Tag Archives: breathing

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.

________________________________________________________________________________________________
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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Using Qi to produce Movement.

You breathe (hopefully).  Maybe you breathe efficiently, maybe you don’t, but in order to live you obviously need both an ‘in’ and an ‘out’ breath; you must have both.  One breath cannot exist without the other.
You feel the end of an in-breath, and you convert it seamlessly to an out-breath.
But when moving, many people don’t do so in the way that they breathe; they often move as though they’re continuously breathing either out or in.
Breathing is yin and yang. It’s expansion and contraction. It’s tension and relaxation.  It’s the opposites that make our lives function efficiently.  It’s creative.  It’s one of our main connections to the planet and reflects everything that happens on the planet.

Exercise 1a:  Jumping.
1. Bend your knees and then STOP.
2. Without bending your knees any further, not even a millimetre lower, jump in the air.

Impossible?

Exercise 1b:  Jumping.
Now do exactly the same as (1) above, but this time when you do (2) you can allow the knees to bend further in order to leap off the ground.

What did your body do?
During that last small knee bend, prior to jumping, a number of things might have taken place:
1. You dropped a little lower, and then the second before your feet detached from the ground, you might have done an extra tiny knee bend.
2. You probably relaxed your body more.
3. You might also have taken an in-breath.
4. Your shoulders sunk.
5. You probably relaxed your neck.

In fact, this happened:

The ball is you.
And that’s exactly how your body should feel inside when you drop to jump off the floor.  The ball is the internal aspect of you; it’s what it should feel like inside.
Your body is elastic, it can contract/expand, compress/release, it’s flexible, and your nervous system has an infinite capacity for experiencing these aspects.
You are experiencing gravity, and, just before you leap in the air, if only one muscle holds on, you are no longer fully experiencing it, and the body has lost its pliability.
1Ball 22Ball 33Ball 4

This (slightly worrying!) video shows Sumo wrestlers grounding themselves.  Watch what happens to the bodies they ground themselves:

Now watch closely when this high jump video gets to any of the following places:
0:12-0:13, 1:02, 1:18, 1:33, and a good one at 1:55.
The body compresses just before the jump (look at the shoulders), and then see how the body expands – just like the ball did, where the top of the ball extends upwards as it left the ground:

Timing.
The jump exercise above (Exercise 1b) is a matter of ‘timing’.
You experience gravity like the Sumo wrestler, who doesn’t want to become ungrounded, but you ‘catch’ the sensation and make use of it like the high jumper, who does want to become ungrounded.
4Ball 55Ball 66Ball 7

APPLYING IT in TAIJI & QIGONG.

Exercise 2:  Without a step.
A tai chi and qigong move such as the one at the beginning of many tai chi forms is useful to feel the first part of the bouncy ball effect, i.e. when you sit down having just raised the hands.
All you have to do is to experience you body as though it actually is the sinking ball.  In other words, as you bend your knees, every cell of your body should feel as the ball might feel when it hits the ground – if it were sentient, that is; i.e.

  • Empty every cell – not just in your legs, but throughout the entire body.  Feel gravity.
  • Soften your entire body, everything becoming pliable.
  • Stop holding on.
  • Feel the weight of your body.   You can’t feel if you’re holding on.

Exercise 3:  With a step.
The basics are:-

  • Feet together.
  • Bend both knees.
  • Keeping all the weight on one foot, place only the heel of the other foot slightly ahead.

This is the same concept as the first exercise.  It is important that you remember that slight ‘extra’ sinking of the body that you did in the micro-second before leaping off the floor.  This is the moment for the step.  To put it another way, the sinking feel includes the extension of the heel (with no weight on it), and you shouldn’t move the foot ahead until you’ve felt the sinking.
Therefore, the heel moving outwards is the end of the compression of the body; the final moment of the ball spreading over the floor; the conclusion of the sinking.

And finally…
Ball 5After the compression comes the release.

Once again, this is a ‘feeling’ in the body; it’s an internal release, initially in the neck, but then through the spine and passing down through the body.  It’s this release that frees the body for movement.

This is NOT to say that you are going to do taiji and qigong as though you’re on a Pogo stick, bouncing up and down like the ball does.
To repeat what I said above, “The ball is the internal aspect of you; it’s what it should feel like inside.”

Balance in taiji

‘Balance’ in taiji

One of the aspect of taiji is to allow ‘freedom of movement’, so that the body never inhibits itself.

‘Freedom of movement’

In order to exist, a solar system must work in harmony. If one planet in the solar system were to go out of alignment, the system would become unstable.
If you see your Da Vinci Vitruve Luc Viatour (1)body as a solar system, the torso being the sun at the centre of the body, and your hands and feet and head being individual planets within that system, those planets always need to ‘balance’ one other.

Left/Right; Front/Back; Up/Down

‘Ease of movement’ is produced first of all by relaxation. Any tension means that the body is fighting itself and therefore restricting movement … it is ‘inhibiting’ itself.

Ease of movement is also created by the interaction not only of the four limbs, but also of the upper and lower body.  Horizontally, it is about using one side of the body to help the other side, and on the vertical aspect, it is the upper half of the body helping the lower half.  In tai chi, movement never happens with only one unit of the body (e.g. one hand or leg), it is always reflected throughout (as in Newton’s 3rd law: ‘For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’).
As an example of vertical balance, you only have to think of a tight-rope walker to get the idea – he uses a long pole that stretches to either side of him to increase his ability to balance (the pole distributes mass away from the vertical axis which is the pivot point, which increases inertia).  The point is that left and right have to be balanced for this to work.

Auto-balancing

Physiologically, when damaged, the body can balance itself automatically over a period of time when left alone.
An example of this is that if you have ever damaged your lower back causing the lumbar muscles to go into spasm, you will know that your neck can be affected. After a while, the neck gets used to the new state of affairs and adjusts itself.  You go to the osteopath who sorts out the lumbar problem, and your neck gets sore again, eventually recovering as it again adjusts itself.

Open/Close

Returning to the solar system analogy, the ‘magnetic’ push/pull of the planets, which holds them in their orbits, is comparable to the physical action of breathing.
At the most basic level, an in-breath has to become an out-breath; you cannot go on breathing in forever.  This translates as ‘open/close’ (Kai/He); an ‘open’ must become a ‘close’ – you cannot continue opening forever, nor can you ‘open’ without having closed first…
E.g. it’s impossible to punch with your arms already outstretched; you have to draw them inwards first.
Neither can you have only one side of the body ‘opening’ because the body then becomes unbalanced.
E.g. when breathing in, it is obvious that the chest expands; but the back must also expand.
It is more obvious that when breathing in, not only does the left side of the ribcage expand, but the right side also expands.

Two-Person Tai Chi

Two partners, working together in tai chi, e.g. in Pushing Hands, are like two solar systems interacting; for mutual existence, one needs to sense the actions of the other and respond accordingly.  It is this interaction between the two partners that produces the softness of tai chi.

Natural rules of movement

The odd thing is that, in the everyday actions of our day-to-day lives, we follow these ‘rules of movement’ 90% of the time.  But when learning tai chi and other forms of movement, we start thinking, and all of a sudden our natural movement habits seem to vanish!  So we have to re-learn the principles of what we would normally do without thinking.  It’s also worth pointing out that when we don’t follow these principles in our daily lives, through distraction, stress, hurrying, or laziness, we often injure ourselves (e.g. picking up a heavy object from the floor without balancing the front and back of the body).

Daily use

A simple example of our daily use of the body compared to our ‘learnt’ use of the body:
If you wanted to pull a very heavy object, for example a wooden table, across a room, you might begin with one foot in front of you and one behind, you’d take hold of the edge or leg of the table, and as soon as you started the pulling action, you wouldn’t leave your elbows stuck out to the side, (you’d drop them), nor would you leave your bottom sticking out, (you’d tuck it in).  If the table were extremely heavy, you would additionally engage your abdominal muscles, possibly sucking them in…
As you dragged the table across the room, it would start to feel as though you were using your back to help pull it; and that’s exactly what you’d be doing, you’d be balancing the front leg (that you’re using for pushing) with your back.

Learnt use

 However, when it comes to learning tai chi, most people just move their weight backwards (from the front leg to the back leg), do nothing with the pelvis, don’t even drop the elbows, and just pull their arms back (bending the elbows) as though the arms are a couple of additions to the body that just happen to be in front of you.  All they see is the superficial movement of a body moving backwards from the front leg to the back leg, whilst withdrawing the arms.

So in many ways, doing a solo form of tai chi is much harder than doing tai chi with a partner where contact is involved.  In solo tai chi, it’s harder to feel that you are pulling or pushing as there is nothing to pull and push.  Your body therefore behaves differently.  It’s almost easier to perform movement efficiently when working with a partner, because often (though not always), the body will balance itself automatically, and will cease to inhibit itself.
Which is why, when performed correctly with the intention involved, solo tai chi is often referred to as ‘shadow boxing’.

http://www.taiji.co.uk

@TaijiandQigong