Tag Archives: chi kung

Qigong – is it Yoga?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A brief ‘whinge’.
Maybe it’s only because I’m older now (or having an off day), but life appears to be more stressful these days, particularly in a city.  Pollution, noise, the constant advertising which vies for attention with vibrant colours and incessantmovement, the pressure to engage in the
economics of the society (buy, buy, buy), the permanently ‘in contact’life we lead, and even the lack of real darkness, make me realise that these continuous stresses are one (although not all) of the reasons that Tai Chi and Qigong have so strong an appeal to me.

The ‘Quiet Place’.
When doing Tai Chi or Qigong, I can return to myself; it’s like finding the quiet place, where the outside world ceases its demands, and the focus turns inward.
All those movements are designed to help you find the middle place; every time one part of you moves in one direction, another part of you counterbalances in one way or another; so your centre is never lost.  You’re playing an internal balancing game.
One of the best bits is that you know when you’ve got it right – movement just feels easy, light, balanced, settled, natural (a particularly appropriate word in this context), calm and peaceful.  You feel whole.

Your own solar system.
Add this to the rhythm of the movements, as though the body is breathing not only through the physical construction of the Form (in this case the expansion and contraction of the individual movements), but also in the way that those same movements are performed (Open/Close, the use of the 8 Energies, 5 Directions, etc.), and the system is perfect.  You are balancing your own solar system.

Cut down on your cortisol.
Both Tai Chi and Qigong help the lymphatic system function more efficiently; they quite literally ‘pump’ it.
The lymphatic tissue both transports nutrients through the body, and helps to wash the rubbish out; in the same way that the veins and arteries move the blood around the body, the lymphatic system moves the body’s water around.
When we are stressed, the balancing game between the ‘stress hormone’ – cortisol, (there’s an increase in production), and the lymphatic system, notches up a gear, and if we are stressed for long periods of time (chronic), the lymphatic system can stop doing its job.
As a result of this, our stress levels increase (Catch-22), and we start to collect the rubbish (toxins) in the body, which stresses us even further (another Catch-22), and as the lymphatic system works in close collaboration with the immune system (yet another balancing act), your immunity is compromised, and of course the body has to get ill in order to give itself a break from the stress.  Neat!

Initially, Qigong might be easier.
Of course, the ability to de-stress using Tai Chi assumes, at least initially, that you’re not trying to remember the next move, which is where Qigong steps in.If you’re doing some of the more mobile, repetitive Qigongs, you can sometimes reach that ‘quiet place’ more easily, because the next move is merely a repetition of the previous move, and because of this, you can adopt a more meditative approach more quickly.
If you’re doing Standing Qigong (Zhan Zhuang), there’s no external movement, all the balancing takes place inside you.  You could argue that this is stressful in a different way in that it can be physically demanding, and also because your mind won’t stop hopping around, but this does very much depend upon the individual.
In this respect, qigong is a great way to start learning Tai Chi; it’s certainly easier from a ‘learning movement’ point of view, and yet will teach you the fundamentals of Tai Chi.

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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 Tai Chi on one Saturday a month.

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

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Song 松 & Peng

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

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

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

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

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

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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 Tai Chi on one Saturday a month.

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

Standing Qigong and ‘Balance’

The Position.
There are many positions In which to do Standing Qigong, but I’ll use the one with feet a shoulder’s width apart, knees bent, and hands lifted to opposite the upper chest, as in the picture.

What does ‘balance’ mean in this context?
In this context, balance means the sense of the left and right sides, the front and the back, and the top and bottom sides of your body all working equally together, so that no area is more dominant than any other area.  It is the feeling that a balloon might have (if a balloon were able to feel) both on its skin, as well as internally (equal pressure to all parts of itself).

Feeling the position – the concept.
When you squeeze a balloon, two forces come into play – an inward and an outward force.
1) The pressure that your arms exert inwards, so that you don’t drop the object, and …
2) The pressure inside the object which pushes your arms outwards.
A balance is therefore achieved.  In other words, in Standing Qigong positions, you are being expanded whilst at the same time holding on.

The legs.
Hold the legs as though you have a ball between thighs and knees.
As above, this is a two-way sensation; you feel an outward expansion (as though the ball were pushing your knees apart), but at the same time, because you don’t want to drop the ball, you squeeze inwards.
If you get the idea for the legs, the rest will be easy to follow.

The arms (1).
The arms use the same idea.
The ball is between the elbows/upper arms and the front-sides of the torso (in other words, it’s not exactly the sides, nor is it the front… it’s what you might call the anterior-lateral aspect of the body).  Again, the same principle applies – the ball is pushing your arms/elbows away from your body, but simultaneously you don’t want to drop it.

The arms (2).
Feel as though there’s a ball within the circle of your arms.  It expands your arms, but you don’t want to drop it.

The arms (3).
Feel as though there’s a ball outside the arms and around your back.  Your back and arms expand, but simultaneously compress inwards.

The legs & pelvis.
Your knees are bent; you are sitting on a ball.   The ball is pushing your knees forwards (which lowers the buttocks), yet at the same time you want the buttocks to be lifted by the ball.  This is similar to how it would feel if you were to attempt to push an aerobics ball into e.g. a swimming pool; whilst you push down, the surface tension would be pushing up against the ball.

The fingers.
This is exactly the same principle as above.

Other applications.
You can apply this concept in many other ways:
The same idea between the toes as between the fingers.
Ditto from the backs of hands/outsides of arms to the back.
Ditto feet to head.

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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

The Neck – The Master of Counterbalance.

Your neck controls your future comfort.
It’s never too late to do something about your posture, although it’s probably true to say that the earlier you start, the more comfortable your later years will be.

The ‘Seesaw Law’.
In some respects, your spine works like a seesaw; if you do something to one end, there will be a reaction not only at the other end, but across the entire length of the seesaw.  In other words, if you position your neck incorrectly on your body, you are automatically setting up a series of detrimental chain reactions.

An adult head weighs something in the region of 11-12lbs (5-5½Kgs).
When balanced correctly on your body, the line of gravity passes straight through the middle of the body to the supporting feet.  So, when you incorrectly position it forward of that line, the neck is forced to take extra strain as the head moves further forwards.

The musculature in the body doesn’t like this, and will automatically try to find the most comfortable position.
Therefore, following the Seesaw Law, it will make a number of ‘better-than-doing-nothing’ adjustments; in other words, it sets up a series of counter-balances, the objective being to try to make the situation as comfortable as possible.

With these in place, you might not be 100% comfortable, but at least you can function as long as you don’t do anything extreme with your body.

The 21st Century Person.
One of our main activities which encourages both back & neck problems, and helps us to develop a permanently poor posture is the way that most of us use our mobile phones.  This can easily become a ‘habit’.

A few pictures say it all:

                                   

The ideal phone posture to save your neck.
This photo is one way of demonstrating the best position to hold the mobile phone.  You have to lift the phone high enough to look over the other person’s shoulder, and the body is upright.  (It doesn’t take into account a font that is too small, which makes us tighten the neck, perhaps pulling it forward also).

Unfortunately, one of the downsides of using the phone whilst draped around someone else is that walking becomes slightly impractical…

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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

What do YOU do with your neck?

How is it at the moment?
How do you position your neck?
How does it sit on your body?
How does it control you?
How does it affect your comfort or discomfort levels?

Where does your neck begin and end?
Anatomically your neck is 7 vertebrae long, starting at the skull (under and up inside), and finishing at the slightly more protrusive vertebra C7 (the 7th cervical vertebra) which is at the base of the neck, above shoulder line height.

 

To be honest, I’m not actually very interested in its anatomical length, I’m much more interested in its functional length.
Functionally it finishes around about T3 (i.e. the 3rd thoracic vertebra) which is slightly further down the back, although this can be slightly lower for some people.

So what?
You might think, “So what? How does that make any  difference?”
Functionally, it makes a massive difference, because the place from where you control the movement of your neck alters dramatically, which in turn affects how you position your both your head and your spine.
Amongst other things, this affects your posture, your breathing, and how relaxed you are.

Dropping your head.
Usually when we drop our chins we think of the pivotal or ‘folding’ point as being roughly at shoulder height. As a result, when just balancing the head on the body (without lifting, lowering, or turning it), we feel as though that point of balance is roughly at C7. However, if you balance it from further down, it very much alters how and where you place your head on your body.

Think lower.
If you visualise your neck finishing lower (e.g. T3, further down your back), all of a sudden it starts to straighten, the connection point (between T3 and T4) softens and sinks slightly, and your neck actually moves backwards on its own accord.  In Alexander Technique terms, it would be described as your spine ‘lengthening’.  (AT also refers to this as ‘forward & upwards’ – I think that the ‘forward’ is slightly confusing as it implies pushing your face forward, but what actually happens is that the head rotates on the Atlas (see top diag.) and whilst the forehead moves slightly forward, the chin tucks slightly under).

Potting plants.
Positioning your upper spine correctly is not unlike pushing a stick into soil in order to support a plant (your head, in this case); if you put the stick in shallowly, there’s a good chance that it will lean over with the weight of the plant.  A stick planted deeper will be much more supportive.

Anatomically (briefly).
The reality is that you are not really relaxing your actual spine, … how can you when it’s made of bone?  You are actually softening the tissues on the anterior aspect of the spine – the side nearest your chest, at the back of the lungs, as well as the supporting muscles around the spine in this area.

Another way to think it.
When either sitting or standing, if you imagine that there is a ‘mouth’ on your upper back, and you are very, very gently putting the lips of the mouth together (you need to feel as though this is actually happening), in particular by dropping the upper lip on to the lower lip, you might feel your posture altering as the spine changes position.

And the result is …
When you allow this to happen, your back relaxes and sinks, your chest appears to lift, your shoulders feel as though they are rolling backwards, the collar bones seem to settle back, the upper arms sink into the correct area of the shoulder socket, and your breathing deepens as the ribs find their optimal position.  Additionally your balance is altered for the better, there is a sense of being connected to the ground (gravity can now pass directly through you), and the body is able to move with greater ease.

Addendum for those who can feel this.
As you position your spine, simultaneously soften the inside of the breast bone (sternum), and allow the armpits to deepen.
Why?
If you picture the upper chest (the upper part of the lungs) as being an inverted bowl, by observing only the spine, you are really only dealing with the back of the bowl.  By working on the front and sides of the bowl (inside sternum & inside armpits) you balance the front, back, and sides of the upper chest cavity which roots the neck even better.

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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

You’ve Left Your Hips Behind.

‘Natural’ movement.
We don’t usually think much about the way that we move around in our everyday lives; we just do it. However, when people take up tai chi or qigong, they often start moving very self-consciously, and a movement that they would normally do both smoothly and gracefully becomes clumsy whilst the body posture gets lost completely.

For example, moving the body from a rear foot to a front foot (this could be a push) is one of those things that brings out the differences.

Moving from back foot to front foot.
If you already have one foot ahead of you, you’re sitting on your back foot, and you want to move your weight forwards on to your front foot, all you do is to push your body off the back foot on to the front foot, and… well, that’s it … your body moves forward, still upright, as though you were walking.
Without any hands being involved, the majority of people will move correctly, as though walking with an upright body.

The unintentional re-wire.
But when you start to involve the arms, something in the brain alters, you no longer just move the body forwards, you also start to lean forward, and the body is no longer upright.  The focus is now entirely on the arms, and everything else is forgotten.

How to strain your back.
If you look at someone side-on as they do the movement this way, you’ll see their upper body angled forwards and their hips behaving as though they’ve been left behind.  Instead of pushing from the centre of the body, they have started pushing from the upper body, and their hips will hardly have moved forward at all.

I’m not saying that the body cannot lean, it can; but if the bottom starts to either ‘lift’ or become ‘left behind’, the posture is not only weakened, but is also potentially damaging to the lumbar area.

In the second picture, assuming that the subject of the photo is doing a tai chi posture, you can see that his body is leaning, but more than that, there is also a ‘disconnection’ (for want of a better word) in the shoulders, which are lifted.  To do his push, he has in effect taken his arms out of the shoulder sockets, so now  the strain will be taken by his upper spine.

Pushing in tai chi.
The problem seems to be created by the absence of anything physical to push in a solo tai chi form.  You’re pushing empty air, but you still want to feel as though you’re really pushing something.  If you were really pushing, say, a piece of heavy furniture across a room, or pushing your car, you just wouldn’t do it like that as it would have less power (although picture 1 would possibly disagree with me, where his lumbar spine is under considerable pressure).
Done in that way, with the bottom ‘lifted’, i.e. a sort of reversed pelvic tilt, the push from your back leg into the ground wouldn’t transmit up your leg, through the hip, up your spine, and along your arms.
Instead, having transmitted up your leg, it would reach your hip, and then, because the ‘line’ had been broken due to your sticking your bottom out, it would get stuck in the lumbar area of your spine and would quite likely hurt you.

Pushing a bent stick.
A slightly simplistic way of looking at why this happens is that, if you were to use a straight stick (e.g. a snooker cue) to push an object, the energy of the push is transmitted from the end that you’re holding, straight through to the other end. If you push with a bent stick, the energy of the push arrives at the bend and is then ‘split’.  Depending on the angle of the bend, some of it tries to go to the end of the stick, and some of it attempts to bend the stick further.

So, when moving the body forward in solo tai chi or in qigong, just do what you would normally do when walking, bring your pelvis toward your front foot, and not only the upper body.  Just let the upper body go along for the ride on top of the hips.

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