Tag Archives: pushing hands

Ting (listening) in Tai Chi & Qigong.

What is ‘listening’ in tai chi & qigong?
‘Listening’ is the art of feeling, so you know how to act.
Listening is pulling up a weed in your garden; it is sensing, beyond the point at which you are touching.
Listening is having a conversation with someone for whom you have great respect.
Listening is fractionally preceded by relaxation.
Listening is making the body hyper-alive.
Listening bypasses anticipation and expectation. It is being completely in the moment; you have no idea what is going to happen nor how you are going to react.
Listening is the way that you receive information from the outside world – it is the moment between your antennae and your brain.
Listening is working with, not fighting against.
Listening is having no agenda.

Ideally, listening is very light; it is being able to sense and respond to the gentlest of touches.  If the pressure of one hair were placed against your skin, you would feel its direction and give way.

Setting up how to feel it…
Listening is most easily felt when you are working with a partner, but in a different way it also applies to solo tai chi practice.
To feel it, it is necessary to have a partner to help you:-
1) Hold your arm out in front of you, slightly bent at the elbow so that your palm faces you, and have someone touch your wrist either with his fingers or the back of his wrist.  It is better if he doesn’t grip you.
2) Partner does a gentle push directly towards you.
3) Allow your arm to be moved so that there is no pressure at the point of connection.  If there were a soap bubble between you both, it wouldn’t burst, but neither do you disconnect from the push.

Feeling it…
As your partner pushes, there should be no muscular tension.  This is easy, your arm will simply fold with the gentle pressure.
Try to sense the exact direction of the push.  Was it directly towards you, or was it fractionally left, right, up, or down?  Was there any pressure between your wrist and the other person, and did you respond precisely to that push?  This is ‘listening’ and ‘following’.

A conversation.
It is the same as someone telling you their point of view, when you are only focussing on what they have to say without judgement or wanting to interject with your point of view.

And if you want to change the direction of that conversation?
What if you want to redirect that push?  If you stop listening, your muscles kick in and you’re no longer ‘going with the flow’.
When the muscles tighten and you start to operate them individually, e.g. using only your forearm or only your shoulder, the message pathway between the point of contact (in this case your wrist) and the centre that interprets the sensory input (the parietal lobe) is temporarily congested (by the muscular tension) and messages can no longer get through so efficiently.  In effect, the tightened muscles mean that the joints are no longer sensitively sprung, flexible and soft and are therefore partially disabled.  It’s not unlike a plumbing system where the pipes are badly furred up and the function of transporting water is compromised.

Listening to your body.
Listening also needs to take place when doing solo tai chi.  In this case you are listening to your body.  E.g., if you have a ‘dodgy’ knee, you need to use the joint with caution, feeling how much pressure it will take, and in what way it can take that pressure.  It’s no good working the joint very hard in the hope that you’ll somehow beat the pain into submission and it will disappear.
So, you need to listen.  Listening will allow you to change habits that perhaps are not in your best interest to persist with – a sort of ‘intelligent observation’.

And the point is…
Listening is ultimately about relaxation and the ability to read your own tension, pinpointing where it lies, and how to release it.
When doing a solo tai chi form this is equally as applicable as working with a partner.  It’s your own tension that will let you down making your movements more clumsy and wooden.  You’ll know when you’ve got it right because the movements will feel smooth and easy.
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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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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)”

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