Tag Archives: push hands

Change in Taiji & Qigong

Going with the ups & the downs.
How do you ‘convert’ one movement to another in Tai Chi or Qigong?
Perhaps, if I can understand these changes, for example, when the body starts to move back when it’s been going forwards, or turns left when it’s been turning right, I’ll be able to use it as a tool to understand the way in which I deal with change in my everyday life.  So, if I can make sense of that transition in Tai Chi and understand how to make it feel unforced and comfortable, with a sense of liquidity, I hope to be able to apply those principles to the changes of everyday existence, and get life’s unexpected alterations to work more smoothly.

Changing from Yin to Yang; what is ‘change’?
At some stage, energy will always alter to its opposite.Energy Black Hole
I’m a little concerned about this statement, particularly as in a recent discussion with someone, he said that consciousness always expands… although I can’t see how you can have a separate rule for consciousness.  However, for the moment, leaving consciousness out of the equation, this is essentially about the finite points of duality.

  • When the universe has reached its furthest point of expansion, it will start to contract.
  • When summer has run its course, autumn takes over.
  • When a human has grown to his/her full size, he/she will start to shrink.
  • When you’ve finished breathing in, you have to breathe out.
  • You cannot always cycle downhill; at some point you’re going to have to go uphill.
  • One bacterium, amoeba, mollusk, insect, fish, or animal gives up its life to prolong the life of another.

… and so on; everything ultimately degenerates and turns back into earth (given enough time, again) – more food for the bacteria, which will produce the next plant, etc.

So, to repeat… Energy alters to its opposite at some stage, this being one aspect of the concept of Yin and Yang.

How can we feel this change in taiji & qigong?
When performing taiji/qigong, some people do not really ‘finish’ a move, i.e. don’t allow a move to reach its natural conclusion.  They might do a forward movement, stop, do the next (backward) movement, stop, then the next, stop, etc., etc.  Even if they don’t ‘stop’, there is a break in the ‘flow’ of the movement.
By ‘natural’ I mean that first of all they aren’t feeling where and how a movement naturally changes into the next movement.  Yes, they do the movements in the right order, but the movements are almost mechanical, and are coming from the head and not from any sense of awareness of body elasticity.

What does this mean in real terms?
To experience this, breathe in, and before finishing the in breath, breathe out, and then again before finishing the out breath, breathe in… etc.  The whole process becomes forced with your taking excessive control of your respiration.

So how do you breathe with fluidity, sensitivity, and awareness?
You don’t control it, you become an observer and you feel.  I’m not saying that you can’t control it, but the respiratory system tends to work better when you leave it alone, especially when you observe where the in or out breaths naturally end.
When you do this, there is an internal softening; no tightening occurs in the tissues, and perfect fluidity is achieved.

The basic exercise.
First of all you need to find this ‘point of change’.  Finding this feeling of change is very easy; all you need is a movement that is simple, but is absolutely clear as to where its energy ‘runs out’, leaving no option other than either to stagnate, or to change into its opposite.

This is a very simple exercise; it’s sole aim at this stage is to show (as far as is possible) the extremes of Yin & Yang.
24move-50Start in Bow stance (photo 1), and sit back into an Empty stance (photo 2).  How far can you go back before you fall over backwards?
You reach the point where you have no other option than to either go forwards again, or to stop completely (assuming that you don’t want to fall backwards), i.e. stagnate.
If you do this slowly, towards the end of sitting back, you can feel the backwards potential of the movement literally running out… becoming weaker and weaker (more and more ‘Yin’), 24move-515until you have to convert it to the yang movement (moving forwards into the Bow stance) yet again.
You can do the same when moving forwards into a Bow stance, (either allowing the body to lean or not, it doesn’t matter).

In other words, you reach the end of a movement, and there is no choice other than to go back to where you began.
It’s only an exercise with the sole intention of demonstrating one idea.

Experiencing the moment of change too abruptly.
So then there’s the opposite where, in effect, you mistime the change.
You’re arguing with someone and suddenly realise that you’ve totally missed the point.
You drive round a 90 degree bend too fast.
You’re not watching the temperature of the chocolate that you’re tempering and take it 2 degrees too high, destroying the beta crystals.
You don’t feel the wind direction when sailing, and accidentally, and forcefully, jibe.
In other words, we experience everything differently if it catches us unawares.  If we’re watching, everything tends to go more smoothly.

The moment of change. 
So how do you create gentle and appropriate change? How do you convert that moment at a party when you’re talking to someone and have exhausted all the mutual topics and you can’t see a polite way out?
The moment of change of any kind needs a softening and a considerable amount of awareness and sensitivity. In Taiji and in Qigong, you need to feel this change with your whole body; there is no jarring in the change.  [This is one of the reasons for doing some pushing hands in a class; when you first begin to do partner work, you can really discover your own clumsiness – something that is much harder to feel when doing solo taiji].

The sensitive gardener.
This sensitivity is similar to that required when pulling an unwanted weed out of a flowerbed.  You can’t pull hard, and you can’t pull too softly; you have to try to feel the weed, right to the bottom of its roots as you pull.
The same applies when doing Tai Chi moving from one position to another.
We’re all familiar with the Chinese method of teaching Taiji or Qigong by number:

  1. Raise your hands to shoulder-height
  2. Bend your knees lowering your arms… etc.

The silk thread connection.
But the sensitive moment – the change, takes place where ‘2’ takes over from ‘1’ (or ‘1’ gives way to ‘2’). It requires softening, release, and Song (see previous blogs: 1, 2, & 3 -part 2), and needs to be achieved with such fluidity and smoothness that, instead of two movements, there is in fact only one, with the apex of movement 1 feeling as though it’s ‘melting’, ‘transmuting’, or ‘metamorphosing’ into movement 2. The move described above might look like a vertical line that rises and falls, but inside it there is the feeling of a circle.

But you experience it several times a minute every day. 
We all know this really, you only have to breathe normally to see it.  When you’ve finished breathing out, you don’t suddenly breathe in, you automatically find the apnea of the breath – that moment when it’s slightly unclear as to whether you’re still breathing out or you’ve started to breathe in, almost as though you’ve stopped breathing, but you haven’t.  It’s a resting, a gentle loading up (or releasing?) of the spring, in archery it’s the moment when you ‘become one’ with your target, it’s the moment of focus and meditation.

No I only have to work out how to apply it to the rest of my life.
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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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Flapping Around in Tai Chi & Qigong.

Copying movements.
When seeing Tai Chi or Qigong for the first time, it appears that all those graceful movements are the result of moving our limbs into the ‘correct’ position.  So in order to learn those arts, we attempt to emulate the movements as precisely as possible.

The art of precision.
I know this because I spent many years being an exponent of this way of learning as precisely as possible:
Make sure you slip your heel to 45 degrees.
Is your wrist precisely level with your shoulder?
Step forward and push your arms ahead of you.
Are your fingertips level with the tip of your nose?
… and so on; in other words, instructions for the body parts.
On the other hand, if you don’t learn that way, it’s very difficult to learn anything; you need a structure to play around with.

Once upon a time…
In the olden days (whatever they are), the teacher would spend weeks on one move only, refining and polishing it until it was as near perfect as possible.  Nowadays students don’t have the patience, they want a ‘product’, something that they can take home with them.
I don’t have a problem with this, but it means changing the method of teaching.  The superficial is taught first, and then honed.

Approaching the matter.
About 8 years ago, I had a student who, having been with me for several years, one day said to me, “You keep on changing it; you used to tell us to do it this way.”
On paper, this makes it sound as though this particular move had become unrecognisable, which of course it hadn’t, but the focus was different, and a movement that she thought that she’d ‘sorted out’ had now become uncomfortably flexible again.

Change.
However, a number of things had happened since she had first learnt the move:
1) Her tai chi had reached the point where the basic shapes weren’t enough, so she needed more information, and
2) My own understanding had developed and I had different ways of explaining things from additional perspectives.
My student also wanted a finished product that she could bag up and take home, which is exactly how I used to think about tai chi;  I had the “there is only one way to do it and this is the correct way” syndrome.
…She eventually left.

It’s the connection.
It’s the Qi connection  that really counts.
Yes, you might to certain extent be able to be precise about the position of arms and legs, but at the end of the day it’s how you are feeling inside that’s the main thing.
This feeling is an over-all sensation of unity.
It’s as though your body were a medieval castle and you need the infrastructure within the walls to be very efficient.  When it’s working well you are protected on all sides effectively.
This has nothing to do with your being tense or hard, more a feeling that the supply lines between all the walls are working smoothly and to maximum efficiency.  (In Tai Chi this includes above you and below you also).

When one part moves…
My rather clumsy castle analogy comes down to the fact that, gradually you become more and more aware of how your body is knitting itself together during the movements.  The result of this is that you’ve never really finished learning tai chi or qigong because there are always new discoveries to be made.
This comes down to the paraphrased saying that “when one part (of you) moves, every part moves”.  Every part knows what the other part is doing; nothing is hanging around waiting.  When something happens in one part of the body, it is reflected in all other parts.  This is the 8 energies and the Principles in practice
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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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Putting Backbone Into It (Shadow Boxing)

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).

The Spinal Line (when pushing an object/person).
When working with someone else, or even a static object, the correctly connected line of the spine becomes even more important.
In effect, a force against the body needs to be evenly distributed throughout it, so as to lessen the chance of damage to one part, and the spine is the main method of distribution (like the mains water pipe into the house before distribution to other outlets).

To continue the water analogy, it’s the pressure of the water behind your tap that causes the flow, not the water itself.  So, for example, when shifting a piece of heavy furniture, if you overuse the arms, you can strain them (or the shoulder joints); or if you don’t use the spine correctly, you can hurt your back.  In this example, if you treat the body this way, you’re trying to push water out of the system without backup from the mains.

How do you ‘connect’ the spinal line?
When a you push someone/thing, the force passes
⇒ down your arms,
⇒ through the shoulder joints,
⇒ connects across the bridge of the shoulder girdle to the spine,
⇒ runs down your spine to the pelvis,
⇒ passes sideways via the bridge of the pelvis to the thigh bones (mainly the rear leg thigh bone if you’re in a Bow Stance), and
⇒ travels down the leg(s) to the heel(s). (Depending on what you’re doing, it might then move to the toes, and possibly the tips of the fingers at the other end).

Or is it the other way around?
It’s also arguable that instead of thinking the force starting at your hands, you think of it starting at your rear foot, but because it’s a push, most people don’t think it this way.

Pushing furniture.
You need to move a piece of furniture in the room, and you don’t want to lift it.
You put your hands against the side of it and shove.  If you shove with only your arms they’ll get tired, and you might well hurt your neck and back (probably lower).
To move it, (1) you need to connect yourself to the piece of furniture correctly, (2) you need to push correctly, (3) you need to relax whilst pushing (strangely), and (4) your intention needs to lead you in the right direction.

1) Connect yourself:
You apply a gentle push, without intending to make it the object/person move, and you feel the connection between object and your rear foot.
You are creating an energetic line from rear foot to hands, and the easiest places to ‘break’ that line are at the shoulders and/or lower (lumbar) spine.
If the shoulders are raised, the energy from the push will run up the arms, reach the shoulders, and will then ‘leak’ or be ‘blocked’ at the shoulders; some of it might reach the rear foot, but most of it will be dissipated in the upper body.  You are ‘leaking qi’, which, in effect, means that the pipeline from hands to foot has a hole in it.
Similarly, if you haven’t relaxed your pelvis, allowing the lower spine to settle and release, the energy ‘leaks’ from the lumbar part of the spine, and you will possibly risk straining your lower back.

2) Expand/lengthen your line in an integrated way.
In this instance, expanding means forwards and backwards (‘Every action has an equal and opposite reaction’).
Integrated means that you distribute the force equally through your spine, arms, and rear leg.

3) Relax.
This might seem odd, bearing in mind that your pushing something, but sticking with the pipeline analogy, when you lay pipes, you need to ‘bed’ them correctly; in a long run of pipes, if you only support the two ends, the pipe will gradually start to bow over time, so the pipe needs to be able to rest.
So when pushing your object, connect to the object and feel the floor with the pushing foot, but then try to ’empty’ the middle… rest it.

4) Your intent.
Your intention simply focuses the energy, like shooting at a target.  The more finely you focus, the easier the action is.  Rather like a hosepipe, the finer the nozzle on the end, the further the water will travel.

And the point in relation to Tai Chi and Qigong is?
When you have a force that is pushing you, or conversely you are pushing someone/thing, it’s comparatively easy to feel this.  The challenge is to apply and feel this concept when doing solo tai chi or qigong.  Hence the expression “shadow boxing”.

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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

2-Person Exercises in Taiji – Maintaining Your Integrity (5)

Continuing … the next point from Blog 1

  • Partner-work explains the differing uses of the torso and limbs – i.e. the ‘units’ of attack/defence: 1) the body, 2) the shoulders, 3) the elbows, and 4) the wrists/hands/fingers.  The legs can be subdivided in the same way.
  • It’s easier to learn how to ‘go with the flow’ when working with someone else as he/she is providing a force for you with which to work.
  • Without partner-work, it is very difficult to understand the skill of feeling someone else’s intention, and then deflecting that intention to your own advantage.

Units of the body
When working in contact with somebody, for example in Push Hands, you begin in a neutral position with wrists connected (i.e facing each other, the back of your right wrist on the back of his right wrist, and both with right feet forwards in a Bow stance).
If you begin to push towards him (with your right wrist), he might then turn to his right and deflect you sideways with his right wrist.
However, as your right forearm and elbow are following your wrist, these can then be used against his body.
James & Master Wang (6)If he then turns even more to his right, or uses his left hand to neutralise those ‘units’, you can then bring your shoulder against him (your chest would be facing to your left by this time).

In solo taiji, you can observe this taking place, but for obvious reasons it’s harder to feel – although not impossible because this is where the element of ‘shadow boxing’ comes in; at the very least, you can imagine what is taking place.

The flow & Intention
These two points are interconnected.
‘Going with the flow’ requires a flow from a different source so that you can ‘go with it’, and it is your partner’s intention that drives that flow.
Circles: In order to defeat that intention, but not fight against the flow (Yang against Yang), you need to use circles, arcs, or curves.

For example, if you are trying to divert/channel a stream, it’s advisable to avoid placing the barrier at 90 degrees to the force of the water (Yang against Yang); you need the minimum force to be applied to the barrier so that it can do its job efficiently without damage.
This is the same with Push Hands.  As your partner pushes towards you, you gently divert him, whilst all the time listening to his intention which might change to a different unit of the body.
However, unlike the stream, a point will come where the energy of his push either lessens or runs out.  This is the moment when it requires no effort on your part to create a small circle, arc, or curve, and push back towards him.  You have used minimal effort, and yet achieved what you want to achieve.

It is impossible to actually experience this in solo tai chi, and yet solo tai chi embodies this concept.

  • Do you have to do 2-person exercises if you want to learn tai chi?
    No, you definitely do not, but it undoubtedly helps you to understand your body, feel grounded, find your core and learn to move from it.

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)”.

2-Person Exercises in Taiji – Maintaining Your Integrity (1)

Two-person exercises cause a problem for many tai chi practitioners.
Some don’t like touching other people, some get frustrated because the other person isn’t getting it ‘right’, some don’t like the feeling of their personal space being invaded, and others find that their partner is either too stiff or too loose.
One thing is certain, 2-person exercises test one’s vulnerability, and understandably, most people don’t like to feel vulnerable.

James & Master Wang (cropped 2)Vulnerability
First of all, I’m a bit of an advocate for feeling vulnerable.
A lack of vulnerability seems to imply a lack of sensitivity and awareness (“I’m invincible, nothing can harm me!”),  and an absence of ‘give and take’ or communication with the world we live in.  When doing Push Hands, the ‘world we live in’ relates to the relationship between you and the person with whom you are working.

What’s the point of 2-person work?
On its own, tai chi as a solo exercise is not the complete picture.  Yes, you can do it without ever doing other tai chi exercises and, without any doubt, get a great deal from it, but there are certain aspects of tai chi that will be that much harder to grasp.

To mention a few of them:-

  • 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.
  • Tai chi is about ‘change’ and ‘adaptability’; this is not obvious when doing solo tai chi, but when you work with a partner, you become very aware of it.
  • 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.
  • Partner-work explains the differing uses of the torso and limbs – i.e. the ‘units’ of attack/defence: 1) the body, 2) the shoulders, 3) the elbows, and 4) the wrists/hands/fingers.  The legs can be subdivided in the same way.
  • It’s easier to learn how to ‘go with the flow’ when working with someone else as he/she is providing a force for you with which to work.
  • Without partner-work, it is very difficult to understand the skill of feeling someone else’s intention, and then deflecting that intention to your own advantage.

What might it feel like?
2-Person taiji is an opportunity to ‘maintain your integrity’, in other words, to stay integrated and work as a whole.
Solo Taiji: You can experience this in solo taiji when, having created the intention, the movements seem to happen almost by themselves, as though with no involvement on your part.  There is a sense of ease as if “all’s right with the world”, as though you are completely in tune with yourself.
2-Person Taiji: If you are able to feel this whilst doing a 2-person exercise, your partner will be able to sense that there is something different, because to him, you feel light, inaccessible, smooth in movement, soft, and invulnerable; he will feel as though he cannot get to you, and yet it will feel as though you are not holding him away.

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