Tag Archives: grounding

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.”

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Qigong… Why bother?

In the majority of my classes I teach some qigong as a warm-up.
I do this for a number of reasons:-

  • to introduce the various different types of movement (expanding the palate),
  • to loosen the joints (flexibility),
  • to give people some understanding of their internal organs (if only to locate where they are), and
  • to stretch people both metaphorically and physically in ways that they probably don’t usually stretch.

When used as a warm-up, you can’t really go much beyond that.

Qigong isn’t as popular as tai chi at the moment, but it’s starting to go that way.  Tai chi has had plenty of press over the last couple of years to the extent that I have found that more and more doctors and specialists are recommending that their patients take it up.  This is no longer only among the older age groups, it’s spreading to younger age groups, and doctors now appear to be recommending not only tai chi but also qigong.

Why do qigong?
You can get to the same place by doing tai chi alone, but it just takes longer.
You could say that there is qigong in tai chi, but there isn’t necessarily tai chi in qigong.

153b Man exercisingQigong works on the core of what you are trying to do in tai chi.  Some people would say that qigong is easier than tai chi, and in some ways that’s true – often there is less movement involved (although that does depend on the type of qigong you’re doing).

Because there can be less outwardly-obvious movement, qigong works more consciously and immediately on the use of the core (e.g. the lower ‘dantian’, but this could be any of the ‘dantians’), and the spine.
In the case of the lower dantian, movement is initiated here, and all outward movement (the extremities… arms and legs) are a manifestation of that.

This is true for tai chi also, but when people do tai chi, they become involved with where the various limbs are going… ‘left hand up, right hand down’, ‘right foot is turning inwards by 45 degrees, whilst the left elbow is sinking’, or ‘the weight shifting from right foot to left foot and back to right foot…’, and so on.
This is all fine – after all, you’re trying to learn the shape of a set of movements.  Unfortunately and inevitably, it’s very ‘external’, the outside movements are distracting – catching the eye more than the internal movements which are far less obvious, but ultimately far more important.

So in Qigong, we predominantly focus on what’s going on inside, right from the start, and this is the real reason that qigong is taught in a tai chi class… the internal movement should educate the external movement.

Why qigong without tai chi?
When you do qigong as more than just a warm-up, you can go into it in a little more depth. Some of the reasons for learning qigong on its own are:-

  • so that people can experience how the combination of stretch, together with both twisting the sinews, and with breathing, can have a huge impact on both one’s mobility,
  • to increase energy,
  • to improve mental health (relieve stress),
  • to improve circulation,
  • to show how every movement comes from the centre, so that every action, however small, involves (and unifies) the entire body,
  • to feel the concept of ‘Peng’, and how to balance the body,
  • to explain the Eastern concept of medicine and health, how TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) has a different perspective on health to the West, and how this more holistic approach operates in terms of the interconnection and interdependence of the organs in the body, and
  • to explain something about acupuncture points.

Energy
I mentioned the words ‘increase energy’ above.  I think that this applies to all types of qigong, but particularly to Zhan Zhuang Qigong – static qigong, sometimes known as Standing Pole, or Standing like a Tree.
155b Man exercisingThis is perhaps the most demanding type of qigong that I’ve come across, not only physically but mentally.  It requires that you position the body with bent knees and raised arms (not necessarily very high) and simply hold that posture (see the photos above).  Whilst in this posture (and many other similar postures), you relax the body.
When relaxation occurs, it is as though ‘pockets’ of energy, previously trapped, are released, as though the pipelines of the energy plumbing system suddenly become unblocked.
When this happens, it’s as though the energy release is self-perpetuating; it doesn’t simply stop once the system has become balanced, it continues to increase.

Whilst practising this exercise, the mind comes up with the most astonishing number of reasons to stop doing the exercise – too many other things to do, a slight itch that needs scratching, perhaps going for a walk might be better exercise, a remarkable desire to do some cleaning…. anything!
The exercise is starting to sort out the nervous system; it feels very uncomfortable, and the mind will try anything to get out of it.
Click here for further information about ‘Standing Qigong’ (Zhan Zhuang), and other qigong exercises for the organs.

And finally…
It also has an effect on one’s longevity… but finding out about that can be a bit of a wait!


James Drewe runs Qigong classes in both London & Kent.
For details click here, or go to http://www.taiji.co.uk/#!classes/c1jxp


 

2-Person Exercises in Taiji (2) – Maintaining Your Integrity

Continuing … from the previous blog

What’s the point of 2-person work?

  • We are taught that tai chi should be comfortable and relaxed, but when we do tai chi alone, our preconceptions of what it feels like to be ‘comfortable’ and ‘relaxed’ are largely dependent upon habit… our preconditioning.


Comfortable

This is a tricky one.  Most people don’t know when they are uncomfortable because their usual state of Being isn’t particularly relaxed.  We get used to breathing high up in the chest, we become accustomed to stress, we no longer notice bad posture, general fatigue seems par for the course, and we get used to a stiff neck or aching back.

In other words, if we misuse a part of us for long enough, we stop registering the discomfort as such, and it becomes the norm.
We’ve numbed it.

So ‘comfort’ becomes a relative issue… “It feels fine; its not hurting as much as it did before.”  The more discomfort we endure, the narrower our parameters of comfort become.

James & M.Wang (2)Relaxed
One of the functions of ‘testing’ postures with a partner (who is gently going to test your structure by pushing or pulling you – a kind of static Pushing Hands), is to see whether or not your body is working effectively and efficiently.
Therefore, if someone pushes you and you find it very difficult to relax and hold your posture, you know that something’s wrong – it’s not a matter of strength… it’s structure.
When you are not relaxed, you are holding a muscle (or muscles) in position. This is a form of stagnation which affects other muscles in the body; in effect, that part of the body is dead, or at the most, it’s functionality is severely compromised.
Because the held muscle lacks pliability, anyone pushing you is therefore pushing directly on that muscle (you are effectively ‘giving them a handle’); the person pushing you might not be able to feel any of the other muscles which are ‘liquid’, but he/she can feel the one that is tense.
This is not to say that you go completely soft and ‘soggy’, but you attempt to relax the muscles equally so that they support each other – there is a ‘muscular interconnection’ throughout the body so that when someone pushes you, he/she is not pushing one muscle, but is pushing every muscle in your body.  This is known as Peng – every muscle is equally supported by every other muscle.

But in solo tai chi, although you can sense the connection inside you, you have no way of actually experiencing it because to do so requires a force outside yourself.
You are therefore left with your old habits; there’s nothing to point them out to you (this would be like looking at yourself with your own eyes, or chewing your own teeth), and nothing to help you remove them.

To put it another way, we need the relative world in order to learn about ourselves.

… Continued in “2-Person Exercises in Taiji – Maintaining Your Integrity (3)”.

Sinking to Move (1) – The Lower Limbs

The Balance Problem in Certain Tai Chi & Qigong Moves
I’ve often noticed when teaching the Yang 24 that balance in certain movements often causes a problem for students – incidentally, this isn’t specific to the 24-step form, it’s just that this is a form that I teach more than others.
The moves to which I’m referring are any that require the body to turn to left or right at the same time as transferring the body weight from one foot to another (this could be a forwards or backwards step).
Some examples of this are: Parting the Wild Horses Mane, Brush Knee and Twist Step, Repulse Monkey, and Fair Lady Weaving Shuttles.
Golden Cockerel/Rooster and 164 Taiji Parkthe Kicks have their own set of problems, though perhaps for a different reason (at least, for the moment, although it will become apparent that the reason is actually the same), as there is no turn of the body in the same way in these two moves.

The knack of retaining the balance is to ‘sink the qi’ as you begin the process of moving into a posture.  The question is, how do you do this?

Stability & Instability
The basics are that, when we are standing on two feet, we are stable. When we step forward or backward, during that moment of taking a foot off the floor, we are temporarily unstable.  It is during this moment that we need to stabilise ourselves.  This is where the concept of ‘full’ and ’empty’ comes in.

Full & Empty
This concept refers to the energy status of the body; in order to be able to lift a leg, you need to ’empty’ that side of the body.  If you leave tension in the ’empty’ side, it isn’t empty, and the freedom of movement of the stepping leg is restricted.  When stepping in tai chi and qigong, this residual tension is nearly always in the hip and/or shoulder joints (which can also affect the stepping), – in other words the joints that attach the limbs to the body.

How do you sink the qi?
When teaching a move where a step is involved, I often use the expression ‘sink to step’ meaning “bend the stepping leg slightly (or a lot) just before stepping”. This is true, but isn’t the whole story.
What you really need to do is to ‘sink the qi’ just at the moment of freeing the stepping leg. This is partly something physical that you do, but it is also a feeling inside… a letting go of the hip joint amongst other things, and is a release of tension in one side of the body. There is a sensation of not holding on any longer, and the correct timing is essential.

Try a 3 stage test:24move-121
The starting position for all 3 stages is to stand with your feet side by side.

1) Notice what you normally do: Move the weight on to (e.g.) your right foot (ready to step). Now lift the leg ready to step. At the moment of lifting the stepping foot from the floor, try to feel what goes on in the hip.

2) Next, notice what you don’t normally do: Before moving your weight on to the right foot, stick your bottom out behind you, enhancing the ‘S’ bend in your back. Now move the weight on to (e.g.) your right foot (ready to step), and lift the leg ready to step.  You could try actually stepping.

3) Observation & enhancement: Now do (1) above more consciously. If you are able to let go of your hip joint at the moment of shifting the weight, you will find that your bottom sinks slightly. In other words your pelvis does a slight rotation – the tip of the coccyx dropping further as if to tuck between your legs. You will also feel the lumbar area of your spine flex slightly (the ‘S’ bend beginning to straighten out). If you don’t hurry into the step (in fact try not bothering with the step at all), you will feel a sensation of sinking into the foot that you’re stepping from.

 157a Man exercising taijiWhy does the hip rotate and the spine flex?
Each time you lift your knee, for whatever function, you need to engage your core muscles (try lifting your knee as high as possible – it’s unmistakable). This means that your abdomen draws in slightly. When you draw in the abdomen, the hip rotates and the spine flexes.
BUT, the hip cannot rotate efficiently if you forget to release the hip joint. Locking up one part of your body compromises the other parts causing them to either malfunction, or to attempt to do a job for which they are not designed. In Alexander Technique this is called ‘recruiting muscles’.

‘Not Holding On’
Incidentally, I used the expression ‘not holding on’ above.  I know it’s frowned upon to use negative instructions, but I have found that this is far more effective than expressions such ‘relax’ or ‘release’ etc.  If ‘holding on’ is a negative concept in the process of free movement, maybe ‘stop holding on’ is therefore a double negative (= a positive) … just a thought.

Conclusion
So, to come back to the original point, i.e. the moves in the Yang 24-Step Form, you are asking your hip to function efficiently not only whilst moving forwards/backwards, but, in the cases of Parting the Wild Horse’s Mane, and Brush knee, etc. whilst turning at the same time.
When standing for Golden Cockerel or the Kicks, the same principle applies – the sinking again performs the function of grounding you by allowing your hip to move into the right position, prior to rising out of one foot.  This activates the spine, allowing it to connect from foot to waist to middle of the back (opposite the heart) to neck to crown.

Just ‘stop holding on’.

Gripping the Floor in Tai Chi & Qigong

Often in both tai chi and qigong it is necessary to ‘grip the floor’ – part of rooting and making the body more stable.

This is particularly useful in tai chi when working with a partner, e.g in pushing hands, or a 2-person form, or when testing postures.  In qigong, ‘gripping’ the floor has the function of not only providing stability, but also of stimulating the acupuncture channels that either start or end in the feet, whilst at the same time connecting the root (the feet) to both the diaphragm and the palms and therefore helping the extremities to function from the middle of the body.

I spent years practising gripping the floor by only using my toes; in other words, I curled the tips of the toes underneath slightly… No one explained it any differently, and in fact, precisely because they didn’t explain it any other way, I’m not convinced that they knew there was another way!

Foot (toes curl)However, curling the toes under and ‘gripping’ in this way has the effect of reducing all the benefits that you are hoping to achieve by 1) lifting the balls of the foot (i.e. in front of the big and little toes on the sole of the foot) off the floor, 2) creating tension and lack of flexibility in the arch of the foot by locking the instep, 3) contracting the size of the foot both in length and width, and 4) tensing the front of the calf.  By using this method you are actually shortening the length of the foot (making balance more difficult), narrowing it by pulling the little toe towards the centre of the foot, desensitising it by squeezing it, decreasing the points of balance (only the heel and the tips of the toes), and tightening the ankle.

But the feet have a connection, via the fascia, to the neck, and if used correctly they can enhance the feeling of the body working as a unit rather than as individual parts, whilst at the same time helping you to root/ground, as though you are literally holding on to the earth.  If used correctly, the surface area in contact with the floor is slightly increased (better stability), the toes themselves are still gently squeezed (acupoints on the ends of the toes are stimulated), the arch of the foot no longer locks but ‘draws upwards’ (allowing further flexibility).

Furthermore, this lifting of the arch connects via the fascia to the small of the back – running up the insides of the legs, through the bowl of the pelvis, to the transverse processes of lumbar vertebrae 1-5, (partly – though not entirely – with the help of the Psoas muscle), passes through the posterior attachments of the diaphragm (you can feel this), to the back of the neck (which releases), and up over the back of the head and to the forehead via the crown.  Anyone familiar with the acupuncture channel will recognise that I have just described part of the Du Channel, or the Governing Vessel – but, it has been triggered by the feet.

The easiest way to understand the correct method with the foot is to try it out with your hand on a table.

With your palm on the surface of the table, curl your fingers and thumb, keeping the little finger
edge of your hand on the table (this represents the side of your foot from little toe to heel).  You will immediately feel that the palm hardly moves, and almost sinks (collapses).

Then, keeping as much of both the ‘pads’ of the fingers and the joint nearest the nails in touch with the table as you can, try sliding them slightly towards the heel of the hand.  It will feel as though you are ‘sucking’ the table up into the palm – again keep the little finger edge down as much as possible.

Now do the same with your feet.  It’s easiest to feel with bare feet …Foot + arrows 2