Tag Archives: tai chi

Flapping Around in Tai Chi & Qigong.

Copying movements.
When seeing Tai Chi or Qigong for the first time, it appears that all those graceful movements are the result of moving our limbs into the ‘correct’ position.  So in order to learn those arts, we attempt to emulate the movements as precisely as possible.

The art of precision.
I know this because I spent many years being an exponent of this way of learning as precisely as possible:
Make sure you slip your heel to 45 degrees.
Is your wrist precisely level with your shoulder?
Step forward and push your arms ahead of you.
Are your fingertips level with the tip of your nose?
… and so on; in other words, instructions for the body parts.
On the other hand, if you don’t learn that way, it’s very difficult to learn anything; you need a structure to play around with.

Once upon a time…
In the olden days (whatever they are), the teacher would spend weeks on one move only, refining and polishing it until it was as near perfect as possible.  Nowadays students don’t have the patience, they want a ‘product’, something that they can take home with them.
I don’t have a problem with this, but it means changing the method of teaching.  The superficial is taught first, and then honed.

Approaching the matter.
About 8 years ago, I had a student who, having been with me for several years, one day said to me, “You keep on changing it; you used to tell us to do it this way.”
On paper, this makes it sound as though this particular move had become unrecognisable, which of course it hadn’t, but the focus was different, and a movement that she thought that she’d ‘sorted out’ had now become uncomfortably flexible again.

Change.
However, a number of things had happened since she had first learnt the move:
1) Her tai chi had reached the point where the basic shapes weren’t enough, so she needed more information, and
2) My own understanding had developed and I had different ways of explaining things from additional perspectives.
My student also wanted a finished product that she could bag up and take home, which is exactly how I used to think about tai chi;  I had the “there is only one way to do it and this is the correct way” syndrome.
…She eventually left.

It’s the connection.
It’s the Qi connection  that really counts.
Yes, you might to certain extent be able to be precise about the position of arms and legs, but at the end of the day it’s how you are feeling inside that’s the main thing.
This feeling is an over-all sensation of unity.
It’s as though your body were a medieval castle and you need the infrastructure within the walls to be very efficient.  When it’s working well you are protected on all sides effectively.
This has nothing to do with your being tense or hard, more a feeling that the supply lines between all the walls are working smoothly and to maximum efficiency.  (In Tai Chi this includes above you and below you also).

When one part moves…
My rather clumsy castle analogy comes down to the fact that, gradually you become more and more aware of how your body is knitting itself together during the movements.  The result of this is that you’ve never really finished learning tai chi or qigong because there are always new discoveries to be made.
This comes down to the paraphrased saying that “when one part (of you) moves, every part moves”.  Every part knows what the other part is doing; nothing is hanging around waiting.  When something happens in one part of the body, it is reflected in all other parts.  This is the 8 energies and the Principles in practice
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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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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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