Tag Archives: pushing

You’ve Left Your Hips Behind.

‘Natural’ movement.
We don’t usually think much about the way that we move around in our everyday lives; we just do it. However, when people take up tai chi or qigong, they often start moving very self-consciously, and a movement that they would normally do both smoothly and gracefully becomes clumsy whilst the body posture gets lost completely.

For example, moving the body from a rear foot to a front foot (this could be a push) is one of those things that brings out the differences.

Moving from back foot to front foot.
If you already have one foot ahead of you, you’re sitting on your back foot, and you want to move your weight forwards on to your front foot, all you do is to push your body off the back foot on to the front foot, and… well, that’s it … your body moves forward, still upright, as though you were walking.
Without any hands being involved, the majority of people will move correctly, as though walking with an upright body.

The unintentional re-wire.
But when you start to involve the arms, something in the brain alters, you no longer just move the body forwards, you also start to lean forward, and the body is no longer upright.  The focus is now entirely on the arms, and everything else is forgotten.

How to strain your back.
If you look at someone side-on as they do the movement this way, you’ll see their upper body angled forwards and their hips behaving as though they’ve been left behind.  Instead of pushing from the centre of the body, they have started pushing from the upper body, and their hips will hardly have moved forward at all.

I’m not saying that the body cannot lean, it can; but if the bottom starts to either ‘lift’ or become ‘left behind’, the posture is not only weakened, but is also potentially damaging to the lumbar area.

In the second picture, assuming that the subject of the photo is doing a tai chi posture, you can see that his body is leaning, but more than that, there is also a ‘disconnection’ (for want of a better word) in the shoulders, which are lifted.  To do his push, he has in effect taken his arms out of the shoulder sockets, so now  the strain will be taken by his upper spine.

Pushing in tai chi.
The problem seems to be created by the absence of anything physical to push in a solo tai chi form.  You’re pushing empty air, but you still want to feel as though you’re really pushing something.  If you were really pushing, say, a piece of heavy furniture across a room, or pushing your car, you just wouldn’t do it like that as it would have less power (although picture 1 would possibly disagree with me, where his lumbar spine is under considerable pressure).
Done in that way, with the bottom ‘lifted’, i.e. a sort of reversed pelvic tilt, the push from your back leg into the ground wouldn’t transmit up your leg, through the hip, up your spine, and along your arms.
Instead, having transmitted up your leg, it would reach your hip, and then, because the ‘line’ had been broken due to your sticking your bottom out, it would get stuck in the lumbar area of your spine and would quite likely hurt you.

Pushing a bent stick.
A slightly simplistic way of looking at why this happens is that, if you were to use a straight stick (e.g. a snooker cue) to push an object, the energy of the push is transmitted from the end that you’re holding, straight through to the other end. If you push with a bent stick, the energy of the push arrives at the bend and is then ‘split’.  Depending on the angle of the bend, some of it tries to go to the end of the stick, and some of it attempts to bend the stick further.

So, when moving the body forward in solo tai chi or in qigong, just do what you would normally do when walking, bring your pelvis toward your front foot, and not only the upper body.  Just let the upper body go along for the ride on top of the hips.

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. 

Email: taijiandqigong@gmail.com
Phone: 07836-710281 or 020-8883 3308

‘Open’ & ‘Close’ in taiji. (2) Using the limbs

When you are standing with one leg in front of you and the other behind (i.e. in an Empty stance) and, using only your chest, you push something ahead of you (i.e. moving into a Bow stance), your centre moves towards the object that you’re pushing.

Stance-emptyStance-bowThe centre can’t travel very far, just from the back leg to the front leg – probably a matter of only a few feet, depending on the length and depth of your stance.
In the action of moving the body forwards, your energy has already projected backwards; it has to – in order to move your body forwards …. e.g. the thrusters of a rocket pushing backwards in order to propel the rocket forwards, or the backward push from a propeller that moves the boat forwards, etc.
Stance-bow-with-pushInstead of only the chest pushing forwards, you can also extend the arms in front of you; obviously, as a push, it becomes more efficient…

The maths of this is definitely not something I’m confident about: First of all, there will be some ratio of relative forward to backward power-generation that I am sure someone will correct me on, but it’s possibly 2:1 (the rear leg pushing into the ground behind you, – the backward movement against the forward movement of the body enhanced by the use of the arms).  Secondly there’s the over-all generation of power produced through the hands.  I really should have concentrated better in physics at school.
So what has this to do with opening and closing?
The first point is that both the forward and backward movements for the push come from the centre.
Stance-bow-with-push-and-arrowsThe second point is that there is more to the push than these movements; whilst pushing, the limbs make a ‘spiraling action’, in other words, in the case of the arms, a rotation of the entire arm from the shoulder. In effect this means that the elbows will either sink or lift upwards and outwards.

Stance-bow-with-push-and-arrows plus legsThe legs will also be doing something similar, the thighs spiraling (slightly outwards in a push) in small rotations to open up the ilio-femoral joints.

This rotation of arms and legs provides more driving power in the push; it’s the difference between trying to hammer a screw into a piece of wood, and turning it with a screwdriver – both will have an effect on the wood, but one will penetrate better.
When this spiraling action is included in a push, all muscles in the body interact and become involved; nothing stagnates or stays dormant…… If you try simply pushing one hand out ahead of you as you read this without rotating the elbow inwards or outwards, you can feel that certain muscles don’t really come into play; they might stretch slightly but their actual function – medial or lateral rotation – doesn’t come into operation.
Being on the receiving end of this push becomes extremely difficult to resist when all parts of the object driving at you are rotating, even to a small degree.
So an efficient push is entire muscular integration, which cannot be achieved without the spiraling action (open/close action) of the legs and arms.