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Tai Chi, The Arts, Intention and Interpretation.

Speaking.
When speaking, you speak in phrases.
If you take a phrase like, “Don’t you know what I want?”, by putting the stress on different words, it starts to take on different meanings – in fact you can repeat that 6 word question 6 times, stressing a different word each time, and you have 6 slightly different sentences.
If you then apply different emotions to the same words, saying it, for example, in a sad, laughing, amused, angry, aggressive, or bored way and you have more ‘meanings’.
Altering the speed at which you say the whole sentence changes it slightly yet again, and saying one part of the sentence slower than another part (e.g. “Don’t you know …what …I …mean?” alters it yet again.
These are aspects of language that we all do automatically and we’re very skilled at it; little thought is required, we’re highly practised because we’re always speaking.

The same has to be true for other aspects of our lives, speech is not the only way of expressing ourselves.  Artists, dancers and craftsmen have their way, and musicians have a way that perhaps is closest to speech because it involves sound.

Music & Tai Chi.
One of the most difficult things to teach is interpretation.  First of all it requires that the practitioner has the same skill with the subject (tai chi, art, carpentry, music) as he has with his own voice and use of language.  This takes a great deal of time and patience – it takes us years to learn to speak well.
In music, most people never get beyond the stage of being able to play the notes, (perhaps in carpentry this translates as ‘make a basic shape with a piece of wood’, or in tai chi ‘remember which move follows which in a routine’, or with poetry recitation, ‘learn the words of the poem to be recited’), because the next stage requires interpretation, which comes out of confidence in the underlying basic skill.

Intention & Interpretation.
Your intention defines what you are trying  to say, whether in movement, sound, wood, clay, stone, metal, or speech.  For example, when talking, you have an intention – you are expressing an idea or a thought which will promote further thoughts or actions; it’s not an aimless jumble of words that comes out of you without any idea of what you’re trying to express.

In music, the composer’s intention is to guide your emotions via a musical phrase (possibly melodic, harmonic, or by the use of orchestration).  With music which is only ever recorded, i.e. most rock or pop music (with some exceptions, and generally people only want a repeat of how it sounded when recorded), this is a fixed event; no other interpretation is available (except for cover versions).  However in both classical and jazz music, after the original written version is produced, interpretation starts to play a very important role.

Interpretation is the ‘living’ part of whatever you say or do.  It defines the meaning and can be instantly changed mid-flow to fit the situation of that precise moment.  Some might argue that it is the actual connection with Life itself; it is you being completely ‘in the moment’.

Tai Chi & Interpretation.
In music, as you play a piece, and in particular when you improvise, whatever you feel is produced through your fingers. The attached video clip has similarities to conducting.
In tai chi, the same is true, although the expression of the movement comes out through the entire body (arguably the same with music).  So if you are feeling joyful, tense, lethargic, calm, angry, sad, aggressive, bored, tired, or fed up, this will show in the outer movements.
In tai chi you are attempting to be ‘open’ and allow the universe to be expressed through you (as in music and all the Arts, in fact the same is probably true for the sciences and… well, everything).  Is this concept – i.e. your being a vessel of the universe’s expression – a conflict with the idea of interpretation?  Probably not; maybe the fact that it’s coming through an individualised human being is a bit like the shape of a clay pot being enhanced by a particular glaze?
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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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Stress.

Stress.
There are many reasons for stress.  What stresses one person might to another be a positive drive to action.
You would possibly think that de-stressing is about relaxation, but there are many techniques for de-stressing that have little to do with relaxation and more to do with distraction.’

The parasympathetic nervous system.
To begin with, stress is connected to the state of your autonomic nervous system, a system that is divided into the ‘parasympathetic’ and the ‘sympathetic’ nervous systems.
The parasympathetic system is your functional system which regulates your everyday bodily activities (blood supply, breathing, digestion, elimination); this carries on without your involvement, although you can control certain aspects of it.

The sympathetic nervous system.
Your sympathetic nervous system becomes active in cases of emergency.  If something happens that is potentially life-threatening, many of your body’s processes are temporarily either slowed or shut down, and an increased supply of glucose goes to the brain (whilst its access to the cells of the body is blocked – ‘insulin resistance’) in order to deal with the situation that has arisen.  In other words, the brain needs the glucose boost temporarily to find a rapid solution to the emergency.

And after the emergency…
The problems begin when the sympathetic nervous system, having dealt with the emergency, doesn’t settle down again and continues to over-function; this could be because of problems at work, at home, or with life generally.  When this happens, the ‘temporary’ boost of glucose and the shutting down of part of your system becomes more than ‘temporary’.
There are several repercussions from this including the factor that inflammation in the body is increased because the insulin/glucose balance in the body fails to stabilise.

Inflammation is a major stress factor.
We tend to associate the word with localised inflammation, in other words we think of a joint or a muscle being uncomfortable and inflamed, but this is different, it’s inflammation on a whole-body level, and whether it’s high or low level, it is more insidious than an isolated location.
We all know that an aching shoulder, knee, or elbow is tiring; it’s a constant irritation that absorbs our attention.
When the body is undergoing permanent low level irritation, it’s exhausting and energy draining, but the main problem is that it’s cyclical; the less energy you have, the less there is for the body to deal with the inflammation.
So you go for something to ‘perk you up’, usually sugar-based.  This boosts the glucose levels in the body, but because your glucose/insulin levels are not balanced due to your being in stress mode, the glucose is forced to the brain (which is what happens in the emergency situation – the brain needing the extra energy to deal with the tiger that’s about to attack you!).  In effect, you started the cycle again.

What can I do about it?
This is almost impossible to answer as it depends on what is stressing you in the first place. However, there are a number of factors to take into account that can help to improve the situation and some techniques that can also help.

1) Diet.
Some foods are more inflammatory than others. This will vary from person to person, but if you know what they are, avoid them.
One interesting example that I read recently is that red meat contains one molecule that is not found in humans; therefore, when this molecule enters the human body, the immune system sees it as an invader and, in order to fight it, creates inflammation, in effect using fire to stop the spread of the potential problem, and ‘burn out’ the invader.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t eat red meat, but this is one example of how the body deals with something that it doesn’t want.

2. Psychological.
Where to start?!
Very briefly, following an event, a part of our brain mulls an issue over and over.  It compares it to previous similar events, it forms plans as to how to deal with it, it considers what you might have said at the time, how things might have been better had something else happened, and so on.
The Chinese call this the ‘Monkey Brain/Mind’.  It’s also known as your ‘Default Mode Network’, and is the network of brain cells from approximately the middle-front of your skull towards the back.
The problem is to break the thought-cycle that is creating the stress.  This involves various techniques, many of which involve distraction from the problem, if only for a short time. Often during that short time, the situation itself either alters or possibly resolves in some unexpected way.
(In the diagram, the ‘mPFC’ refers to the median Pre-Frontal Cortex’, the ‘PCC’ to the Posterior Cingulate Cortex – i.e. front to back along the top of the head).

Distraction can be in the form of anything that alters your focus for a reasonable length of time, which engages your brain and therefore disengages you from the problem.  Puzzles, meditation, focusing on breathing, learning/playing an instrument, listening attentively to music… I’m not convinced that watching TV is as good.

Maybe it’s also worth pointing out that this part of the brain is the location of what Freud called the ‘ego’, and which is also known as the ‘autobiographical memory’.  This is where you constantly recreate that picture of how you see yourself – the Monkey Brain in action.

3. Exercise.
This is a good way to de-stress, and ties in with (2) above.  The exercise shouldn’t be exhausting, but slightly cardiovascular is good.  (Various tests have been done that show that forcing the body very hard during exercise doesn’t help to de-stress as much as gentle exercise).
Obviously this is where tai chi and qigong fit in.  This type of exercise connects the mind & body, each helping the other to relax and soften.

4. Central equilibrium.
One of the main reasons however why tai chi and qigong are so good for de-stressing you is that both are about the physical ‘balancing’ of the body, in other words, making the body work as a perfect unit.
How can you feel stressed if your body – your own personal universe – is moving breathing and rotating perfectly, and is working in perfect accord not only with itself but also with your environment?
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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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Song Yao / Kai Kua

Further to the previous blog…
Song Yao” = Release the waist (see previous blog on ‘Song’).
Kai Kua” = Open the Kua, or inguinal region on the front of the pelvis.

Yao’ in this case refers specifically to the back of the waist (exactly as in the previous blog).
Kua’ refers to the area on each side of the hips where the legs join the pelvis at the front of the body – the ‘Inguinal Groove’.  To feel it, do a semi-squat (it doesn’t have to be very deep), and then open your knees sideways.

Open the knees (or Kua).
The under-rotation of the pelvis cannot work very effectively without the Kua opening.  This is easy to feel if you try the opposite… Try tucking the tip of your tailbone (coccyx) further under, but simultaneously squeeze your knees together.
Once you’ve felt how awkward that is, you know to consciously open the knees gently as you release the back (Song Yao), tucking under as a result, – although it’s better to think of it as the Kua, rather than the knees, opening.

Avoiding ‘collapsing knee’ syndrome.
This means that whether you are in a Bow stance (with the weight on the forward leg as in the photos), or sitting back on to your rear leg (Empty stance), you need to ensure that the Kua opens. In a Bow stance it will be the Kua on the back leg in particular, and in the Empty stance, it will be the Kua on the front leg.
This avoids the collapsing knee syndrome (as in the photo on the right) that is so common amongst beginners practising tai chi and qigong.

Whatever posture you’re in…
… when you pelvic tilt (Song Yao), always release the front of the pelvis (Kai Kua).
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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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Tucking Under… Don’t FORCE it.

The mechanics.
When you sit down on to a chair, you automatically, and without forcing it, do a pelvic tilt.  If you don’t, you run the slight risk of hurting your spine.
The same thing should be true in tai chi and qigong when you move your weight from the front leg to the rear leg of a Bow stance; you need to do a pelvic tilt (see previous blog).

Forcing it.
Without repeating the previous blog, I’ve noticed that quite a few people force the pelvis under rather than allowing it to roll under by releasing the back and the neck.  If you don’t release the muscles in the back, you’re just creating further tension and the movement won’t function as effectively if someone were to push or pull you at the same time.
This relates to the question that people sometimes ask – How do you relax the gluteus muscles in the buttocks at same time as tucking under?

Stretching or releasing?
If you force the pelvic tilt, you are deliberately trying to stretch the lower back muscles by contracting the abdominal muscles.  Forcing it means that the movement is coming from only one place, and the back isn’t joining in the game – or only slightly. 
If you force the pelvis under, the neck doesn’t release, and the tension within the pelvis may even cause the chin to lift because the entire back, including the back of the neck, contracts.
In fact, to go a stage further, when tucking the pelvis under, your neck should release at precisely the same moment.

Feeeeeel……
When you release the back, as opposed to ‘forcing’ it, the sensation of release occurs throughout the entire back – the waist, the ribcage (sides and back), the armpits, the shoulder blades, the neck, and even in the back of the head and up to the crown of the head.  Your back should feel like a compressed spring releasing.
Should you release the neck or the back first?  Both; it’s all one and the same.

How does the front of the body behave?
When you release the back, the muscles at the front feel as though they are being drawn upwards and inwards, rather than tensed.
What happens is that the back ‘opens’ – not exactly a bowing backwards, more a sensation of the cellular structure undoing and opening, and the front of the body ‘closes’, – a feeling of the front drawing in, compressing.  These events happen simultaneously so that one reinforces the other.
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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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The Breathing of Movement in Tai Chi & Qigong.

Walking & ‘Open/Close’.
If you picture your body as a mobile vertical line, what allows you to be mobile is your ability to split that line at the base – in other words, you have legs.
You can move a leg forwards or backwards thereby temporarily fraying the vertical line from the pelvis downwards.
If you stay as a vertical line you are static, and if you stay as a frayed line you are static; your ability for movement is caused by your alternating the two options.
There aren’t any other possibilities apart from hopping up and down on the spot.
So when mobile, you constantly change between a closed and an open position – as you push off one leg, leaving it behind, you advance with the other leg, before again bringing the legs back together prior to repeating the whole event.
Of course, it doesn’t feel that way; we don’t really notice when the legs come back together again. It feels as though our legs are constantly split in the process of walking, perhaps because the weight is only on one foot as the advancing rear leg moves forwards with the intention of taking a further step.
The process is therefore a constant expansion away from the vertical axis, and contraction towards the vertical axis, which is the basis of both tai chi and qigong.

The arms when walking & ‘Open/Close’.
The arms do the same thing; they swing forwards and backwards as you walk.  Usually this is unconscious although it obviously doesn’t have to be.  They expand away from the vertical line before coming back to it only to move again in the opposite direction.

Opposite shoulder turns to opposite hip (‘Open/Close’).
If you step forward with your left foot, as you put your weight on to it (prior to stepping through with the other foot), your centre-line (sternum to navel) will turn towards that left foot
•  1) because you are pushing off the rear right foot, which therefore turns your hip to the left,
•  2) because the turn to the left stabilises the vertical line over the weighted foot, and
•  3) because the right leg which (hopefully) is attached to the right hip, which is turning, will be brought forwards for the next step.
As a result of the turn of the body to the left, the waist will also turn with shoulders naturally following, the arms therefore following the shoulders.
In other words, the arms do exactly the same as the legs (but in opposition).  Both the arms and legs return equally to the vertical axis before starting again with the opposite limb.

Experiencing the body turn.
To feel this movement of arms and body clearly, you only need to put on a heavy rucksack and walk.  The rucksack accentuates the body movement, and you will feel it swinging from side to side with the turn of the body; the body turn towards the advancing leg therefore becomes very obvious.  It’s this twisting of the body inwards as the pressure moves on to the advancing foot that is the body seeking the vertical line.

Compared to …
As a further walking experiment, try walking without turning the hips or shoulders at all.  All the movement is then coming from the legs; you can walk quite fast, but not as fast as when using the body correctly – mainly because your steps become much shorter.  When you start to watch people walking, you can see that a lot of people move that way, particularly those with no flexibility in the waist.

How does this relate to tai chi and qigong?
There’s a reluctance to move the body when people do tai chi and qigong.  All that arm and leg movement looks as though the limb movements are the main point.  In reality, in tai chi and qigong, all movement is governed by the way that you use your torso; the arms move because the torso moves, your balance is maintained because you use the torso … it’s all there in the everyday action of walking.
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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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Flapping Around in Tai Chi & Qigong.

Copying movements.
When seeing Tai Chi or Qigong for the first time, it appears that all those graceful movements are the result of moving our limbs into the ‘correct’ position.  So in order to learn those arts, we attempt to emulate the movements as precisely as possible.

The art of precision.
I know this because I spent many years being an exponent of this way of learning as precisely as possible:
Make sure you slip your heel to 45 degrees.
Is your wrist precisely level with your shoulder?
Step forward and push your arms ahead of you.
Are your fingertips level with the tip of your nose?
… and so on; in other words, instructions for the body parts.
On the other hand, if you don’t learn that way, it’s very difficult to learn anything; you need a structure to play around with.

Once upon a time…
In the olden days (whatever they are), the teacher would spend weeks on one move only, refining and polishing it until it was as near perfect as possible.  Nowadays students don’t have the patience, they want a ‘product’, something that they can take home with them.
I don’t have a problem with this, but it means changing the method of teaching.  The superficial is taught first, and then honed.

Approaching the matter.
About 8 years ago, I had a student who, having been with me for several years, one day said to me, “You keep on changing it; you used to tell us to do it this way.”
On paper, this makes it sound as though this particular move had become unrecognisable, which of course it hadn’t, but the focus was different, and a movement that she thought that she’d ‘sorted out’ had now become uncomfortably flexible again.

Change.
However, a number of things had happened since she had first learnt the move:
1) Her tai chi had reached the point where the basic shapes weren’t enough, so she needed more information, and
2) My own understanding had developed and I had different ways of explaining things from additional perspectives.
My student also wanted a finished product that she could bag up and take home, which is exactly how I used to think about tai chi;  I had the “there is only one way to do it and this is the correct way” syndrome.
…She eventually left.

It’s the connection.
It’s the Qi connection  that really counts.
Yes, you might to certain extent be able to be precise about the position of arms and legs, but at the end of the day it’s how you are feeling inside that’s the main thing.
This feeling is an over-all sensation of unity.
It’s as though your body were a medieval castle and you need the infrastructure within the walls to be very efficient.  When it’s working well you are protected on all sides effectively.
This has nothing to do with your being tense or hard, more a feeling that the supply lines between all the walls are working smoothly and to maximum efficiency.  (In Tai Chi this includes above you and below you also).

When one part moves…
My rather clumsy castle analogy comes down to the fact that, gradually you become more and more aware of how your body is knitting itself together during the movements.  The result of this is that you’ve never really finished learning tai chi or qigong because there are always new discoveries to be made.
This comes down to the paraphrased saying that “when one part (of you) moves, every part moves”.  Every part knows what the other part is doing; nothing is hanging around waiting.  When something happens in one part of the body, it is reflected in all other parts.  This is the 8 energies and the Principles in practice
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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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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.
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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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