When You Move, I Move.

… or to put it another way, if something around me changes, I need to change as well.

Change
By and large we don’t like change, unless we consider it to be positive. Change is worrying for
newton-ball-cradle-2many reasons, perhaps the main one being that we have to remain conscious – we can’t afford to go to sleep because we don’t know what’s just around the corner, and it means we can’t rest; we feel that we have to be on our guard. This isn’t just ‘going with the flow’ stuff, it’s extremely practical. Perhaps it’s really about fearing and not fearing; it’s about taking life as it comes and adjusting to the new situation.
As Alan Watts would have put it, this is ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’.

It’s making your relationships work; it’s getting what you need out of your work; it’s about not being stressed by events; it’s about coming to terms with change, even when the change isn’t what you’d hoped for; and, not very surprisingly as this is about tai chi & qigong, it’s also doing both solo tai chi as well as doing partner-work.

Practising changingDominoes falling
Normally no one practises adaptability or change; there are no mechanisms in place, no lessons in school, no times in our lives when we deliberately work on accommodating change.  By and large, we learn it through trial and error, with the help of parents and friends perhaps.  Even then we don’t really focus on the process, we’re more interested in getting through the uncomfortable moments than in understanding the process and mastering it.

Practising adaptability in solo tai chi & qigong
In solo practise, exactly the same thing is happening but is much harder to feel because no one is there to help you, you only have your own body.
You therefore have to start paying attention to what is going on inside you, feeling how not only the sides of your body support each other, but also how the front and back, and the head and the feet do precisely the same.
To take a couple of examples, if your left arm moves nearer your centreline, then your right arm somehow needs to create a balance.  Or if your hands push forwards, then something needs to go backwards.

Practising adaptability with another person
It’s easier to achieve this end in tai chi two-person work because you have to feel what is taking place in your body due to the changing pressures being exerted upon it by someone else.

How?
First you create an event; for example, the simple action of your partner pushing against
your arm.  If you do nothing you will be pushed backwards. Symbolically the event has trashed you!
The great thing about this is that, whereas most normal events only happen once, in this case you can get your partner to repeat the event as often as you want, i.e. you can practise.

change-2So what do you do about the push?  Perhaps you lift or lower your arm, or move it left or right… it’s not important, what is important is that you are finding the best way to deal with the issue, and what is more, you are starting to ‘listen’ to what is happening is the event, in this case the push.  The more you listen, the more nuances you will find in the push; no single push will be the same as another.
change

You will start to notice the subtleties in:
…Direction…
…Speed…
…Force…
and how all of these can alter.

You will also start to notice:
…How you tense or freeze…
…How sometimes you only move one part of you without the rest being involved…
…How difficult it is to find the balance between excess strength and weakness…
…And then you’ll begin to notice how the person with whom you’re working has similar problems and, even whilst pushing you, doesn’t balance him/herself correctly.

Tai chi and qigong classes with James Drewe here.

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Making a Connection in Taiji & Qigong – Sinking Qi

When you first begin tai chi and qigong, you spend most of your time trying to remember the positions of arms and legs in the various postures, and then which posture follows the previous one.
Gradually you begin to know a repertoire of postures, one following another; in other words – the tai chi ‘form’, or a qigong ‘set’ of exercises.

yang-cheng-fuAt first this ends up as though you are physically reproducing a series of photographs; you move the body into the position of one photo, then another, until you’ve got to the end.
You’ve now learnt the shape of the form – the equivalent of a musician learning which note follows which, but without any great fluency, interpretation, or subtlety.

Then there’s all that talk about ‘flow’… ‘flowing’ from one position to another. How do you do it?  How do you smoothly transition between one movement and another?
This could be referred to as the ‘connection’.

Connecting the moves.
Connection is relaxation and continuation.  It is understanding what the energy of a movement is doing and how to convert it into something new.

In fact, we are continuously using this skill in many varied situations.

  • If friends are upset, we listen to them so as to help them convert their discomfort and see them through the problem.
  • If you’re driving your car around a 90 degree bend, you ease off on the corner in order to make the transition.
  • If you want to jump on a bus that’s passing you, you run alongside the bus before jumping on, rather than grabbing the handrail as it passes.

What takes place in all instances is a ‘listening’ to the first action in order to change it into the second action.  By doing so, you blend one action into another.

In taiji and qigong …
stance-bowstance-emptystance-bow

Let’s say you are starting in a left or right Bow stance (one leg ahead of the other, with the weight on the front leg – graphic 1, above); you are going to sit back on to your back leg (graphic 2), and then go forwards again into the same Bow stance that you started in (graphic 3).  You can ignore the hand positions.
Having sat back (graphic 2), the energy which has been going backwards needs to reverse, but without going directly forwards along the same ‘line’ that you sat back on.  If you do this, there will, in effect, be a ‘break’ in the movement, i.e. at the exact point where you finish sitting back prior to going forward again.  Trying to do that is like reaching your 90 degree bend in the road and attempting to do an abrupt right angle turn, i.e. missing out the curve of the bend.  The car would roll over.

  • As you start to sit backwards, the back knee gradually bends.  Be stance-bow-with-arrowaware that the direction of ‘flow’ is backwards (in this case), and that movement mustn’t stop – although it might change direction.  You are gradually tilting your pelvis (draw in your abdomen).
  • As you get near to the end of sitting back, think of relaxing the leg you’ve sat back on; you are actually relaxing the hip joint, but it’s easier to think of relaxing the leg.  (This is the right leg in graphic 2). Your pelvis is continuously tilting and ‘tucking under’.stance-empty-with-arrow
  • Soften your shoulders, elbows, (and hips) so that the ‘backwards’ energy/movement drops.
  • Make sure that you are breathing either in or out, it doesn’t matter which.  When you hold your breath the body can only partially relax; apart from anything else, the muscles don’t get the oxygen they need to stay elastic.
  • As you begin to reach the maximum amount that your bent rear knee can comfortably support you, your pelvis has tilted to its full amount.  Then begin to move forwards again.

What is now happening is that the body/centre is no longer moving backwards and forwards along the same horizontal line, it is now creating a circle.

Pain and Gain – The ‘Comfort Zone’.

Quite regularly, a beginner in tai chi or qigong is put off from continuing classes because he/she is experiencing a bit of discomfort.  This discomfort could be one of two things; 1) a muscle that isn’t used to being used, and/or 2) an existing condition that is being made to think about itself.

pain-1People get used to the way that they feel in their bodies, and the way they feel becomes their definition of ‘comfortable’. Even when in pain, this pain fits within the parameters of how they usually ‘are’, and therefore fits into the ‘comfortable’ definition.
Bizarre in one way, yet completely understandable in another.

It’s very difficult to feel what ‘more comfortable’ would feel like, isn’t it?  I mean, you are who you are at that precise moment, and anything else requires that you step out of that moment, and therefore outside who you are.
So, are you one of those who, when you feel discomfort, choose to stick with the old you, rather than try to change anything?ageing-1

Obviously this doesn’t apply to everyone, in fact it probably doesn’t apply to the majority; most want to stretch their boundaries, but it interests me that there are quite a few, particularly in the over-60s age group, who are reluctant to change.
Odd isn’t it?  I mean your body’s not going to get any better.  If you don’t do something about it, what with the ageing process of joints, muscles, tendons, blood supply, body tissue, metabolic rate, etc., you can guarantee 100% ageing-2that it’s actually going to get worse.
So why not push yourself a little bit to slow the whole process down?  What is there to lose?

The answer to that is … dis-comfort (or ‘not’-comfort).
It can be uncomfortable to push beyond your usual boundaries.  It not only requires effort to produce the feeling of discomfort (which can be unpleasant as it’s out of the comfort-zone), but when you have achieved dis-comfort, it requires the energy to deal with it.

This is often a simple thing like bending your knees to get a slightly lower posture, perhaps when stepping in tai chi or qigong, or when doing a standing qigong posture (which is more demanding as you  feel the discomfort more acutely).

Energy. Why do you need to relax?

Body Efficiency.
The efficiency of the body’s movements largely depends upon how relaxed you are.
Our amazing network of muscle & tendon, of artery & vein, of organs & lymphatic system, and of tissue with its astonishing elasticity, needs to work in a smooth and coordinated fashion for the body to function ‘like clockwork’.

Energy & Water.hosepipe-water
Energy and water move in similar ways. Energy moves through your body in the much the same way that water passes through a hose pipe. Both follow the path of least resistance.hosepipe-twisted
Both the body and a hose pipe can flex. However, if either the body or the hose pipe is bent or twisted beyond a certain amount, the flow of water/energy passing through it begins to meet resistance; the water/energy is squeezed, slowing its passage.

The ‘body hose pipes’.
There are two different points here.  The first is about general tension and stress, which is the one this blog is focusing on.  The second is that, under certain circumstances in martial arts we intentionally ‘bend the hose pipes’ in order to achieve a specific result, e.g. when doing either a hand, elbow, shoulder, knee, or heel strike.

Tension.
In the body, tension in the muscles is the equivalent of over-flexing the hose pipe. Physical/muscular tension or stress squeezes the nerves, reduces movement potential in the joints (by both pulling the joints together and by reducing flexibility), restricts the flow of blood and lymph, reduces breathing (which means that there is less oxygen for the cells, which causes an increase in stress), and reduces both coordination and balance.
In other words, the body’s energy becomes restricted and stops functioning as effectively.old-man

Getting older.
Aspects of this are particularly noticeable in older people where, because of a natural tightening of the tendons with age, the body contracts and starts to fold in on itself.  Often breathing becomes shallower, balance and coordination are compromised, and the flow of blood is reduced and the body feels colder.

Computers.computer-posture
This is also noticeable when we work for too long on computers. Our posture often becomes cramped over, the neck no longer balanced on top of the spine because we are leaning forwards. This in turn compresses the front of the body which reduces breathing, whilst our backs are under stress to support our forward-falling posture.

relaxed-apeRelaxation.
Undoing the series of hose pipes that make up the body will ensure that your tai chi & qigong movements, instead of feeling clumsy, off-balance and heavy, will feel loose and light, coordinated and flowing… unlike this character who’s a little over-relaxed.

Tai chi and qigong classes with James Drewe at http://www.taiji.co.uk/classes. 

Stepping. Don’t Just Stick Your Foot Out. 

How to step.
It’s a much more conscious process than walking:baby-stepping

  • Feet together
  • Bend knees slightly
  • Bending even more, start to extend a foot
  • Bending even more, place the foot (generally the heel, if moving forwards; the toes, if moving backwards; toes or heel, if stepping sideways).

The main point is that you keep dropping in order to step, and what most people do is to drop, then stop dropping, and then stick the foot out (forwards, backwards, sideways).

Why keep dropping?
This is easiest to understand if you have someone else to help you.
Assuming that you’re about to try to step forwards, you need someone to push gently against your chest (or if fold your arms across your chest, your partner can push your arms).curved-arrow
If you try to move directly into him/her, it’s just a case of the strongest person ‘winning’ – it’s yang against yang.
However, if you start to drop the body, the person pushing you suddenly finds that his push is no longer going in his intended direction; instead of pushing forwards, he is also starting to push downwards, which will help you to root yourself.

Solo Tai Chi form.
Because no one is pushing you when you do a solo form, it’s easy to get lazy and ignore the above. But it is essential that you do exactly the same, imagining that someone were there, trying to move you against your intention.

If, as normally happens in a tai chi movement, you are also rotating the body, this becomes even more difficult for someone who is attempting to push you, as the body now begins to move on several planes simultaneously.  Not only is the body dropping on the vertical, it is also rotating either clockwise or anticlockwise; and if the body is also retreating/advancing as well, it is very hard for your partner to get to grips with where you are and to find your centre in order to push you successfully.

Why do I need to step properly, as I never work with a partner?
You don’t.  But it depends on whether or not you want to experience your body working as a whole – unified.
When everything works together, movement becomes very easy; it feels as though you are ‘moving like clockwork’.  The expression is appropriate because, when one part of you stops moving whilst everything else continues to move, your body is behaving like an analogue clock inside which one cog goes on strike, and yet you expect the other cogs to carry on normally!

So keep on sinking as you step.

Tai chi and qigong classes with James Drewe at http://www.taiji.co.uk/classes. 

Intention… How Effective was your Lobotomy?

Intention.
Nothing much happens without intention. Creation ceases.  The driving force is lost.

Intention 1Our entire lives are directed by our intention; our jobs, interests, hopes, romantic inclinations, relationships, ambitions, aspirations, thoughts, desires, … in fact anything we want to achieve.
As Deepak Chopra said, “Everything that happens in the Universe starts with intention”.
I suspect that you cannot perform even the smallest of acts without it, unless they are ‘fight and flight’ actions triggered by the Sympathetic nervous system…by the reptilian brain.  This must mean that a lobotomy is only partial loss of intention (you can perform a great many actions having had one … apparently).

Unintended outcomes.
Intention 3I know that all of us at some point have said, “I didn’t mean to do that!”, but perhaps we really mean, “I didn’t intend that outcome”.

And there are also degrees of intention.  How much do you want to achieve something? Massively?  Or would it just be nice if it happened, i.e. no real intention?  Or somewhere in between?

How does this relate to tai chi and qigong?
Both tai chi and qigong are to do with understanding the process of constant change (in life), and with creating change (in one’s own life).  By understanding change and by working with it so that change works in a constructive way for you is (to be a bit 60s about it) ‘going with the flow’.
Both taiji ang qigong are driven by intention.

If you want energy to move through the body, if you want to create change, you need the intention to do so.
In tai chi and qigong, you learn to coordinate the body so as to make changes as efficiently and effortlessly as possible, so that it feels physically easy, and as though only the thought produced the result.
When you move in this way, you know without question that your tai chi or qigong movement was correct, that every cog in the mechanism was well oiled and functioning perfectly, … that you got it ‘right’.

Observing.
Without intention we are sitting in life’s armchair watching the show; we are observers.  This is not to say that this is a bad thing, far from it, because in both tai chi and qigong you not Intention 4only need intention, you also need to be an observer – but simultaneously.
You provide yourself with a plan (the intention), and then, because you are so familiar with the movements, you observe yourself achieving it, and move into the feeling.  And yes, plans can change, but this is adaptability, and relates more to 2-person taiji rather than solo work.

All of us are more relaxed when we know where we are going both physically and metaphorically.
Once you have the plan, you can enjoy the journey there.

Tai chi and qigong classes with James Drewe at http://www.taiji.co.uk/classes. 

The Fly & The Bay Window, or Relaxation & Perspective

The headache.Headache
I awoke with a headache a few months ago.  Still lying in bed, I tried to relax the area where I could feel the tension stemming from.

… Partial success.

The fly.
A few days later, I noticed a fly in the room which kept on attempting to get through the middle of the three windows in the bay – which was closed.  The windows at the sides were both open, but it was repeatedly attempting to crash dive the closed one; even though a fly has virtually 360 degree vision, it seemed to have tunnel vision.

fly-angles-2Perspective.
It occurred to me that my headache was also a matter of perspective, and like the fly, I wasn’t taking the over-all view, I was focusing too specifically.

Since then, I’ve had a couple of minor wake up headaches, usually coming from my upper back, and each time I’ve tried the ‘perspective relaxation’ technique, for want of a better name.fly-angles-1

What I should have done.
I put myself into the position of what the fly should have done to achieve its intention.  This was like standing outside yourself, and, with that overview, I was then able to relax a much wider area than just the specific point of pain.
This noticeably reduced the discomfort, as though, by releasing the periphery of the pain, it reduced the core.

Stand outside yourself.
This perspective is like standing 1 or 2 feet outside yourself.  It doesn’t  work if you try to feel and judge the results at the same time.  You need to ‘get outside yourself’, and attempting simultaneously to feel the results only brings you back inside yourself to the place where you experience the discomfort.

Taiji, Qigong, and The Alexander Technique.
If you’ve tried Alexander Technique lessons, you will know about taking in the whole picture as this is the basis of lengthening and widening, and fundamental to the concept of release, or ‘not holding on’.
This ‘openness’ is also fundamental to the movement of energy in tai chi and qigong.

Widening your perspective so that you see your body moving as a whole, and relaxation will ensure that your tai chi & qigong movements, instead of feeling clumsy, off-balance and heavy, will feel loose, coordinated, and flowing.

For details of current classes click here.