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.
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’.
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.
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.
Phone: 07836-710281 or 020-8883 3308