine of your car, Qigong is also about enhancing your body’s potential and ability, as well as being about repairing damage, not only within the organs, but also within the skeletal structure.

And the twisting & stretching?
If you have a wet towel and want to squeeze the water out of it, you roll it up and then twist it.
When you use the same concept with your limbs or body, you achieve exactly the same thing; you move the fluids within the body by compressing the tissues.  Simultaneously, the twisting expands and lengthens the tissues, veins, nerve fibres, lymphatic connections, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia.
You move the blood and lymph, shunting toxins down the pipelines to be squeezed from the body, whilst at the same time, combined with conscious breathing which supplies fresh oxygen to your blood, the renewed blood fills those spaces created by the removal of the toxins.  In TCM, blood and Qi work closely together; it’s not for nothing that we refer to this substance as your ‘life blood’.

It’s not the key to the universe, but then again, if everything is a microcosm, maybe it is!  So keep doing lots of Qigong!
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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 one Saturday a month.

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

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Pulling up Your Undercarriage.

The perineum.
Between the thighs, approximately midway between the genitals and the anus, is the midpoint of the muscles that can be used to help solve a wide variety of health issues.
This is the centre of your pelvic floor, and is important in helping prostate and incontinence problems, as well as problems with some types of hernia and prolapse, and even haemorrhoids.

Feeling it.
If you are unsure where it is, it’s the same muscle you use when trying to stop urination in mid-flow, as well as the one that women practise using both pre- and then postnatally to help the recovery of the pelvic floor.

Anatomical location
The muscle is connected from the front of the pelvis (symphysis pubis) to the tip of the spine and sacrum, and sideways to the lower outside borders of the pelvis (see diagram) – the sitting bones. This is a little basic, but is good enough for our purposes.

The pelvic floor’s function.
It’s function is to hold the bowel, digestive, and reproductive organs in position (intestines, womb, uterus, bladder).  Without it, gravity would allow those organs to drop between the thighs.   It’s the bottom of the shopping bag, and needs to be strong.  It’s important in controlling the bladder and bowels, as well as helping with sexual function and fertility.  It is also important in the relationship between the spine and the pelvis, and when used correctly, can help with back & pelvic pain.  There is also a relationship between correct pelvic floor use and breathing.

Ageing.
We’re all getting older, and incontinence can be a problem for both men and women.   Having good pelvic floor muscle tone can stop that problem by helping with sphincter control, but you have to practise.

But you can also damage the pelvic floor….
Pregnancy and childbirth for women
Straining on the toilet
Chronic coughing
Heavy lifting
High impact exercise
Obesity

A couple of points:
Don’t pull up the undercarriage without breathing, preferably abdominally.
Avoid gripping the gluteal muscles (muscles in the buttocks).

How does this relate to Tai Chi & Qigong?
This group of muscles is constantly used when doing both tai chi & qigong, and closely connected to the pelvic tilt (see previous blog).   When you tilt your pelvis, you simultaneously need to lift the pelvic floor.
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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 one Saturday a month.

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

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Pelvic Tilting and your Health.

What is a pelvic tilt?
Stage 1:
If you put your fingertips on the upper border of your symphysis pubis (pubic bone), and your thumb on your navel, there will be a gap of maybe 4-5 inches (11-12 cms).
If you then try to lift the pubic bone up towards your navel (leaving your navel in the same position), without bending your knees, so that the gap begins to close, you are starting to do a pelvic tilt.

Stage 2:
Without bending the knees, you will reach a point where you can no longer do the pubic bone lift.  By this stage the gap might have narrowed to about 2.5″.
In order to continue to narrow the gap, your knees must now begin to bend, but the most important thing is to continue to lift the pubic bone to narrow the gap between fingertips and thumb (you might be able to narrow it to about 1″), so that the knees are forced to increasingly bend.
In this way it can be seen that in both tai chi and in qigong, the knees bend as a result of the pelvic tilt, and
not because you bend the knees as a separate activity.

How does it affect you?
Amongst other things:

  • More flexibility in the lower (lumbar) spine.  Ultimately, less discomfort, as well as less risk of injury.
  • Improved abdominal activity; the intestines get an internal massage and function more efficiently.
  • Strengthened abdominal muscles; less risk of hernias.
  • Has a knock-on effect on the neck.  Because the lower back starts to free up, over time the neck also changes.
  • When you start to strengthen and operate from your pelvis, other groups of muscles that you were using unnecessarily for specific tasks, in particular your lower back muscles) are freed up.
  • Improved balance due to the centre of the body becoming more mobile and flexible.

Sedentary lives.
As most people lead fairly sedentary lives, the abdominal muscles don’t work for long periods of time.  The result of this is that we start using our lower backs more for jobs for which the abdominals should be responsible.

You tilt the pelvis without realising it.
Every time that you sit down, you do a pelvic tilt; it might not be conscious, but nevertheless it happens.  Most people sit down by first of all bending their knees, and then secondly by adjusting their pelvis as a secondary activity.
Some people sit down by doing a posterior pelvic tilt (see ‘2’), others with an anterior tilt.  Briefly to define the terms (there is some confusion as to which is which), I am using the term ‘posterior’ and ‘anterior’ as in the diagrams.
Sitting down with an anterior tilt (see ‘3’) is not to be recommended as you can jar the spine.

In tai chi & qigong.
In tai chi the posterior tilt and the neutral spinal posture are used all the time; in qigong, both anterior and posterior tilts are used as well as the neutral posture.
Without using a pelvic tilt, however small, your movements are not being initiated by your core; you might refer to this as external tai chi or qigong – it might be moderately good exercise, but it lacks body cohesion or integration (a little like replacing the flour in a cake with sawdust; by the time you’ve iced it, it might look like a beautiful cake, but that’s about all).

Lumbar flexibility.
I have found that most people are not very flexible in the lumbar region, but this doesn’t mean that you cannot become so.  In fact, with practise, it will quickly start to become natural, bringing many benefits to the digestive organs as well as to the spine, your posture, and your balance.
There may be initial discomfort as you start to change things, but it will be worth it.
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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
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Sinking your Boat: (4) Results.


Balance.

Your balance should improve as you lower your centre of gravity.  This applies to all ages, sizes, and heights, but in particular to older people.
One of the reasons for falls in older people is that, because of the fear of falling, they raise their centre of gravity.

Posture.
If you constantly try to sink your boat, your posture will improve, and if you have back problems, sinking your hull will almost definitely help relieve those problems.

Why?
Because, when you sink your boat, your pelvis releases and softens,
     ⇒  which means that the angle of your pelvis alters,
     ⇒  which means that the alignment of your spine alters,
     ⇒  which means that your lumbar spine changes position and your vertebrae cease compressing and open slightly, and a release takes place,
     ⇒  which means that you stop clenching your buttocks,
     ⇒  which means that the internal muscles within your pelvis relax and stop trying 1) to draw the left and right sides of the pelvis together like a tightening horizontal elastic band, and 2) to draw the spine and legs together like a tightening vertical elastic band,
     ⇒  which means that there is more space for your internal organs within the pelvis,
     ⇒  which means that the front of your pelvis lifts slightly,
     ⇒  which means that the front of the body, up to and including both the sternum and the shoulders, softens and releases, allowing your shoulders to settle,
     ⇒  which means that the rib cage relaxes, your lung capacity increases, and your breathing improves which directly affect both your nervous system and your cardiovascular system,
     ⇒  which means that the mobility of your ribs is increased directly affecting your thoracic spine,
     ⇒  which means that your shoulder blades soften and sink,
     ⇒  which means that your pelvis relaxes even more at the back ……

And we have a series of events where one event influences the next.  Being cyclical, every start to the next cycle is an improvement on the previous one… and on, and on, and on…
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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
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Sinking your Boat: (3) Practising Scuttling.

Practising.
Practising the art of sinking is essential; it’s not going to happen on its own.

When?
The good thing is that you can practise it all the time, whilst doing anything – lying down, standing, walking, cooking, sitting, gardening… etc.

Walking.
Walking is a very good way to practise it, the knack is not to try it every step you take.  At first try doing it with only one foot, or for example, every 4th step.

Practising boat scuttling.
Step forward, and as you put pressure on to the forward foot, sink your hull (your hip/pelvis), in particular into the same side as the stepping foot.  When you do this, it can feel a little as though you are lengthening the body.  The most important part is that you feel the hip and lower back settling into the foot.  As you do it, you might have a sensation of the crown rising gently, but this is not something to ‘try’ to achieve – if it happens, it happens.
In effect you are ‘lengthening your spine’ but with no intentional stretching.
This the Alexander Technique.


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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

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