Connecting movements in tai chi & qigong.
Particularly in tai chi, but also in some moving Qigong sets, there comes a moment when you need to connect one change of body position to another, e.g. a sitting back movement which changes to a sideways or forwards movement.
To do so, most people apply pressure with one leg in order to push the torso into the new position.
The result is a mechanical body action which only uses very specific muscles in the pelvis and thighs – the rest of the body isn’t involved.
1) Sitting back is accomplished by the pelvis. As you sit back, you need a pelvic tilt which is timed a) to initiate the sitting back and b) to complete only at the moment when you start to move forwards again.
2) As you get near to the end of sitting back, you need to allow the energy in the upper torso (chest, upper back, etc.) to settle and sink. This is known as ‘hollowing the chest’ and is achieved by letting the breastbone ‘melt’, settle, relax or release, as though it it a river running down the front to the ‘centre’ (core, hara, dant’ien).
When you do this, it smooths the transition between sitting back and moving forwards; deep inside you it feels as though the body is creating a circle, which is exactly what is happening – your centre is rotating. When the core or hub of the wheel rotates, the outside of the wheel moves at a speed relative to its distance from the hub.
Moving your energy.
If you try to jump off the floor, what happens in the winding up process prior to the jump – in slow motion – is that, by bending your knees, you pull the pelvis downwards, and then the upper body follows.
Your legs are like springs, and as the legs start to compress, the lower part of you (legs and hips) starts to build up pressure. As the ‘pressure’ of the compression increases, it begins to slow, and the middle of the body joins in the compression, starting to catch up and going to join the compression in the legs.
It’s rather like a ‘slinky’, in that the top follows fractionally later. If you observe what happens next, you’ll then find that the upper body (shoulders, chest and upper back) follow towards the end, with the head last of all. In effect, the body has now ‘loaded up’ for the jump.
The crucial thing here is that the upper body is the last thing the sink.
This is easily tested: Try jumping off the floor, but before doing so, hunch your shoulders firmly up by your ears and leave them there whilst jumping. You can still do the jump, but it’s not nearly so effective. Then try doing the same but relax your shoulders.
We do this every time we walk: When placing a foot ahead of us to walk and moving the weight on to it, the pelvis sinks into the advancing foot followed by the shoulders and head. As we push off the toes to take the next step, we are, in a microcosmic way, jumping; the crown rises followed by the shoulders and hips, etc. In a way, the body is ‘bouncing’ along.
Whether you are sitting back on to your rear foot prior to moving your weight on to your front foot (as in a bow stance), or jumping off the floor, the principle of movement is the same. When you are about to step or jump, you are loading up one leg in order to move forward, or loading up both legs in order to jump off the floor. The last thing to release in the sinking process is the upper body.
So as you sit back, soften your chest and shoulders just before moving forwards or jumping, having a feeling of the breastbone and front of the chest almost liquefying or melting and running downwards to your centre. This releases the energy in the upper part of your body which can then ground or earth itself prior to moving either forwards (Bow stance), sideways, or upwards (jumping).
This is about feeling what goes on inside… looking inside yourself and becoming an observer.
The result of putting this into practise is that movements of the body are smoothly connected – I’m not referring to the movements of the limbs here, although they are undoubtedly affected when you put this into practise.
Without it, you are mainly using leg muscle to push yourself forwards and backwards.
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.
Phone: 07836-710281 or 020-8883 3308