Tag Archives: stress

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. 

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.

Energy, Flow, & Learning

Energy
Energy is flow; without flow there is no energy.  A shortage of energy is therefore partly about a lack of flow … i.e. partial stagnation.

The energy industryLucozade
We are  constantly bombarded by energy foods, energy drinks, energy supplements, energy this and that, and exercises and methods to improve our energy.
More often than not, this seems to make the assumption that it’s okay to continue our lifestyle exactly as before, but, by just doing something new, by including a few additional healthy foods or activities, or by simply changing where we live, we can enhance our energy levels.
So, bearing in mind that our bodies are constructed entirely of what we eat and breathe, it might be worthwhile looking at how to reduce one’s supply of energy!

How do you reduce your energy levels?
Apart from the obvious, i.e. stop eating and drinking entirely, try using or cultivating any or all of the following:

  • Food, drinks, and any other substances that the body finds either hard to break down, hard to assimilate, or toxic
  • An excess of absolutely anything and everything (this includes an excess of exercise)
  • Suppression of elimination (e.g. discharge of toxins via sweating, excretion, etc.)
  • Emotional excess or suppression
  • Musculature that lacks tone, yet requires mobilisation
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Poor breathing habits
  • Air quality that causes the lungs to search for oxygen
  • Excess stress
  • Poor quality sleep (due to any of the above)
  • Extreme climatic conditions
  • Fixed attitudes

I realise that there’s a degree of overlap between most of these, and that we hear a lot about most of them, but I’m particularly interested in the last one.  How many times a day do we encounter that cause of stress? Hundreds? Thousands?

Fixed attitudes; inability to change
It’s that second when you find yourself thinking, “I don’t like that!”, or “That can’t be right; it’s not how I’ve done it before”, or “Why did he say that?”, or “That’s no way to behave”, or “What is that person on?”…
This is a major, if not the major, cause of stress.  When we resist something, not only does it persist, itKirlian apple holds us back like an anchor, stopping us from moving on.
I see this happening in myself all the time; I have a fixed idea of how something should be done, and, being instantly biased because I’m judging through a previously accepted set of criteria, find it very difficult to see outside the box.  The very fact that I initially have an opinion makes being open-minded very difficult.

Fixed attitudes & learning
I watch this happen when I’m learning tai chi.
Because I’ve been doing it for 40+ years means that I have a great many pre-conceived ideas of how I should be moving.  I have to consciously switch off what I think I know, so that I can attempt to view with new eyes.  It’s like trying to chew one’s own teeth; you’re using your mind to switch off your mind, whilst simultaneously standing outside yourself to become an observer.
The challenge for me is to catch this moment of lack of acceptance – the moment when I am not being completely open to the new.
If I’m able to catch it, I can see how it solidifies or hardens my attitude, blocking me.
By trying to operate through pre-conceived ideas, I’ve created in myself an energetic dam; I’ve stopped flowing; my inter-meshing with life is compromised; I’ve set myself against my current situation; my ego has got in the way; I’ve stopped learning.

How does this affect tai chi & qigong?
In the martial arts this is referred to as ‘blocking qi’, although this term is usually used to mean a raised shoulder, a tightened pelvis, a locked hip joint, or other problems such as a collapsed neck.
From the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medical) perspective, this blocking of qi causes an imbalance amongst the organs, initially causing loss of energy, and progressing over time to dis-ease, i.e. a lack of ease within the body.

I encounter this all the time, not only when learning, but also when teaching.
I’ve seen some of my students find this very hard, some of them actually leaving.
One student, I particularly remember, left after I’d taught High Pat on Horse slightly differently (as a result of my own lesson with my teacher) saying, “You never used to teach it like that, you’ve changed it.”
She was right; the basic shape of the move was identical, but, not only did it differ in the way that it connected to the moves before and after it, my interpretation of the actual movement had altered to become more circular, more flowing, and more connected to my centre. This was too much for her.
I used to be exactly the same! I wanted it all set in stone – a nice formula, a recipe, so that I ‘knew’ tai chi.

Perspective
To learn though, we have to base learning on something.  I’m not saying that all learning should start from the point of view of a clean slate; it must be built on what we’ve already learnt.
What I am saying is that we should be aware that our perspective on what we have previously learnt will alter, and we shouldn’t be too attached to the ‘old’ perspective.

So why does a ‘fixed attitude’ reduce your energy?
Energy & hose pipes
When teaching, in order to explain how energy functions in the body, I use the analogy of a garden hose pipe.
If, having attached your hose pipe to the tap, you lay it down the length of the garden and then turn the tap on, you get a free flow of water from the end of the pipe.
Hosepipe bentHowever, if there is a bend or kink in the pipe, the flow of water is restricted, and possibly even stopped.

Energy (blood & qi) works in exactly the same in the body; the bend or Muscular spasmkink is tension, whether physical or mental; where there is tension, the flow is restricted.  This could be the acupuncture channels, it could be the blood or nerve supplies, or it could be an ingrained attitude.  Nothing can grow without flow.
The qi is blocked, the water cannot flow in the pipe, the resistance to change (or something different or new) causes tension, and as a result our energy is compromised.

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


 

The Latest Fashion in Exercise

I first started teaching tai chi & qigong in about 1990.  Back then, not so many people knew what tai chi was, and even fewer knew anything about qigong.

However, about 3 years after I started teaching, tai chi went through a massive upsurge in popularity, and suddenly, after having beginners classes with only 5-8 beginners, I suddenly had classes with 20 or more beginners.  In fact there was one term when I had 40 beginners and had to rent the theatre at RADA Studios for the ‘trial’ class before splitting into 2 groups!  But the fashion in exercise constantly moves, and after 2 or 3 years of packed classes, all of a sudden the fashion had moved on to something else.

I found this hard to understand at first; it is such a brilliantly designed form of exercise.
138 - Exercise Park (Man stretching!)40 years from when I began it, I am still constantly amazed at the subtlety and the ingenuity of its structure and design, and the depths of understanding that the Chinese must have had, and still have, in working out its principles that enable it to operate so effortlessly and with such powerful results, not only martially but also health-wise.  The latter refers to the way that the entire system is integrated with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), so that tai chi, qigong, and TCM support and build upon the strengths of each other.

Yoga has always been in the limelight, but we have seen the fashion spotlight focusing on Zumba, Pilates, Military Fitness, and it’s just moving to Ballet Barre workout.
Osteopaths I have spoken to are keen on these other forms of fitness, purely for cynical reasons; the exercise brings them a lot of business.
Often the teachers don’t appear to be very well trained ….. it’s a fashion, so there isn’t time to get any deep understanding, and, generally in the West, our culture encourages impatience and fast results.  Therefore, the students are allowed to overdo it, pulling and straining muscles, overworking body parts that were quite content being dormant before being nudged to wake up a little too abruptly.

I must admit that it surprised me when I heard this about Pilates; obviously there are well-trained teachers out there, but I suppose that it’s not a lot different to someone taking a term’s tai chi lessons and then setting up their own class.  It happens, unfortunately, and the beginner doesn’t know any better.

Maybe the instant result package works for some, but it always strikes me that it’s a bit like brushing your teeth, or some other mundane daily task, where all you want is a result and the actual process is a bit irrelevant, and perhaps something to be endured.  No wonder people don’t stick to it; working for an end result means not enjoying the journey.

156 Man exercising taijiWhat I particularly enjoy about tai chi and qigong is that there’s a continuous growth in understanding about how the body works, what makes it work more efficiently, and how to make it move so seamlessly that it feels as though it’s moving itself.
I spend ages trying to teach this to my students.  I’m not saying that I  always get it right myself, I don’t, but when I do, I’m always amazed at the perfection of the movement, how the body worked in perfect unity, and how, when you’ve moved into a new position correctly, it almost feels as though you haven’t moved…. and in a sense you haven’t, because it’s you in the middle acting harmoniously.
Pretentious?  Probably, but language has always been a bit inadequate at describing how one feels about an experience.

However, in spite of Ballet Barre workout, I have noticed that the wind has changed direction slightly, and tai chi is just beginning to catch the breeze again.  Even the medical profession is referring patients to take up tai chi.  I am now getting several students every term who have been told by their doctors specifically to take up tai chi.  The Western medical profession is beginning, at last, to catch up with the Chinese medical profession and realise how astonishingly good, how amazingly versatile, how incredibly adaptable this exercise is.
236 WuShu TeamIt works well for people of all ages, from 5 to 100+ years old, and you can take it on any level you like: it exercises not only the body but also the mind, and you can go into into its depths or not as you wish and still get something from it.  You can use it as a meditation, or as a martial art, or just for some plain exercise, or to build up energy, to strengthen muscles, to relieve stress, to slow the heart rate, to improve breathing, to improve coordination, to help balance, to prevent falls in the elderly, to help with arthritis … and on and on.  And even if you chose to do it for only one of these reasons, you’ll get the benefit of all the other reasons anyway, whether you want them or not!

So what about qigong?
The majority haven’t caught up with this yet, and the Western medical profession still seems to know little about it.  I find this slightly odd, because surely the medical profession is aware of what goes on within the Chinese medical profession, where Western medicine, acupuncture, massage therapy, and qigong are used alongside each other, each supporting the other.
Qigong is taking its time, although I think that eventually, not so long from now, it will find a place that is on a par with yoga.