Tag Archives: relaxation

Energy. Why do you need to relax?

Body Efficiency.
The efficiency of the body’s movements largely depends upon how relaxed you are.
Our amazing network of muscle & tendon, of artery & vein, of organs & lymphatic system, and of tissue with its astonishing elasticity, needs to work in a smooth and coordinated fashion for the body to function ‘like clockwork’.

Energy & Water.hosepipe-water
Energy and water move in similar ways. Energy moves through your body in the much the same way that water passes through a hose pipe. Both follow the path of least resistance.hosepipe-twisted
Both the body and a hose pipe can flex. However, if either the body or the hose pipe is bent or twisted beyond a certain amount, the flow of water/energy passing through it begins to meet resistance; the water/energy is squeezed, slowing its passage.

The ‘body hose pipes’.
There are two different points here.  The first is about general tension and stress, which is the one this blog is focusing on.  The second is that, under certain circumstances in martial arts we intentionally ‘bend the hose pipes’ in order to achieve a specific result, e.g. when doing either a hand, elbow, shoulder, knee, or heel strike.

Tension.
In the body, tension in the muscles is the equivalent of over-flexing the hose pipe. Physical/muscular tension or stress squeezes the nerves, reduces movement potential in the joints (by both pulling the joints together and by reducing flexibility), restricts the flow of blood and lymph, reduces breathing (which means that there is less oxygen for the cells, which causes an increase in stress), and reduces both coordination and balance.
In other words, the body’s energy becomes restricted and stops functioning as effectively.old-man

Getting older.
Aspects of this are particularly noticeable in older people where, because of a natural tightening of the tendons with age, the body contracts and starts to fold in on itself.  Often breathing becomes shallower, balance and coordination are compromised, and the flow of blood is reduced and the body feels colder.

Computers.computer-posture
This is also noticeable when we work for too long on computers. Our posture often becomes cramped over, the neck no longer balanced on top of the spine because we are leaning forwards. This in turn compresses the front of the body which reduces breathing, whilst our backs are under stress to support our forward-falling posture.

relaxed-apeRelaxation.
Undoing the series of hose pipes that make up the body will ensure that your tai chi & qigong movements, instead of feeling clumsy, off-balance and heavy, will feel loose and light, coordinated and flowing… unlike this character who’s a little over-relaxed.

Tai chi and qigong classes with James Drewe at http://www.taiji.co.uk/classes. 

Intention… How Effective was your Lobotomy?

Intention.
Nothing much happens without intention. Creation ceases.  The driving force is lost.

Intention 1Our entire lives are directed by our intention; our jobs, interests, hopes, romantic inclinations, relationships, ambitions, aspirations, thoughts, desires, … in fact anything we want to achieve.
As Deepak Chopra said, “Everything that happens in the Universe starts with intention”.
I suspect that you cannot perform even the smallest of acts without it, unless they are ‘fight and flight’ actions triggered by the Sympathetic nervous system…by the reptilian brain.  This must mean that a lobotomy is only partial loss of intention (you can perform a great many actions having had one … apparently).

Unintended outcomes.
Intention 3I know that all of us at some point have said, “I didn’t mean to do that!”, but perhaps we really mean, “I didn’t intend that outcome”.

And there are also degrees of intention.  How much do you want to achieve something? Massively?  Or would it just be nice if it happened, i.e. no real intention?  Or somewhere in between?

How does this relate to tai chi and qigong?
Both tai chi and qigong are to do with understanding the process of constant change (in life), and with creating change (in one’s own life).  By understanding change and by working with it so that change works in a constructive way for you is (to be a bit 60s about it) ‘going with the flow’.
Both taiji ang qigong are driven by intention.

If you want energy to move through the body, if you want to create change, you need the intention to do so.
In tai chi and qigong, you learn to coordinate the body so as to make changes as efficiently and effortlessly as possible, so that it feels physically easy, and as though only the thought produced the result.
When you move in this way, you know without question that your tai chi or qigong movement was correct, that every cog in the mechanism was well oiled and functioning perfectly, … that you got it ‘right’.

Observing.
Without intention we are sitting in life’s armchair watching the show; we are observers.  This is not to say that this is a bad thing, far from it, because in both tai chi and qigong you not Intention 4only need intention, you also need to be an observer – but simultaneously.
You provide yourself with a plan (the intention), and then, because you are so familiar with the movements, you observe yourself achieving it, and move into the feeling.  And yes, plans can change, but this is adaptability, and relates more to 2-person taiji rather than solo work.

All of us are more relaxed when we know where we are going both physically and metaphorically.
Once you have the plan, you can enjoy the journey there.

Tai chi and qigong classes with James Drewe at http://www.taiji.co.uk/classes. 

The Fly & The Bay Window, or Relaxation & Perspective

The headache.Headache
I awoke with a headache a few months ago.  Still lying in bed, I tried to relax the area where I could feel the tension stemming from.

… Partial success.

The fly.
A few days later, I noticed a fly in the room which kept on attempting to get through the middle of the three windows in the bay – which was closed.  The windows at the sides were both open, but it was repeatedly attempting to crash dive the closed one; even though a fly has virtually 360 degree vision, it seemed to have tunnel vision.

fly-angles-2Perspective.
It occurred to me that my headache was also a matter of perspective, and like the fly, I wasn’t taking the over-all view, I was focusing too specifically.

Since then, I’ve had a couple of minor wake up headaches, usually coming from my upper back, and each time I’ve tried the ‘perspective relaxation’ technique, for want of a better name.fly-angles-1

What I should have done.
I put myself into the position of what the fly should have done to achieve its intention.  This was like standing outside yourself, and, with that overview, I was then able to relax a much wider area than just the specific point of pain.
This noticeably reduced the discomfort, as though, by releasing the periphery of the pain, it reduced the core.

Stand outside yourself.
This perspective is like standing 1 or 2 feet outside yourself.  It doesn’t  work if you try to feel and judge the results at the same time.  You need to ‘get outside yourself’, and attempting simultaneously to feel the results only brings you back inside yourself to the place where you experience the discomfort.

Taiji, Qigong, and The Alexander Technique.
If you’ve tried Alexander Technique lessons, you will know about taking in the whole picture as this is the basis of lengthening and widening, and fundamental to the concept of release, or ‘not holding on’.
This ‘openness’ is also fundamental to the movement of energy in tai chi and qigong.

Widening your perspective so that you see your body moving as a whole, and relaxation will ensure that your tai chi & qigong movements, instead of feeling clumsy, off-balance and heavy, will feel loose, coordinated, and flowing.

For details of current classes click here.

Using Qi to produce Movement.

You breathe (hopefully).  Maybe you breathe efficiently, maybe you don’t, but in order to live you obviously need both an ‘in’ and an ‘out’ breath; you must have both.  One breath cannot exist without the other.
You feel the end of an in-breath, and you convert it seamlessly to an out-breath.
But when moving, many people don’t do so in the way that they breathe; they often move as though they’re continuously breathing either out or in.
Breathing is yin and yang. It’s expansion and contraction. It’s tension and relaxation.  It’s the opposites that make our lives function efficiently.  It’s creative.  It’s one of our main connections to the planet and reflects everything that happens on the planet.

Exercise 1a:  Jumping.
1. Bend your knees and then STOP.
2. Without bending your knees any further, not even a millimetre lower, jump in the air.

Impossible?

Exercise 1b:  Jumping.
Now do exactly the same as (1) above, but this time when you do (2) you can allow the knees to bend further in order to leap off the ground.

What did your body do?
During that last small knee bend, prior to jumping, a number of things might have taken place:
1. You dropped a little lower, and then the second before your feet detached from the ground, you might have done an extra tiny knee bend.
2. You probably relaxed your body more.
3. You might also have taken an in-breath.
4. Your shoulders sunk.
5. You probably relaxed your neck.

In fact, this happened:

The ball is you.
And that’s exactly how your body should feel inside when you drop to jump off the floor.  The ball is the internal aspect of you; it’s what it should feel like inside.
Your body is elastic, it can contract/expand, compress/release, it’s flexible, and your nervous system has an infinite capacity for experiencing these aspects.
You are experiencing gravity, and, just before you leap in the air, if only one muscle holds on, you are no longer fully experiencing it, and the body has lost its pliability.
1Ball 22Ball 33Ball 4

This (slightly worrying!) video shows Sumo wrestlers grounding themselves.  Watch what happens to the bodies they ground themselves:

Now watch closely when this high jump video gets to any of the following places:
0:12-0:13, 1:02, 1:18, 1:33, and a good one at 1:55.
The body compresses just before the jump (look at the shoulders), and then see how the body expands – just like the ball did, where the top of the ball extends upwards as it left the ground:

Timing.
The jump exercise above (Exercise 1b) is a matter of ‘timing’.
You experience gravity like the Sumo wrestler, who doesn’t want to become ungrounded, but you ‘catch’ the sensation and make use of it like the high jumper, who does want to become ungrounded.
4Ball 55Ball 66Ball 7

APPLYING IT in TAIJI & QIGONG.

Exercise 2:  Without a step.
A tai chi and qigong move such as the one at the beginning of many tai chi forms is useful to feel the first part of the bouncy ball effect, i.e. when you sit down having just raised the hands.
All you have to do is to experience you body as though it actually is the sinking ball.  In other words, as you bend your knees, every cell of your body should feel as the ball might feel when it hits the ground – if it were sentient, that is; i.e.

  • Empty every cell – not just in your legs, but throughout the entire body.  Feel gravity.
  • Soften your entire body, everything becoming pliable.
  • Stop holding on.
  • Feel the weight of your body.   You can’t feel if you’re holding on.

Exercise 3:  With a step.
The basics are:-

  • Feet together.
  • Bend both knees.
  • Keeping all the weight on one foot, place only the heel of the other foot slightly ahead.

This is the same concept as the first exercise.  It is important that you remember that slight ‘extra’ sinking of the body that you did in the micro-second before leaping off the floor.  This is the moment for the step.  To put it another way, the sinking feel includes the extension of the heel (with no weight on it), and you shouldn’t move the foot ahead until you’ve felt the sinking.
Therefore, the heel moving outwards is the end of the compression of the body; the final moment of the ball spreading over the floor; the conclusion of the sinking.

And finally…
Ball 5After the compression comes the release.

Once again, this is a ‘feeling’ in the body; it’s an internal release, initially in the neck, but then through the spine and passing down through the body.  It’s this release that frees the body for movement.

This is NOT to say that you are going to do taiji and qigong as though you’re on a Pogo stick, bouncing up and down like the ball does.
To repeat what I said above, “The ball is the internal aspect of you; it’s what it should feel like inside.”

Qigong… Why bother?

In the majority of my classes I teach some qigong as a warm-up.
I do this for a number of reasons:-

  • to introduce the various different types of movement (expanding the palate),
  • to loosen the joints (flexibility),
  • to give people some understanding of their internal organs (if only to locate where they are), and
  • to stretch people both metaphorically and physically in ways that they probably don’t usually stretch.

When used as a warm-up, you can’t really go much beyond that.

Qigong isn’t as popular as tai chi at the moment, but it’s starting to go that way.  Tai chi has had plenty of press over the last couple of years to the extent that I have found that more and more doctors and specialists are recommending that their patients take it up.  This is no longer only among the older age groups, it’s spreading to younger age groups, and doctors now appear to be recommending not only tai chi but also qigong.

Why do qigong?
You can get to the same place by doing tai chi alone, but it just takes longer.
You could say that there is qigong in tai chi, but there isn’t necessarily tai chi in qigong.

153b Man exercisingQigong works on the core of what you are trying to do in tai chi.  Some people would say that qigong is easier than tai chi, and in some ways that’s true – often there is less movement involved (although that does depend on the type of qigong you’re doing).

Because there can be less outwardly-obvious movement, qigong works more consciously and immediately on the use of the core (e.g. the lower ‘dantian’, but this could be any of the ‘dantians’), and the spine.
In the case of the lower dantian, movement is initiated here, and all outward movement (the extremities… arms and legs) are a manifestation of that.

This is true for tai chi also, but when people do tai chi, they become involved with where the various limbs are going… ‘left hand up, right hand down’, ‘right foot is turning inwards by 45 degrees, whilst the left elbow is sinking’, or ‘the weight shifting from right foot to left foot and back to right foot…’, and so on.
This is all fine – after all, you’re trying to learn the shape of a set of movements.  Unfortunately and inevitably, it’s very ‘external’, the outside movements are distracting – catching the eye more than the internal movements which are far less obvious, but ultimately far more important.

So in Qigong, we predominantly focus on what’s going on inside, right from the start, and this is the real reason that qigong is taught in a tai chi class… the internal movement should educate the external movement.

Why qigong without tai chi?
When you do qigong as more than just a warm-up, you can go into it in a little more depth. Some of the reasons for learning qigong on its own are:-

  • so that people can experience how the combination of stretch, together with both twisting the sinews, and with breathing, can have a huge impact on both one’s mobility,
  • to increase energy,
  • to improve mental health (relieve stress),
  • to improve circulation,
  • to show how every movement comes from the centre, so that every action, however small, involves (and unifies) the entire body,
  • to feel the concept of ‘Peng’, and how to balance the body,
  • to explain the Eastern concept of medicine and health, how TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) has a different perspective on health to the West, and how this more holistic approach operates in terms of the interconnection and interdependence of the organs in the body, and
  • to explain something about acupuncture points.

Energy
I mentioned the words ‘increase energy’ above.  I think that this applies to all types of qigong, but particularly to Zhan Zhuang Qigong – static qigong, sometimes known as Standing Pole, or Standing like a Tree.
155b Man exercisingThis is perhaps the most demanding type of qigong that I’ve come across, not only physically but mentally.  It requires that you position the body with bent knees and raised arms (not necessarily very high) and simply hold that posture (see the photos above).  Whilst in this posture (and many other similar postures), you relax the body.
When relaxation occurs, it is as though ‘pockets’ of energy, previously trapped, are released, as though the pipelines of the energy plumbing system suddenly become unblocked.
When this happens, it’s as though the energy release is self-perpetuating; it doesn’t simply stop once the system has become balanced, it continues to increase.

Whilst practising this exercise, the mind comes up with the most astonishing number of reasons to stop doing the exercise – too many other things to do, a slight itch that needs scratching, perhaps going for a walk might be better exercise, a remarkable desire to do some cleaning…. anything!
The exercise is starting to sort out the nervous system; it feels very uncomfortable, and the mind will try anything to get out of it.
Click here for further information about ‘Standing Qigong’ (Zhan Zhuang), and other qigong exercises for the organs.

And finally…
It also has an effect on one’s longevity… but finding out about that can be a bit of a wait!


James Drewe runs Qigong classes in both London & Kent.
For details click here, or go to http://www.taiji.co.uk/#!classes/c1jxp


 

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)”.