Tag Archives: sinking

What is ‘Hollowing the Chest’ in Tai Chi & Qigong?

Connecting movements in tai chi & qigong.
Particularly in tai chi, but also in some moving Qigong sets, there comes a moment when you need to connect one change of body position to another, e.g. a sitting back movement which changes to a sideways or forwards movement.
To do so, most people apply pressure with one leg in order to push the torso into the new position.
The result is a mechanical body action which only uses very specific muscles in the pelvis and thighs – the rest of the body isn’t involved.

Sitting back.
1) Sitting back is accomplished by the pelvis.  As you sit back, you need a pelvic tilt which is timed a) to initiate the sitting back and b) to complete only at the moment when you start to move forwards again.
2) As you get near to the end of sitting back, you need to allow the energy in the upper torso (chest, upper back, etc.) to settle and sink.  This is known as ‘hollowing the chest’ and is achieved by letting the breastbone ‘melt’, settle, relax or release, as though it it a river running down the front to the ‘centre’ (core, hara, dant’ien).

When you do this, it smooths the transition between sitting back and moving forwards; deep inside you it feels as though the body is creating a circle, which is exactly what is happening – your centre is rotating.  When the core or hub of the wheel rotates, the outside of the wheel moves at a speed relative to its distance from the hub.

Moving your energy.
If you try to jump off the floor, what happens in the winding up process prior to the jump – in slow motion – is that, by bending your knees, you pull the pelvis downwards, and then the upper body follows.
Your legs are like springs, and as the legs start to compress, the lower part of you (legs and hips) starts to build up pressure.  As the ‘pressure’ of the compression increases, it begins to slow, and the middle of the body joins in the compression, starting to catch up and going to join the compression in the legs.

It’s rather like a ‘slinky’, in that the top follows fractionally later.  If you observe what happens next, you’ll then find that the upper body (shoulders, chest and upper back) follow towards the end, with the head last of all.  In effect, the body has now ‘loaded up’ for the jump.
The crucial thing here is that the upper body is the last thing the sink.

Try jumping!
This is easily tested: Try jumping off the floor, but before doing so, hunch your shoulders firmly up by your ears and leave them there whilst jumping.  You can still do the jump, but it’s not nearly so effective.  Then try doing the same but relax your shoulders.
We do this every time we walk: When placing a foot ahead of us to walk and moving the weight on to it, the pelvis sinks into the advancing foot followed by the shoulders and head.  As we push off the toes to take the next step, we are, in a microcosmic way, jumping; the crown rises followed by the shoulders and hips, etc.  In a way, the body is ‘bouncing’ along.

The principle.
Whether you are sitting back on to your rear foot prior to moving your weight on to your front foot (as in a bow stance), or jumping off the floor, the principle of movement is the same.  When you are about to step or jump, you are loading up one leg in order to move forward, or loading up both legs in order to jump off the floor. The last thing to release in the sinking process is the upper body.

To summarise…
So as you sit back, soften your chest and shoulders just before moving forwards or jumping, having a feeling of the breastbone and front of the chest almost liquefying or melting and running downwards to your centre. This releases the energy in the upper part of your body which can then ground or earth itself prior to moving either forwards (Bow stance), sideways, or upwards (jumping).
This is about feeling what goes on inside… looking inside yourself and becoming an observer.

Connecting movements.
The result of putting this into practise is that movements of the body are smoothly connected – I’m not referring to the movements of the limbs here, although they are undoubtedly affected when you put this into practise.
Without it, you are mainly using leg muscle to push yourself forwards and backwards.
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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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How on Earth do you ‘Relax’?

Relaxation v. De-stressing.
You might think that relaxation is the same thing as de-stressing,  but there’s a difference.  De-stressing can use a variety of techniques that don’t necessarily involve relaxation of muscles.

It’s relative.
How relaxed you are is a relative matter; perhaps there’s an ultimate, but it’s always in comparison to either how you were before, or to how someone else is.

 

 

 

How is ‘relax’ defined?

  • The state of body and mind being free from tension and anxiety.
  • A loosening or slackening.
  • The lengthening of inactive muscle or muscle fibres.
  • Returning to a state of equilibrium having been displaced from it.
  • A form of mild ecstasy coming from the frontal lobe of the brain.

Other applicable words:
•  Letting go
•  Undoing
•  Loosening
•  Releasing
•  Softening
•  Sinking
•  De-stressing
•  Settling
•  Song 松 (Chin.)

You can always relax more.
It’s quite astonishing how much more you can relax your body.  You think you’ve reached the full extent, and then someone rests their hands very softly and gently on, for example, your shoulders, and you find there’s more to go.  I’ve seen it in the people I teach, and I’ve experienced it myself many times.

Why’s it so hard?
You have to become an observer to relax; to experience your body you have to ‘stand outside yourself’.  That’s the relative or comparative part – you need perspective.  In order to make this comparison, you produce a memory of when you felt more relaxed, which you then put alongside how you currently feel, and measure them against each other.  This ‘standing outside yourself’ lasts for the briefest of moments.
You can only ever work within the field of your personal experience of relaxation – you can’t experience someone else’s sense of relaxation.  It’s therefore what you might call ‘personally-comparative’; when relaxing, you are aiming to be more relaxed than you were a moment ago.

Physical technique.
1) Make fist and squeeze it as tightly as you can.  Let go of it and observe the sensation of release.

Perspective.
2) Change the perspective on your body.  At this moment, whilst you reading this, you might think that you’re relaxed, but perhaps you’re only semi-relaxed.  Try relaxing every inch of you from scalp to feet.

Imagery
3) It doesn’t work for everyone, but for some people imagery can help, e.g. looking at a picture and imagining that you’re there.  But even that must be based on memory.  In this picture, if something disastrous had happened on the beach, you possibly wouldn’t feel so relaxed.

Visualisation.
4) Think of your shoulder, imagining a finger very gently pushing into the muscles on the top.  Try allowing that imaginary finger right in, so that you feel no discomfort.  You might have felt a slackening or undoing in that shoulder.

Breathing.
5) When you breathe, the muscles in the chest, and also in the abdomen ideally, are compelled to stretch and then release.  This is an all-body version of the finger-in-the-shoulder exercise above.  In the above imagery exercise, you were stretching and then releasing one muscle; when breathing, hundreds of muscles are involved.
So you can use conscious breathing as a very useful tool for both muscular and mental relaxation.

 

At the end of the day, it all comes back to this.

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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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Song Yao / Kai Kua

Further to the previous blog…
Song Yao” = Release the waist (see previous blog on ‘Song’).
Kai Kua” = Open the Kua, or inguinal region on the front of the pelvis.

Yao’ in this case refers specifically to the back of the waist (exactly as in the previous blog).
Kua’ refers to the area on each side of the hips where the legs join the pelvis at the front of the body – the ‘Inguinal Groove’.  To feel it, do a semi-squat (it doesn’t have to be very deep), and then open your knees sideways.

Open the knees (or Kua).
The under-rotation of the pelvis cannot work very effectively without the Kua opening.  This is easy to feel if you try the opposite… Try tucking the tip of your tailbone (coccyx) further under, but simultaneously squeeze your knees together.
Once you’ve felt how awkward that is, you know to consciously open the knees gently as you release the back (Song Yao), tucking under as a result, – although it’s better to think of it as the Kua, rather than the knees, opening.

Avoiding ‘collapsing knee’ syndrome.
This means that whether you are in a Bow stance (with the weight on the forward leg as in the photos), or sitting back on to your rear leg (Empty stance), you need to ensure that the Kua opens. In a Bow stance it will be the Kua on the back leg in particular, and in the Empty stance, it will be the Kua on the front leg.
This avoids the collapsing knee syndrome (as in the photo on the right) that is so common amongst beginners practising tai chi and qigong.

Whatever posture you’re in…
… when you pelvic tilt (Song Yao), always release the front of the pelvis (Kai Kua).
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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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Sinking your Boat: (4) Results.


Balance.

Your balance should improve as you lower your centre of gravity.  This applies to all ages, sizes, and heights, but in particular to older people.
One of the reasons for falls in older people is that, because of the fear of falling, they raise their centre of gravity.

Posture.
If you constantly try to sink your boat, your posture will improve, and if you have back problems, sinking your hull will almost definitely help relieve those problems.

Why?
Because, when you sink your boat, your pelvis releases and softens,
     ⇒  which means that the angle of your pelvis alters,
     ⇒  which means that the alignment of your spine alters,
     ⇒  which means that your lumbar spine changes position and your vertebrae cease compressing and open slightly, and a release takes place,
     ⇒  which means that you stop clenching your buttocks,
     ⇒  which means that the internal muscles within your pelvis relax and stop trying 1) to draw the left and right sides of the pelvis together like a tightening horizontal elastic band, and 2) to draw the spine and legs together like a tightening vertical elastic band,
     ⇒  which means that there is more space for your internal organs within the pelvis,
     ⇒  which means that the front of your pelvis lifts slightly,
     ⇒  which means that the front of the body, up to and including both the sternum and the shoulders, softens and releases, allowing your shoulders to settle,
     ⇒  which means that the rib cage relaxes, your lung capacity increases, and your breathing improves which directly affect both your nervous system and your cardiovascular system,
     ⇒  which means that the mobility of your ribs is increased directly affecting your thoracic spine,
     ⇒  which means that your shoulder blades soften and sink,
     ⇒  which means that your pelvis relaxes even more at the back ……

And we have a series of events where one event influences the next.  Being cyclical, every start to the next cycle is an improvement on the previous one… and on, and on, and on…
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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 your Boat: (3) Practising Scuttling.

Practising.
Practising the art of sinking is essential; it’s not going to happen on its own.

When?
The good thing is that you can practise it all the time, whilst doing anything – lying down, standing, walking, cooking, sitting, gardening… etc.

Walking.
Walking is a very good way to practise it, the knack is not to try it every step you take.  At first try doing it with only one foot, or for example, every 4th step.

Practising boat scuttling.
Step forward, and as you put pressure on to the forward foot, sink your hull (your hip/pelvis), in particular into the same side as the stepping foot.  When you do this, it can feel a little as though you are lengthening the body.  The most important part is that you feel the hip and lower back settling into the foot.  As you do it, you might have a sensation of the crown rising gently, but this is not something to ‘try’ to achieve – if it happens, it happens.
In effect you are ‘lengthening your spine’ but with no intentional stretching.
This the Alexander Technique.


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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 your Boat: (2) Above the Waterline.

Above the hull is the equipment that makes the sailing boat functional – mast & boom, shrouds & sails, sheets & cleats, and a burgee if you have one.
This is your upper torso.

But first of all…
When you sink your hull/keel, bear in mind that there is an upward pressure of the water.
As you now stand or sit, first of all let yourself sink (the hull), but then experience what the upward pressure of the water would feel like.
You might notice a lifting – almost a lightening – internally.  It’s this that makes the above-deck equipment able to function.  
If, however, you try to make this feeling happen, you will have stopped sinking the hull, and will have started to ‘do’, rather than ‘un-do’.

The rigging
The mast (spine) supports most of these bits of above-deck equipment – the shrouds (arms), the burgee (tiny head!), the sails, (torso – chest/back/rib cage); and the spreader (in the diagram) is a little like your shoulders running from port to starboard.  The boat in the picture even has trapezius muscles running upwards from the ends of the spreader to the top of the mast.

The mast
Your spine tries to sink to the bottom of the sea, but simultaneously it is pushing upwards to support the downwards pull of everything else (sails, rigging, boom, etc.).  If it isn’t strong enough, it will buckle or snap in the first wind that it encounters.  It needs to be strong enough to deal with the functions of all the other parts.

For the mast to be effective and efficient, the base of the mast needs to nestle into the hull of the boat. This is exactly the same as the relationship between your pelvis and your spine.

So whilst reading this, settle the base of your spine into your pelvis, noticing how the relationship between the two changes.
As you allow the water to ‘lift’ your hull, you may find that the spine alters shape, and that your head needs to readjust itself.

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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 your Boat: (1) The Hull.

Behaving like a boat.
Your body has a keel and a mast.  The question is, how do you experience it?

The hull & keel.
This is your pelvis and your legs.  When a boat sits in water, it tries to sink to the bottom of the sea, it has no intention of floating.  The challenge for us is to try to emulate that sensation; okay, we’re not in the sea, but we’re constantly (and subconsciously) trying to sink towards the core of the planet.
But, by and large we don’t, we try to ‘float’ across the surface of the planet like the wind. We become ungrounded.

Feel it.
To experience your hull, you have to put yourself in the position of feeling exactly how you would ‘feel’ if you were the hull of a boat.  If you don’t feel it, then it’s all conceptual – all in your head.
So, if your pelvis were the hull of the boat, with your legs reaching down into the water (the keel), how heavy would you feel as you attempted to sink to the bottom?  Your upper body, everything else from the waist up, would be the contents of the boat, the deck, shrouds, rigging, sails, etc.
You could still rock from side to side, or forwards and backwards, you could still turn and twist, but all of those upper movements would be coming from a stable platform.
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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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