Tag Archives: classes

Practise, Repetition, & Questions.

Who practises?
I guess that most people don’t practise the exercises.  For the majority it’s enough to come to a class once a week, and have a reminder of the moves.  Fair enough… everyone who does tai chi or qigong does them for any number of reasons, and if it’s for a social reason, or just to get out of the house, then the once a week class is all you need.
However, if you want a bit more than that, even a small amount of practise will go a very long way, even if it’s only to keep you in the right mindset.

Practise & repetition.
The point of practise is to ingrain habits that enable you to move beyond the movements themselves.  It’s astonishing how your brain can learn and remember patterns of stretch and contraction – not just a single muscle, but you can remember how the entire muscular structure feels in relation to other muscles whilst undergoing a particular movement.  Yes, sometimes you might learn bad habits, but they can be corrected if you understand that practising is not a chore but is there to move you beyond your norm.

Your ‘norm’.
By this I mean the way that you usually make your body move, sit, stand, function.  This is the way that your habits of, for example, tensing one muscle unnecessarily when using another, are constantly repeated, so much so that it feels strange when you break the habit – the most common of these probably being the way that we use our shoulders, or our lower backs.
Practising will have effect of your ‘owning’ the new way of using your body; it’s the art of breaking habits, or changing your norm.

What is practising?
Practising is ‘intelligent repetition’.
What this does NOT mean is going over the whole tai chi or qigong sequence or set (this is the same as not playing the entire piano piece, playing all 18 holes of the golf course, or only playing a complete game of tennis) from beginning to end every time.
What this DOES mean is that you find the movement that feels awkward and is constantly giving you a problem and work on that part specifically.
If you only go through the Form from beginning to end, you end up repeating or fudging the same problems simply in order to get to the end.  Of course, if your aim is just to get the shape of the set of movements, then that’s a different matter.

Practising is Intelligent Repetition.
In other words there is a focal point to the practise.
Intelligent repetition is not a case of “throw enough mud at the wall and some will stick”, nor is it, “if I do 15 or 30 minutes every day, I’ll improve, irrespective of how much I concentrate”.
You might as well watch TV at the same time!
You find the problem (this might only be the bit where you have to think harder, or it could be the bit where the coordination slows you down) and you then dissect it, working on very small parts of it at a time.  A session of intelligent repetition will probably mean that you never get around to doing the whole sequence.
Intelligent repetition is the way to change things rather than repeating the same mistakes time after time.

Questions are great!
One of the interesting things about practising is that when you get it into your schedule, you start to find questions about what you’re doing.  Sometimes you find the answers to those questions simply through practising, and if not, you have a question for the next class.
I know that people don’t like to ask questions when in a group, but I like questions in a class, the more the better.
First of all, you can almost guarantee that if someone’s asking a question about something, someone else has the same question, or a slight variation.
Secondly, even if the same question is asked on several consecutive classes, the answer will never be the same; everyone has moved on from their previous norm, so a development of the answer will be necessary.
Thirdly, although I write a lesson plan for every class, the best classes are nearly always when someone unexpectedly asks a question in the class.  When this happens, the planned structure of the lesson immediately alters dramatically, and the lesson plan goes out of the window.
Fourthly, when someone asks a question, the group takes ownership of the class content, and immediately becomes more involved.

I can’t remember what to practice… It’s gone!
After a class, the knack is to practise anything that you can remember.
When you do so, sometimes other bits start to come back, and in your head you move back into the class where you learnt it.  If they don’t come back, it’s not a big deal; you’ve got your head into the right space, and are starting to take ownership of the material.

I might practise it the wrong way.
My own view is that this doesn’t matter; you can sort it out when you come to the next lesson, as long as you keep an open mind.  The act of practising, even incorrectly, brings you closer to what you’re trying to learn, and you’ll correct it all the more easily.  NOT practising moves you nowhere!

Finding time.
This is one of the big stumbling blocks; there’s always something which needs to be done first.
I suppose that, like dieting, you’ve got to really want to do it..
Once you’ve begun a routine of practising where you feel that, if you don’t, you’re letting yourself down, then you’re on your way.

For me, the best way to start was to borrow a couple of minutes from my usual schedule by getting out of bed before everyone else.  There were no distractions, and I wasn’t eating into my usual routine (or practising on a full stomach).  I know that for some people this doesn’t work whereas putting it into the diary at a specific time works better.

Find a way if you can… It will pay dividends.
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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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Revolving Doors

Revolving doors work because they have perfect central equilibrium, and therefore use minimum energy.
Gravity settles them into their single pivotal point, and because they’re perfectly balanced both vertically and horizontally, rotation is a smooth and effortless event.

In movement, we are aiming, as far as possible, to emulate that feeling, noticing that when one side of us turns one way, the other side turns the other way, and that each side of us is perfectly balanced.  In other words, we are trying to feel the whole of our personal universe revolving in space whilst being subject to gravity.

“For every action there is …”
Tai chi and qigong are Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion in action. Usually we only notice the most obvious limb doing some work, forgetting about the rest of our body, but when doing Tai Chi or Qigong we are trying to be aware of all sides of our body simultaneously.  We are looking for perfect architectural balance.

Getting it.
And then, once in a while you ‘get it’, and you know that you’ve ‘got it’.  You don’t forget that feeling of perfection in movement, and you attempt to find it again and again.  Everything worked beautifully – your movement was light and easy, you felt totally grounded, your balance was superb, and you just know that your personal universe functioned exactly as it should do.  The movement took no effort and felt seamless and unified.  All those separate instructions for arms, legs, hands, feet, & body blurred into one like pieces of a 3-dimensional jigsaw.
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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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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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Moving from the Centre.

The smallest movement is the strongest.
If you were to lie a cartwheel on its axle and then spin it around, a point on the rim of the wheel would move yards, whereas a point on the hub wouldn’t move much more than a foot.
More to the point is that, if you try to stop the rim, it’s not that hard, but if you try to stop the wheel turning by holding on to the hub, it’s quite difficult.

Needless to say (perhaps), the hub is your centre, (your dantien, your core), the spokes are your limbs.  When you move your body, this is the part of you that you should feel moving first.  As a beginner it’s all too easy to get distracted by what your arms and legs are doing, but actually it’s much easier to do tai chi if you make the centre direct and control all of your movements.

How do you become aware of this?
1) Stand with your feet a shoulders-width apart (not essential, but it helps for a later development of this simple exercise).
2) Turn your hips to left or right, without moving your feet.  Then return to neutral.
3) Extend your arm either sideways or ahead of you (with palm turned up or down), and then repeat the body turn.
In other words, by turning your body (acting as the hub of the wheel), the arm (acting as one of the spokes) will turn with it.

Pretty obvious, I realise, but the main point is that you were thinking about the turn of the body, and the arm movement came about as a result of that body turn.

The lower limbs.
You were standing with your feet a shoulders-width apart for a reason.
Leaving the arm out of it for the moment, as you turn the body to, let’s say, the right, turn the toes of the right foot by leaving the heel on the ground and letting the toes pivot around.  You are now letting the body control one of the lower limbs as well.
Controlling the lower limbs with the hips and waist is the part that even intermediate tai chi practitioners often don’t understand.

Finally.
Try shifting you weight on to the foot that you are turning out.  Don’t wait until you’ve turned it out and then shift it, move the weight on to the foot as you turn it.
As the weight transfers, the other foot will also need to move, otherwise it will feel twisted.  So, as you place the right foot in its new position, let the left foot turn also, either 1) by pivoting on the left heel so that the left toes turn, or alternatively 2) by keeping the left toes on the floor and allowing the left heel to push backwards (i.e. you are pivoting on the toes).  Either is okay.

Now you are doing a tai chi move with the centre leading the movement of the lower limbs.

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

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.