Tag Archives: peng

Playing with your Spine.

From head to foot.
When practicing taiji and qigong, we are often conscious of the forwards/backwards and the left/right of the movements, but it’s easy to forget the crown to feet expansion/contraction.
When doing Tai Chi & Qigong, it’s important to keep that structural line intact.

Intact?
By this I mean that any forces that the spine is dealing with are evenly spread over its length; i.e. no part of the spine is taking more force than any other part.  (I do not mean that the spine has to be vertical).
It’s important to keep the spine intact/connected at all times; but we usually don’t.

If you bend a stick, the stress is distributed over the length of the stick.  In other words, each part of the length of the stick supports the other parts.
Most people’s postures don’t reflect this, we do things both with our necks and with our hips that make the spread of force through our spines very uneven.
When working correctly though, it’s yet another example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts; all of our body-systems work much better when the individual parts (in this instance the muscles on either side of the spine) work as a collective.

The Spinal Line

  • Crown of head (not to be confused with the hair whorl)
  • Perineum (muscle between genitals & anus)
  • Point directly on the line between your 2 feet (variable if moving your weight back/forward between the feet)

Feeling it.
The majority of tai chi forms begin with the hands lifting and lowering.
When lifting a heavy object, your feet naturally press downwards as you raise your arms (gravity/weight of object), and as you lift the object, your intention is to rise, so you think your head upwards.  In other words, you automatically lengthen your back (unless you’re lifting the ‘wrong’ way and lifting from the lower or middle back – an example of spinal disconnection).

‘Raise hands’ at the start of a tai chi form.
Your arms together weight somewhere between 16-20lbs (roughly 7-9kg), so if you feel their weight as you lift them, you’ll also be pressing your feet into the ground.
Not only that, if you try to gauge the weight of your arms, you have to relax your shoulders (it’s almost as though you have to isolate the arms, in order to feel their independent weight), and by doing so this helps to sink the body mass further.
The problem for many people who don’t do this is that they end up raising their whole body and become ungrounded (shoulders rise, neck tenses, and hips tighten, head actually compresses); it’s almost as though they are trying to lift themselves off the floor.

Lowering your arms or even sitting down
When lowering the arms and bending the knees in tai chi, (even when sitting  on to a chair), people make themselves a dead weight at the expense of their necks and spines; in other words, they feel as though their heads (and necks) are also sinking.  This means that the vertical expansion of the spine (Peng) is lost; the upper part of the body collapses into the lower part.  In effect, the body has ‘sagged’.
The body ceases to have spring, and becomes soggy; it’s rather like attempting to bounce some putty or a bean bag off the floor; neither object bounces but instead collapses or squashes into the floor.

This time using the spine
So, as you sit down, go with gravity, and feel the body’s mass dropping.  Feel the weight of the pelvis and let it ‘hang’, let the shoulders fall, and feel the weight of your arms, but as you do so, try softening the back of your neck from a point between your shoulder blades and up into your occiput (the hollow at the back of your head where the neck enters), through the base of your skull and to the crown of your head.  
Don’t stretch though; doing it correctly is an UN-doing, not a DOing.

Balance.
For those of you who find balance difficult, you might find that the above helps, but it takes practise as it involves a change of mindset.
This spinal line is very much a physical sense of connectivity within you; there is an actual feeling of a solid line running through the body from top to bottom, as though it were a part of you.

You don’t have to do Tai Chi or Qigong to practise this, you can do it at any time, even when lying in bed.
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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 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

Has your Balloon Got a One-Sided Leak?

When it feels right.
Sometimes when you move in tai chi or qigong you just know you’ve got it right. You don’t need anyone to tell you, you instinctively know that it worked.  It felt easy, light, balanced, friction-less, and you were completely ‘in tune’ with yourself. The movement felt free.
Typically, you then try to repeat it and can’t quite capture that same sense of ease. Irritating!  But you know it’s possible.
What you experienced was both you and your body moving as one. Just for a moment you let go; your body was in perfect balance, and mind and body were both connected and perfectly balanced.
With experience this feeling can occur more frequently.

How do you encourage it?
To feel balanced, the body constantly needs to behave like a balloon.
A ball (a globe, a balloon, a sphere, the planet we live on) is always in balance; the pressure inside is equal on all parts of the inner surface.  A ball can never fall over, but were you to cut it in half (e.g. a melon), the halves would fall over. Your body needs to feel as stable as the undivided ball!

The body has these extraneous limbs that flap about, and which are largely (though not entirely) responsible for unbalancing the situation. So, for example, for ease of movement in tai chi, when moving an arm forwards, in order to keep things in balance, we also need to do something at the back; this could be the other arm, or a leg, or possibly your spine.
The same is true for left and right as well as up and down.

When you manage to accommodate all the criteria – front back, left right, up down – correctly, you know you have got it right without being told … it just feels right … the melon can’t fall over!  But if it’s loaded on one side….

So what’s the title all about?
Simply that, when blowing up a balloon, the rubber expands equally across its surface; i.e. the pressure is equal (assuming that the rubber isn’t weaker in some places).
Your body needs to do something similar, but, rather than a physical expansion (although this could also happen), it has a feeling of ‘protection’ without tension.
If the balloon is too rigid, it is unable to expand.  So in the case of the body, muscular force (rigidity) cannot be the answer. Your body needs to behave like your lungs; on breathing in, the tissues of the lungs flex and an equal expansion takes place within.
This is known as Peng, sometimes described as ‘educated force’, and to feel it you don’t even have to move a millimetre.

If your body were a castle, you would defend all sides of it equally and wouldn’t leave any gaps for the opposition to sneak in.
So when moving in tai chi and qigong, no part of you should be ignored; the movement of one part of you (arm, leg, shoulder, back, chest, knee, etc.) should be reflected across the body; a balance needs to be maintained.

Details of Tai chi and Qigong classes with James Drewe here.

Turning Your Head With Ease.

Whilst teaching, I’ve noticed that people do a number of unusual things when turning their heads.
Some tilt one ear nearer the shoulder which, in effect, lies the head slightly on its side, others lift the chin, some drop the chin, whilst others push the chin forwards.
None of these are much good for the neck, and some of them are potentially damaging.

Using the neck.
There’s a considerable amount of use of the neck in both tai chi and qigong, although perhaps for different reasons (taiji arguably for martial reasons, and qigong for health reasons).  But before you even begin to turn the head, it’s important to release the neck.

How do you do that?
Easy… focus on the back of your neck and ‘stop holding on’.   If you do this with no other agenda, you’ll find that your chin drops microscopically (whatever you Cervical-Spine 3 DJ USEdo, don’t try to drop the chin).  This freeing of the back of the neck combined with the dropping has the effect of allowing movement in the upper two vertebrae of the neck – the atlas and the axis. Without the release, they catch – one of the reasons for the ‘grinding’ that you sometimes feel.

Sandra Riddell, an Alexander Teacher in Edinburgh, has the following suggestion:-
Ask the neck to “let go of the head” followed by something like “so that the head can lead the spine into length….”.  Several students have said they find this clearer and more effective than just saying ‘free the neck’; indeed I do also.

The above might be enough to solve some problems for a few people, but there is another angle.

Our senses.
The majority of our senses, taste, smell, and in particular sight, are on the front of our heads, and because of that, we tend to ‘go towards’ whatever we are trying to taste, smell, or see.

Occipital lobeWhen our eyes see an object, the message is passed to the back of the eye and then via the optic nerve to the Occipital Lobe of the brain.  This is the part of the brain that recognises and interprets those messages.  The receptors and projectors are at the front of the face, and the screen is at the back of the head.

A possible solution.
Bearing in mind that we are really seeing with the back of our heads, it occurred to me that in order for people to stabilise their heads when turning them, instead of turning the face to look to the left or right, they could try ‘looking’ through the backs of their heads.
In other words, it’s as though you have eyes in the back of your head; give some attention to the back of the head turning as though it were trying to ‘look’.

I was astonished by the results of this simple idea; where beforehand heads had lifted, angled, stretched forwards, etc., everyone’s head stayed level – not just in one class, but in several.  Furthermore, people were able to turn their heads not only more comfortably but also slightly further.

A few thoughts on this…

  1. By putting this simple idea into practise therefore, the head rotates from its axis, rather than reaching forward for information, which misaligns the upper cervical vertebrae.
  2. As you literally see with the back of your head, you are merely allowing the eyes to act as a pair of cameras and moving the screen around ‘behind’ you.
  3. Normally when we look at something, we look ‘out of’ our eyes; our attention moves away from the body during the act of turning the head (cf. ‘out of our minds’).  By the awareness of re-positioning the screen at the back of the head, we stay in the body, and instead of ‘looking out of’ our eyes, the picture comes to us.

Taiji & qigong ‘Peng’.
The best part for me was that this fitted in with the tai chi and qigong principles of ‘Peng’, where all the opposites of the body (left/right, top/bottom, front/back) should balance each other and work harmoniously.  All of a sudden, the importance of turning the head to (e.g.) the left, was also an importance of turning the back of the head to the right.

2-Person Exercises in Taiji – Maintaining Your Integrity (4)

Continuing … the next point from Blog 1

What’s the point of 2-person work?

  • To understand our own stability is obvious when we’re standing on one leg, it’s simply a case of ‘balance’; but it’s less easy to understand when we’re on two legs, with someone pushing us.
  • Working with a partner gives you the opportunity to understand and learn how to sink your qi.

Change & Testing
This is about stability, muscular interconnection (Peng), and sinking qi,
Generally people find it hard to understand their what they are trying to do when in the role of tester (rather than the person being tested).
James & M.Wang (4)To take an example: You are in the posture of Play the Lute, or Brush Knee, and your partner is holding one or both of your arms and pushing towards you in a specific direction.
When beginners first do this pushing (testing), they often push very suddenly, or very hard, or jerkily, or at the wrong angle – or a mixture of all of these!
But in fact the sensitivity of the tester is equally as important as the sensitivity of the person being tested. It is not a competition, and both parties can learn from the other.
The challenge for the one being tested is to remain comfortable and relaxed, muscularly interconnected (Peng), with the qi sunk, and without collapsing the body.
The challenge for the tester is to ‘help’ his partner.  Both parties should try to feel where the tested person’s disconnection is, where the qi is ‘wasted’, or where the ‘peng’ is dysfunctional… Obvious examples of this are when the shoulders of the tested partner are raised, the chest hasn’t relaxed, or the pelvis hasn’t tucked under.

… Continued in the final blog on “2-Person Exercises in Taiji – Maintaining Your Integrity (5)”.

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)”.