Tag Archives: spine

Qigong – Why all the Stretching & Twisting?

Leaving aside ‘Standing’ qigong (aka Zhan Zhuang, Standing Pole, Standing Like a Tree , etc.), there are many types of Qigong which are not unlike very short and repetitive Tai Chi Forms.
These exercises quite simply move the body from a static, usually feet-together position, into a particular posture, and then out if it again, not unlike some yoga exercises.

Professor Zhang Guangde’s qigong ‘sets’.
The type of qigong that I am focusing on for the purpose of this blog is Daoyin Yangsheng Gong, compiled and constructed by Professor Zhang Guangde, whom I’ve had the privilege of working with on a couple of occasions in China.
In this type of qigong, there are sets – usually there are 8 or 9 exercises per set, and some of the sets focus on specific organs in the body.  For example there are sets for the Heart, Lungs, Spleen & Stomach, Kidneys, Liver, as well as sets for Diabetes and many ‘General Health’ sets.
Professor Zhang is a TCM practitioner and all of his qigong sets of exercises are based around the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Digestive system qigong.
For example, the set of exercises for the Spleen and Stomach work not only on the spleen and stomach acupuncture meridians but, based on 5 Elements theory, also work on other organs, in particular the Heart and the Lungs.
This isn’t too surprising really, because the organs that pair with the Heart and the Lungs are the Small Intestines and Large Intestines, both of which are part of the digestive system.

The purpose of Daoyin YangSheng Gong.
Because the exercises are based on TCM, they are a wholistic approach to health.  Using the example of the Stomach/Spleen set,  the movements are in fact about balancing all the organs of the body so that they wor
k as a harmonious whole, but with an emphasis on the Digestive system.  One way in which this idea is put into practise is by making use of the theory of 5 Elements  (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) which explains how one organ directly affects or influences another.

How do the exercises work?
By means of twisting, stretching, pulling, pressing, and even hitting the body on specific acupuncture points, energy is moved and redistributed in the body.

A brief intro to ‘5 Element theory’.
To give a brief example using the Spleen/Stomach again, in 5 Elements theory these two organs take the role of ‘Earth’.   The order of the 5 Elements is Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water.  ‘Earth’ lies between ‘Fire’ & ‘Metal’.  ‘Fire’ refers to the functional activity of the Heart and ‘Metal’ to the Lungs.  It is therefore said that ‘Fire’ (Heart/Small Intestine) is the ‘mother’ of ‘Earth’ (Stomach/Spleen), and ‘Metal’ (Lungs/Large Intestine) is the ‘son’ of ‘Earth’.
The logic of all this, which at the end of the day is only a way of explaining and remembering things, is that an over-bearing, over-controlling mother (in this case the Heart) will sap the energy of the child – Stomach/Spleen (taking away the child’s ability to make decisions etc.).  An over-bearing, demanding child (in this case Lungs), will therefore sap it’s mother’s (Stomach/Spleen) strength.

In practical terms.
So, if your Digestive system is weak, it could be because the Heart (mother) is too active, but could also be because the Lungs (son) are too active.  On the other hand, if your Digestive system is too active, it could be because either or both of the Elements on either side are too weak!
This is simplistic (you can see from the diagram that there are other aspects involved), but it demonstrates one use of 5 Elements theory which at root is only a functional model, the aim of which is to understand the energetics of the organs in the body.

Why do qigong?
Apart from the TCM reasons above which are about making the organs work together harmoniously – rather like servicing the engine of your car, Qigong is also about enhancing your body’s potential and ability, as well as being about repairing damage, not only within the organs, but also within the skeletal structure.

And the twisting & stretching?
If you have a wet towel and want to squeeze the water out of it, you roll it up and then twist it.
When you use the same concept with your limbs or body, you achieve exactly the same thing; you move the fluids within the body by compressing the tissues.  Simultaneously, the twisting expands and lengthens the tissues, veins, nerve fibres, lymphatic connections, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia.
You move the blood and lymph, shunting toxins down the pipelines to be squeezed from the body, whilst at the same time, combined with conscious breathing which supplies fresh oxygen to your blood, the renewed blood fills those spaces created by the removal of the toxins.  In TCM, blood and Qi work closely together; it’s not for nothing that we refer to this substance as your ‘life blood’.

It’s not the key to the universe, but then again, if everything is a microcosm, maybe it is!  So keep doing lots of Qigong!
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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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Pulling up Your Undercarriage.

The perineum.
Between the thighs, approximately midway between the genitals and the anus, is the midpoint of the muscles that can be used to help solve a wide variety of health issues.
This is the centre of your pelvic floor, and is important in helping prostate and incontinence problems, as well as problems with some types of hernia and prolapse, and even haemorrhoids.

Feeling it.
If you are unsure where it is, it’s the same muscle you use when trying to stop urination in mid-flow, as well as the one that women practise using both pre- and then postnatally to help the recovery of the pelvic floor.

Anatomical location
The muscle is connected from the front of the pelvis (symphysis pubis) to the tip of the spine and sacrum, and sideways to the lower outside borders of the pelvis (see diagram) – the sitting bones. This is a little basic, but is good enough for our purposes.

The pelvic floor’s function.
It’s function is to hold the bowel, digestive, and reproductive organs in position (intestines, womb, uterus, bladder).  Without it, gravity would allow those organs to drop between the thighs.   It’s the bottom of the shopping bag, and needs to be strong.  It’s important in controlling the bladder and bowels, as well as helping with sexual function and fertility.  It is also important in the relationship between the spine and the pelvis, and when used correctly, can help with back & pelvic pain.  There is also a relationship between correct pelvic floor use and breathing.

Ageing.
We’re all getting older, and incontinence can be a problem for both men and women.   Having good pelvic floor muscle tone can stop that problem by helping with sphincter control, but you have to practise.

But you can also damage the pelvic floor….
Pregnancy and childbirth for women
Straining on the toilet
Chronic coughing
Heavy lifting
High impact exercise
Obesity

A couple of points:
Don’t pull up the undercarriage without breathing, preferably abdominally.
Avoid gripping the gluteal muscles (muscles in the buttocks).

How does this relate to Tai Chi & Qigong?
This group of muscles is constantly used when doing both tai chi & qigong, and closely connected to the pelvic tilt (see previous blog).   When you tilt your pelvis, you simultaneously need to lift the pelvic floor.
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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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Pelvic Tilting and your Health.

What is a pelvic tilt?
Stage 1:
If you put your fingertips on the upper border of your symphysis pubis (pubic bone), and your thumb on your navel, there will be a gap of maybe 4-5 inches (11-12 cms).
If you then try to lift the pubic bone up towards your navel (leaving your navel in the same position), without bending your knees, so that the gap begins to close, you are starting to do a pelvic tilt.

Stage 2:
Without bending the knees, you will reach a point where you can no longer do the pubic bone lift.  By this stage the gap might have narrowed to about 2.5″.
In order to continue to narrow the gap, your knees must now begin to bend, but the most important thing is to continue to lift the pubic bone to narrow the gap between fingertips and thumb (you might be able to narrow it to about 1″), so that the knees are forced to increasingly bend.
In this way it can be seen that in both tai chi and in qigong, the knees bend as a result of the pelvic tilt, and
not because you bend the knees as a separate activity.

How does it affect you?
Amongst other things:

  • More flexibility in the lower (lumbar) spine.  Ultimately, less discomfort, as well as less risk of injury.
  • Improved abdominal activity; the intestines get an internal massage and function more efficiently.
  • Strengthened abdominal muscles; less risk of hernias.
  • Has a knock-on effect on the neck.  Because the lower back starts to free up, over time the neck also changes.
  • When you start to strengthen and operate from your pelvis, other groups of muscles that you were using unnecessarily for specific tasks, in particular your lower back muscles) are freed up.
  • Improved balance due to the centre of the body becoming more mobile and flexible.

Sedentary lives.
As most people lead fairly sedentary lives, the abdominal muscles don’t work for long periods of time.  The result of this is that we start using our lower backs more for jobs for which the abdominals should be responsible.

You tilt the pelvis without realising it.
Every time that you sit down, you do a pelvic tilt; it might not be conscious, but nevertheless it happens.  Most people sit down by first of all bending their knees, and then secondly by adjusting their pelvis as a secondary activity.
Some people sit down by doing a posterior pelvic tilt (see ‘2’), others with an anterior tilt.  Briefly to define the terms (there is some confusion as to which is which), I am using the term ‘posterior’ and ‘anterior’ as in the diagrams.
Sitting down with an anterior tilt (see ‘3’) is not to be recommended as you can jar the spine.

In tai chi & qigong.
In tai chi the posterior tilt and the neutral spinal posture are used all the time; in qigong, both anterior and posterior tilts are used as well as the neutral posture.
Without using a pelvic tilt, however small, your movements are not being initiated by your core; you might refer to this as external tai chi or qigong – it might be moderately good exercise, but it lacks body cohesion or integration (a little like replacing the flour in a cake with sawdust; by the time you’ve iced it, it might look like a beautiful cake, but that’s about all).

Lumbar flexibility.
I have found that most people are not very flexible in the lumbar region, but this doesn’t mean that you cannot become so.  In fact, with practise, it will quickly start to become natural, bringing many benefits to the digestive organs as well as to the spine, your posture, and your balance.
There may be initial discomfort as you start to change things, but it will be worth it.
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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: (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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Putting Backbone Into It (Shadow Boxing)

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).

The Spinal Line (when pushing an object/person).
When working with someone else, or even a static object, the correctly connected line of the spine becomes even more important.
In effect, a force against the body needs to be evenly distributed throughout it, so as to lessen the chance of damage to one part, and the spine is the main method of distribution (like the mains water pipe into the house before distribution to other outlets).

To continue the water analogy, it’s the pressure of the water behind your tap that causes the flow, not the water itself.  So, for example, when shifting a piece of heavy furniture, if you overuse the arms, you can strain them (or the shoulder joints); or if you don’t use the spine correctly, you can hurt your back.  In this example, if you treat the body this way, you’re trying to push water out of the system without backup from the mains.

How do you ‘connect’ the spinal line?
When a you push someone/thing, the force passes
⇒ down your arms,
⇒ through the shoulder joints,
⇒ connects across the bridge of the shoulder girdle to the spine,
⇒ runs down your spine to the pelvis,
⇒ passes sideways via the bridge of the pelvis to the thigh bones (mainly the rear leg thigh bone if you’re in a Bow Stance), and
⇒ travels down the leg(s) to the heel(s). (Depending on what you’re doing, it might then move to the toes, and possibly the tips of the fingers at the other end).

Or is it the other way around?
It’s also arguable that instead of thinking the force starting at your hands, you think of it starting at your rear foot, but because it’s a push, most people don’t think it this way.

Pushing furniture.
You need to move a piece of furniture in the room, and you don’t want to lift it.
You put your hands against the side of it and shove.  If you shove with only your arms they’ll get tired, and you might well hurt your neck and back (probably lower).
To move it, (1) you need to connect yourself to the piece of furniture correctly, (2) you need to push correctly, (3) you need to relax whilst pushing (strangely), and (4) your intention needs to lead you in the right direction.

1) Connect yourself:
You apply a gentle push, without intending to make it the object/person move, and you feel the connection between object and your rear foot.
You are creating an energetic line from rear foot to hands, and the easiest places to ‘break’ that line are at the shoulders and/or lower (lumbar) spine.
If the shoulders are raised, the energy from the push will run up the arms, reach the shoulders, and will then ‘leak’ or be ‘blocked’ at the shoulders; some of it might reach the rear foot, but most of it will be dissipated in the upper body.  You are ‘leaking qi’, which, in effect, means that the pipeline from hands to foot has a hole in it.
Similarly, if you haven’t relaxed your pelvis, allowing the lower spine to settle and release, the energy ‘leaks’ from the lumbar part of the spine, and you will possibly risk straining your lower back.

2) Expand/lengthen your line in an integrated way.
In this instance, expanding means forwards and backwards (‘Every action has an equal and opposite reaction’).
Integrated means that you distribute the force equally through your spine, arms, and rear leg.

3) Relax.
This might seem odd, bearing in mind that your pushing something, but sticking with the pipeline analogy, when you lay pipes, you need to ‘bed’ them correctly; in a long run of pipes, if you only support the two ends, the pipe will gradually start to bow over time, so the pipe needs to be able to rest.
So when pushing your object, connect to the object and feel the floor with the pushing foot, but then try to ’empty’ the middle… rest it.

4) Your intent.
Your intention simply focuses the energy, like shooting at a target.  The more finely you focus, the easier the action is.  Rather like a hosepipe, the finer the nozzle on the end, the further the water will travel.

And the point in relation to Tai Chi and Qigong is?
When you have a force that is pushing you, or conversely you are pushing someone/thing, it’s comparatively easy to feel this.  The challenge is to apply and feel this concept when doing solo tai chi or qigong.  Hence the expression “shadow boxing”.

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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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