Tag Archives: qi

Stress.

Stress.
There are many reasons for stress.  What stresses one person might to another be a positive drive to action.
You would possibly think that de-stressing is about relaxation, but there are many techniques for de-stressing that have little to do with relaxation and more to do with distraction.’

The parasympathetic nervous system.
To begin with, stress is connected to the state of your autonomic nervous system, a system that is divided into the ‘parasympathetic’ and the ‘sympathetic’ nervous systems.
The parasympathetic system is your functional system which regulates your everyday bodily activities (blood supply, breathing, digestion, elimination); this carries on without your involvement, although you can control certain aspects of it.

The sympathetic nervous system.
Your sympathetic nervous system becomes active in cases of emergency.  If something happens that is potentially life-threatening, many of your body’s processes are temporarily either slowed or shut down, and an increased supply of glucose goes to the brain (whilst its access to the cells of the body is blocked – ‘insulin resistance’) in order to deal with the situation that has arisen.  In other words, the brain needs the glucose boost temporarily to find a rapid solution to the emergency.

And after the emergency…
The problems begin when the sympathetic nervous system, having dealt with the emergency, doesn’t settle down again and continues to over-function; this could be because of problems at work, at home, or with life generally.  When this happens, the ‘temporary’ boost of glucose and the shutting down of part of your system becomes more than ‘temporary’.
There are several repercussions from this including the factor that inflammation in the body is increased because the insulin/glucose balance in the body fails to stabilise.

Inflammation is a major stress factor.
We tend to associate the word with localised inflammation, in other words we think of a joint or a muscle being uncomfortable and inflamed, but this is different, it’s inflammation on a whole-body level, and whether it’s high or low level, it is more insidious than an isolated location.
We all know that an aching shoulder, knee, or elbow is tiring; it’s a constant irritation that absorbs our attention.
When the body is undergoing permanent low level irritation, it’s exhausting and energy draining, but the main problem is that it’s cyclical; the less energy you have, the less there is for the body to deal with the inflammation.
So you go for something to ‘perk you up’, usually sugar-based.  This boosts the glucose levels in the body, but because your glucose/insulin levels are not balanced due to your being in stress mode, the glucose is forced to the brain (which is what happens in the emergency situation – the brain needing the extra energy to deal with the tiger that’s about to attack you!).  In effect, you started the cycle again.

What can I do about it?
This is almost impossible to answer as it depends on what is stressing you in the first place. However, there are a number of factors to take into account that can help to improve the situation and some techniques that can also help.

1) Diet.
Some foods are more inflammatory than others. This will vary from person to person, but if you know what they are, avoid them.
One interesting example that I read recently is that red meat contains one molecule that is not found in humans; therefore, when this molecule enters the human body, the immune system sees it as an invader and, in order to fight it, creates inflammation, in effect using fire to stop the spread of the potential problem, and ‘burn out’ the invader.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t eat red meat, but this is one example of how the body deals with something that it doesn’t want.

2. Psychological.
Where to start?!
Very briefly, following an event, a part of our brain mulls an issue over and over.  It compares it to previous similar events, it forms plans as to how to deal with it, it considers what you might have said at the time, how things might have been better had something else happened, and so on.
The Chinese call this the ‘Monkey Brain/Mind’.  It’s also known as your ‘Default Mode Network’, and is the network of brain cells from approximately the middle-front of your skull towards the back.
The problem is to break the thought-cycle that is creating the stress.  This involves various techniques, many of which involve distraction from the problem, if only for a short time. Often during that short time, the situation itself either alters or possibly resolves in some unexpected way.
(In the diagram, the ‘mPFC’ refers to the median Pre-Frontal Cortex’, the ‘PCC’ to the Posterior Cingulate Cortex – i.e. front to back along the top of the head).

Distraction can be in the form of anything that alters your focus for a reasonable length of time, which engages your brain and therefore disengages you from the problem.  Puzzles, meditation, focusing on breathing, learning/playing an instrument, listening attentively to music… I’m not convinced that watching TV is as good.

Maybe it’s also worth pointing out that this part of the brain is the location of what Freud called the ‘ego’, and which is also known as the ‘autobiographical memory’.  This is where you constantly recreate that picture of how you see yourself – the Monkey Brain in action.

3. Exercise.
This is a good way to de-stress, and ties in with (2) above.  The exercise shouldn’t be exhausting, but slightly cardiovascular is good.  (Various tests have been done that show that forcing the body very hard during exercise doesn’t help to de-stress as much as gentle exercise).
Obviously this is where tai chi and qigong fit in.  This type of exercise connects the mind & body, each helping the other to relax and soften.

4. Central equilibrium.
One of the main reasons however why tai chi and qigong are so good for de-stressing you is that both are about the physical ‘balancing’ of the body, in other words, making the body work as a perfect unit.
How can you feel stressed if your body – your own personal universe – is moving breathing and rotating perfectly, and is working in perfect accord not only with itself but also with your environment?
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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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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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Sinking Qi (2)

It’s a feeling, you can’t actually do it.
In fact it’s the act of not-doing… definitely a verbal contradiction.

I spent many years thinking that ‘sinking your qi’ was something that you somehow physically did, like ‘raise or lower your arm’, that it was a skill from the Grandmasters passed down over the generations, something that, one day, you’d suddenly be endowed with, or magically absorb.

It’s a feeling, and, like all feelings, is only possible to explain by comparison or with a simile (try explaining what an orange tastes like) whilst hoping that the person, to whom you’re attempting to explain the feeling, has had experiences that are similar to your own.  In other words, it’s nigh on impossible.

What does it feel like?

  • Sediment; it’s like the sediment of a murky pond settling on to the bottom.
  • It’s like ‘playing dead’ when you were a kid, with someone trying to lift you up.
  • It’s an object falling to the floor, the moment it fully impacts the ground.
  • It’s feeling gravity and borrowing it.
  • It’s the letting go of every cell in your body.
  • It’s feeling your own weight.
  • It’s no longer holding on.
  • It’s the sensation you can get in the second before you fall asleep.
  • It’s how you can feel when you meditate.
  • It’s how your nervous system feels when truly calm.
  • More esoterically, it’s a feeling of connection to the planet, or to the earth.

What’s its function?
It connects movement in tai chi and qigong (well actually any movement in anything), but is a movement in itself; it’s the out-breath before the in-breath, as well as the in-breath before the out-breath. If it’s true that any object or event is possible by virtue of the fact that its opposite exists, then it’s one side of the coin.  In other words, its function is to allow its opposite to exist.

I’m aware that this is beginning to sound a bit ‘zen’, (‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’).  So to bring it back to the practical, it’s what you experience when you are jumping off the floor into the air.  In the second before jumping, just as you finish dropping your body, you sink your qi; it’s the connection between the dropping and the rising – a softening.

If you try to sink your qi, you fail.
You can watch this happening if you do the jumping exercise above.  When you attempt to control it, you stop softening and start directing the muscles.  All spontaneity is lost.

This is a bit like (back to the sediment again), if you try to make the sediment sink in the pond, you just end up stirring it up.

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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

I’ve Got That Sinking Feeling.

Feeling that sinking feeling.
If you’ve ever been at the seaside and put your foot on a raised rock, and then attempted to push yourself up using only the leg on the rock, you’ve had the sinking feeling.  Your leg briefly works very hard, and it feels as though your torso is compressing your leg and foot into the rock.

But of course this could be almost any action in which you have to lift your body – it could even be walking up one small step on the stairs; but you actually do the same thing even when walking on the level.  When you put that foot forwards and move the weight on to it, for a brief moment the torso sinks into that solo leg before pushing itself upwards in order to bring the other leg through for the next step.

So what’s going on?
The Chinese wrould say that you are sinking your qi during that moment, and for some people, it’s not a very pleasant sensation.  I’ve noticed that, by and large, people don’t like the feeling of their legs working correctly.

One of the reasons tai chi teachers spend so much time correcting people’s postures is that, when we need to do something with our legs that requires effort, instead of just using our legs, we ‘borrow’ other muscles, (‘recruit’ in Alexander Technique terms), in the hips, back, and even the neck that aren’t necessary for the job.
Why?  Because it’s easier on the legs; it spreads the load.  It’s fine occasionally, but the trouble is that it rarely is occasionally … it becomes a habit.

This becomes apparent when, for example, I correct someone’s posture in Stork/White Crane Spreads its Wings, (where all the weight is taken on one bent leg).  People usually find it very difficult, even unpleasant; they don’t like the feeling of only the necessary muscles working correctly.

Passing the 40 mark.
These problems gradually become more extreme as we age.
There may be very good reasons for this, such as arthritis, worn joints in knees, hips, and ankles, debris in the joints, joints that have changed shape through misuse over time, cartilage problems, etc., but leaving these mechanical reasons aside, most people as they age don’t trust their joints as much as they used to when they were younger, mainly because they haven’t strengthened those particular connections over time, and little by little have ended up sitting down more.

Or even younger.
Leg strength used not to be a problem for people in their 20s and 30s, but over the last 10 years I’ve noticed that it’s definitely edging into these age groups.
I’m guessing that it’s partly to do with our lifestyle, including both what we eat and how much, but also screens of all types (we don’t even have to walk to the phone nowadays, it’s often in our pocket), and that so many jobs are sedentary.

I’d rather use a coat hook.
Older people often appear to be trying to ‘hold themselves up’ off the ground.  Their qi, instead of sinking, seems to be held more and more in the upper body, as though they’re trying to take the weight off their legs.  In a sense that’s exactly what they’re trying to do, because if you don’t trust your hips or knees, you’re not sure if your knees are going to give way, you’re worried about exerting pressure on the wrong part of the knee, or you’re worried about your balance, then that’s exactly what you’d want to do.
It’s a vicious circle; the less you use your legs, the less you trust them, and therefore the less you use them, etc.

And the point is?
Well, obviously… You’re doing the right thing if you’re doing tai chi or qigong.
There’s plenty of research available about how they can benefit all the joints, and even doctors, who 10 years ago knew nothing about tai chi and qigong, are now recommending that joint sufferers, and people with balance problems (and heart/blood pressure problems) take them up.
Perhaps we should all be taking deportment classes!

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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

Heavy Arms

Each of your arms weighs about 8-10lbs (roughly 3.5-4.5Kg).
That’s heavy… though we don’t really notice it because either the arms are hanging down beside you, or, if we do come to lift them, we use so many extra and unnecessary muscles to do the job (known as ‘recruiting’ in the Alexander Technique) that their weight is spread across the shoulders and neck.

Where’s the qi?
The result of this is that the qi is held in the upper body which means that
     • our balance compromised,
     • our breathing tends to be higher,
     • our ability to relax is diminished,
     • the flexibility of our necks and is reduced,
     • we’re more inclined to get headaches,
     • the rotational potential of our waist becomes less,
     • the range of movement in both shoulders and arms is massively impacted.

It’s all about the shoulders really.
The idea is to lift up your arms, forwards or sideways, and attempt to experience the weight of your arms. What this actually means is that, in order to get that feeling, you can only use the essential muscles. This will also mean that you will need to disengage the shoulders from the task; they aren’t necessary.

Weighing a fish.
The muscles that you use to do this should feel as though they are weighing a fish with one of those spring-loaded hanging scales (I guess that could be your hand luggage also, but the fish is a bit more interesting!).  You have to give the arms to gravity, letting go of the muscles so that they gently stretch. If you’re not used to this, it can make them ache as they undo, but it doesn’t last.

Now just do it for the rest of your life!
That’s how to use your arms in tai chi and qigong, but the concept should also be applied to every activity, whether cooking, reading a book, or driving your car, etc., in fact every time you start to raise your arms from the vertical hanging position.

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

Making a Connection in Taiji & Qigong – Sinking Qi

When you first begin tai chi and qigong, you spend most of your time trying to remember the positions of arms and legs in the various postures, and then which posture follows the previous one.
Gradually you begin to know a repertoire of postures, one following another; in other words – the tai chi ‘form’, or a qigong ‘set’ of exercises.

yang-cheng-fuAt first this ends up as though you are physically reproducing a series of photographs; you move the body into the position of one photo, then another, until you’ve got to the end.
You’ve now learnt the shape of the form – the equivalent of a musician learning which note follows which, but without any great fluency, interpretation, or subtlety.

Then there’s all that talk about ‘flow’… ‘flowing’ from one position to another. How do you do it?  How do you smoothly transition between one movement and another?
This could be referred to as the ‘connection’.

Connecting the moves.
Connection is relaxation and continuation.  It is understanding what the energy of a movement is doing and how to convert it into something new.

In fact, we are continuously using this skill in many varied situations.

  • If friends are upset, we listen to them so as to help them convert their discomfort and see them through the problem.
  • If you’re driving your car around a 90 degree bend, you ease off on the corner in order to make the transition.
  • If you want to jump on a bus that’s passing you, you run alongside the bus before jumping on, rather than grabbing the handrail as it passes.

What takes place in all instances is a ‘listening’ to the first action in order to change it into the second action.  By doing so, you blend one action into another.

In taiji and qigong …
stance-bowstance-emptystance-bow

Let’s say you are starting in a left or right Bow stance (one leg ahead of the other, with the weight on the front leg – graphic 1, above); you are going to sit back on to your back leg (graphic 2), and then go forwards again into the same Bow stance that you started in (graphic 3).  You can ignore the hand positions.
Having sat back (graphic 2), the energy which has been going backwards needs to reverse, but without going directly forwards along the same ‘line’ that you sat back on.  If you do this, there will, in effect, be a ‘break’ in the movement, i.e. at the exact point where you finish sitting back prior to going forward again.  Trying to do that is like reaching your 90 degree bend in the road and attempting to do an abrupt right angle turn, i.e. missing out the curve of the bend.  The car would roll over.

  • As you start to sit backwards, the back knee gradually bends.  Be stance-bow-with-arrowaware that the direction of ‘flow’ is backwards (in this case), and that movement mustn’t stop – although it might change direction.  You are gradually tilting your pelvis (draw in your abdomen).
  • As you get near to the end of sitting back, think of relaxing the leg you’ve sat back on; you are actually relaxing the hip joint, but it’s easier to think of relaxing the leg.  (This is the right leg in graphic 2). Your pelvis is continuously tilting and ‘tucking under’.stance-empty-with-arrow
  • Soften your shoulders, elbows, (and hips) so that the ‘backwards’ energy/movement drops.
  • Make sure that you are breathing either in or out, it doesn’t matter which.  When you hold your breath the body can only partially relax; apart from anything else, the muscles don’t get the oxygen they need to stay elastic.
  • As you begin to reach the maximum amount that your bent rear knee can comfortably support you, your pelvis has tilted to its full amount.  Then begin to move forwards again.

What is now happening is that the body/centre is no longer moving backwards and forwards along the same horizontal line, it is now creating a circle.