Tag Archives: taiji

Tai Chi, Qigong, & the Immune System.

Topical.
There’s plenty of research on the effect that tai chi and qigong have on the immune system.

If you’re interested, I have put a number of articles on to the tai chi website here which discuss those benefits, particularly in relation to the immune system.  This is only a few though, and by searching for something along the lines of ‘medical research in tai chi (or qigong) and the immune system’, I’m sure you will come up with many more.

If you haven’t already seen it, you might also enjoy 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.

CONTACT:
http://www.taiji.co.uk
https://www.qigonghealth.co.uk
Email: taijiandqigong@gmail.com
Phone: 07836-710281 or 020-8883 3308

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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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Ting (listening) in Tai Chi & Qigong.

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.

Feeling it…
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’.

A conversation.
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.
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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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Change in Taiji & Qigong

Going with the ups & the downs.
How do you ‘convert’ one movement to another in Tai Chi or Qigong?
Perhaps, if I can understand these changes, for example, when the body starts to move back when it’s been going forwards, or turns left when it’s been turning right, I’ll be able to use it as a tool to understand the way in which I deal with change in my everyday life.  So, if I can make sense of that transition in Tai Chi and understand how to make it feel unforced and comfortable, with a sense of liquidity, I hope to be able to apply those principles to the changes of everyday existence, and get life’s unexpected alterations to work more smoothly.

Changing from Yin to Yang; what is ‘change’?
At some stage, energy will always alter to its opposite.Energy Black Hole
I’m a little concerned about this statement, particularly as in a recent discussion with someone, he said that consciousness always expands… although I can’t see how you can have a separate rule for consciousness.  However, for the moment, leaving consciousness out of the equation, this is essentially about the finite points of duality.

  • When the universe has reached its furthest point of expansion, it will start to contract.
  • When summer has run its course, autumn takes over.
  • When a human has grown to his/her full size, he/she will start to shrink.
  • When you’ve finished breathing in, you have to breathe out.
  • You cannot always cycle downhill; at some point you’re going to have to go uphill.
  • One bacterium, amoeba, mollusk, insect, fish, or animal gives up its life to prolong the life of another.

… and so on; everything ultimately degenerates and turns back into earth (given enough time, again) – more food for the bacteria, which will produce the next plant, etc.

So, to repeat… Energy alters to its opposite at some stage, this being one aspect of the concept of Yin and Yang.

How can we feel this change in taiji & qigong?
When performing taiji/qigong, some people do not really ‘finish’ a move, i.e. don’t allow a move to reach its natural conclusion.  They might do a forward movement, stop, do the next (backward) movement, stop, then the next, stop, etc., etc.  Even if they don’t ‘stop’, there is a break in the ‘flow’ of the movement.
By ‘natural’ I mean that first of all they aren’t feeling where and how a movement naturally changes into the next movement.  Yes, they do the movements in the right order, but the movements are almost mechanical, and are coming from the head and not from any sense of awareness of body elasticity.

What does this mean in real terms?
To experience this, breathe in, and before finishing the in breath, breathe out, and then again before finishing the out breath, breathe in… etc.  The whole process becomes forced with your taking excessive control of your respiration.

So how do you breathe with fluidity, sensitivity, and awareness?
You don’t control it, you become an observer and you feel.  I’m not saying that you can’t control it, but the respiratory system tends to work better when you leave it alone, especially when you observe where the in or out breaths naturally end.
When you do this, there is an internal softening; no tightening occurs in the tissues, and perfect fluidity is achieved.

The basic exercise.
First of all you need to find this ‘point of change’.  Finding this feeling of change is very easy; all you need is a movement that is simple, but is absolutely clear as to where its energy ‘runs out’, leaving no option other than either to stagnate, or to change into its opposite.

This is a very simple exercise; it’s sole aim at this stage is to show (as far as is possible) the extremes of Yin & Yang.
24move-50Start in Bow stance (photo 1), and sit back into an Empty stance (photo 2).  How far can you go back before you fall over backwards?
You reach the point where you have no other option than to either go forwards again, or to stop completely (assuming that you don’t want to fall backwards), i.e. stagnate.
If you do this slowly, towards the end of sitting back, you can feel the backwards potential of the movement literally running out… becoming weaker and weaker (more and more ‘Yin’), 24move-515until you have to convert it to the yang movement (moving forwards into the Bow stance) yet again.
You can do the same when moving forwards into a Bow stance, (either allowing the body to lean or not, it doesn’t matter).

In other words, you reach the end of a movement, and there is no choice other than to go back to where you began.
It’s only an exercise with the sole intention of demonstrating one idea.

Experiencing the moment of change too abruptly.
So then there’s the opposite where, in effect, you mistime the change.
You’re arguing with someone and suddenly realise that you’ve totally missed the point.
You drive round a 90 degree bend too fast.
You’re not watching the temperature of the chocolate that you’re tempering and take it 2 degrees too high, destroying the beta crystals.
You don’t feel the wind direction when sailing, and accidentally, and forcefully, jibe.
In other words, we experience everything differently if it catches us unawares.  If we’re watching, everything tends to go more smoothly.

The moment of change. 
So how do you create gentle and appropriate change? How do you convert that moment at a party when you’re talking to someone and have exhausted all the mutual topics and you can’t see a polite way out?
The moment of change of any kind needs a softening and a considerable amount of awareness and sensitivity. In Taiji and in Qigong, you need to feel this change with your whole body; there is no jarring in the change.  [This is one of the reasons for doing some pushing hands in a class; when you first begin to do partner work, you can really discover your own clumsiness – something that is much harder to feel when doing solo taiji].

The sensitive gardener.
This sensitivity is similar to that required when pulling an unwanted weed out of a flowerbed.  You can’t pull hard, and you can’t pull too softly; you have to try to feel the weed, right to the bottom of its roots as you pull.
The same applies when doing Tai Chi moving from one position to another.
We’re all familiar with the Chinese method of teaching Taiji or Qigong by number:

  1. Raise your hands to shoulder-height
  2. Bend your knees lowering your arms… etc.

The silk thread connection.
But the sensitive moment – the change, takes place where ‘2’ takes over from ‘1’ (or ‘1’ gives way to ‘2’). It requires softening, release, and Song (see previous blogs: 1, 2, & 3 -part 2), and needs to be achieved with such fluidity and smoothness that, instead of two movements, there is in fact only one, with the apex of movement 1 feeling as though it’s ‘melting’, ‘transmuting’, or ‘metamorphosing’ into movement 2. The move described above might look like a vertical line that rises and falls, but inside it there is the feeling of a circle.

But you experience it several times a minute every day. 
We all know this really, you only have to breathe normally to see it.  When you’ve finished breathing out, you don’t suddenly breathe in, you automatically find the apnea of the breath – that moment when it’s slightly unclear as to whether you’re still breathing out or you’ve started to breathe in, almost as though you’ve stopped breathing, but you haven’t.  It’s a resting, a gentle loading up (or releasing?) of the spring, in archery it’s the moment when you ‘become one’ with your target, it’s the moment of focus and meditation.

No I only have to work out how to apply it to the rest of my life.
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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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Practise, Repetition, & Questions.

Who practises?
I guess that most people don’t practise the exercises.  For the majority it’s enough to come to a class once a week, and have a reminder of the moves.  Fair enough… everyone who does tai chi or qigong does them for any number of reasons, and if it’s for a social reason, or just to get out of the house, then the once a week class is all you need.
However, if you want a bit more than that, even a small amount of practise will go a very long way, even if it’s only to keep you in the right mindset.

Practise & repetition.
The point of practise is to ingrain habits that enable you to move beyond the movements themselves.  It’s astonishing how your brain can learn and remember patterns of stretch and contraction – not just a single muscle, but you can remember how the entire muscular structure feels in relation to other muscles whilst undergoing a particular movement.  Yes, sometimes you might learn bad habits, but they can be corrected if you understand that practising is not a chore but is there to move you beyond your norm.

Your ‘norm’.
By this I mean the way that you usually make your body move, sit, stand, function.  This is the way that your habits of, for example, tensing one muscle unnecessarily when using another, are constantly repeated, so much so that it feels strange when you break the habit – the most common of these probably being the way that we use our shoulders, or our lower backs.
Practising will have effect of your ‘owning’ the new way of using your body; it’s the art of breaking habits, or changing your norm.

What is practising?
Practising is ‘intelligent repetition’.
What this does NOT mean is going over the whole tai chi or qigong sequence or set (this is the same as not playing the entire piano piece, playing all 18 holes of the golf course, or only playing a complete game of tennis) from beginning to end every time.
What this DOES mean is that you find the movement that feels awkward and is constantly giving you a problem and work on that part specifically.
If you only go through the Form from beginning to end, you end up repeating or fudging the same problems simply in order to get to the end.  Of course, if your aim is just to get the shape of the set of movements, then that’s a different matter.

Practising is Intelligent Repetition.
In other words there is a focal point to the practise.
Intelligent repetition is not a case of “throw enough mud at the wall and some will stick”, nor is it, “if I do 15 or 30 minutes every day, I’ll improve, irrespective of how much I concentrate”.
You might as well watch TV at the same time!
You find the problem (this might only be the bit where you have to think harder, or it could be the bit where the coordination slows you down) and you then dissect it, working on very small parts of it at a time.  A session of intelligent repetition will probably mean that you never get around to doing the whole sequence.
Intelligent repetition is the way to change things rather than repeating the same mistakes time after time.

Questions are great!
One of the interesting things about practising is that when you get it into your schedule, you start to find questions about what you’re doing.  Sometimes you find the answers to those questions simply through practising, and if not, you have a question for the next class.
I know that people don’t like to ask questions when in a group, but I like questions in a class, the more the better.
First of all, you can almost guarantee that if someone’s asking a question about something, someone else has the same question, or a slight variation.
Secondly, even if the same question is asked on several consecutive classes, the answer will never be the same; everyone has moved on from their previous norm, so a development of the answer will be necessary.
Thirdly, although I write a lesson plan for every class, the best classes are nearly always when someone unexpectedly asks a question in the class.  When this happens, the planned structure of the lesson immediately alters dramatically, and the lesson plan goes out of the window.
Fourthly, when someone asks a question, the group takes ownership of the class content, and immediately becomes more involved.

I can’t remember what to practice… It’s gone!
After a class, the knack is to practise anything that you can remember.
When you do so, sometimes other bits start to come back, and in your head you move back into the class where you learnt it.  If they don’t come back, it’s not a big deal; you’ve got your head into the right space, and are starting to take ownership of the material.

I might practise it the wrong way.
My own view is that this doesn’t matter; you can sort it out when you come to the next lesson, as long as you keep an open mind.  The act of practising, even incorrectly, brings you closer to what you’re trying to learn, and you’ll correct it all the more easily.  NOT practising moves you nowhere!

Finding time.
This is one of the big stumbling blocks; there’s always something which needs to be done first.
I suppose that, like dieting, you’ve got to really want to do it..
Once you’ve begun a routine of practising where you feel that, if you don’t, you’re letting yourself down, then you’re on your way.

For me, the best way to start was to borrow a couple of minutes from my usual schedule by getting out of bed before everyone else.  There were no distractions, and I wasn’t eating into my usual routine (or practising on a full stomach).  I know that for some people this doesn’t work whereas putting it into the diary at a specific time works better.

Find a way if you can… It will pay dividends.
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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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Revolving Doors

Revolving doors work because they have perfect central equilibrium, and therefore use minimum energy.
Gravity settles them into their single pivotal point, and because they’re perfectly balanced both vertically and horizontally, rotation is a smooth and effortless event.

In movement, we are aiming, as far as possible, to emulate that feeling, noticing that when one side of us turns one way, the other side turns the other way, and that each side of us is perfectly balanced.  In other words, we are trying to feel the whole of our personal universe revolving in space whilst being subject to gravity.

“For every action there is …”
Tai chi and qigong are Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion in action. Usually we only notice the most obvious limb doing some work, forgetting about the rest of our body, but when doing Tai Chi or Qigong we are trying to be aware of all sides of our body simultaneously.  We are looking for perfect architectural balance.

Getting it.
And then, once in a while you ‘get it’, and you know that you’ve ‘got it’.  You don’t forget that feeling of perfection in movement, and you attempt to find it again and again.  Everything worked beautifully – your movement was light and easy, you felt totally grounded, your balance was superb, and you just know that your personal universe functioned exactly as it should do.  The movement took no effort and felt seamless and unified.  All those separate instructions for arms, legs, hands, feet, & body blurred into one like pieces of a 3-dimensional jigsaw.
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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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Tai Chi, The Arts, Intention and Interpretation.

Speaking.
When speaking, you speak in phrases.
If you take a phrase like, “Don’t you know what I want?”, by putting the stress on different words, it starts to take on different meanings – in fact you can repeat that 6 word question 6 times, stressing a different word each time, and you have 6 slightly different sentences.
If you then apply different emotions to the same words, saying it, for example, in a sad, laughing, amused, angry, aggressive, or bored way and you have more ‘meanings’.
Altering the speed at which you say the whole sentence changes it slightly yet again, and saying one part of the sentence slower than another part (e.g. “Don’t you know …what …I …mean?” alters it yet again.
These are aspects of language that we all do automatically and we’re very skilled at it; little thought is required, we’re highly practised because we’re always speaking.

The same has to be true for other aspects of our lives, speech is not the only way of expressing ourselves.  Artists, dancers and craftsmen have their way, and musicians have a way that perhaps is closest to speech because it involves sound.

Music & Tai Chi.
One of the most difficult things to teach is interpretation.  First of all it requires that the practitioner has the same skill with the subject (tai chi, art, carpentry, music) as he has with his own voice and use of language.  This takes a great deal of time and patience – it takes us years to learn to speak well.
In music, most people never get beyond the stage of being able to play the notes, (perhaps in carpentry this translates as ‘make a basic shape with a piece of wood’, or in tai chi ‘remember which move follows which in a routine’, or with poetry recitation, ‘learn the words of the poem to be recited’), because the next stage requires interpretation, which comes out of confidence in the underlying basic skill.

Intention & Interpretation.
Your intention defines what you are trying  to say, whether in movement, sound, wood, clay, stone, metal, or speech.  For example, when talking, you have an intention – you are expressing an idea or a thought which will promote further thoughts or actions; it’s not an aimless jumble of words that comes out of you without any idea of what you’re trying to express.

In music, the composer’s intention is to guide your emotions via a musical phrase (possibly melodic, harmonic, or by the use of orchestration).  With music which is only ever recorded, i.e. most rock or pop music (with some exceptions, and generally people only want a repeat of how it sounded when recorded), this is a fixed event; no other interpretation is available (except for cover versions).  However in both classical and jazz music, after the original written version is produced, interpretation starts to play a very important role.

Interpretation is the ‘living’ part of whatever you say or do.  It defines the meaning and can be instantly changed mid-flow to fit the situation of that precise moment.  Some might argue that it is the actual connection with Life itself; it is you being completely ‘in the moment’.

Tai Chi & Interpretation.
In music, as you play a piece, and in particular when you improvise, whatever you feel is produced through your fingers. The attached video clip has similarities to conducting.
In tai chi, the same is true, although the expression of the movement comes out through the entire body (arguably the same with music).  So if you are feeling joyful, tense, lethargic, calm, angry, sad, aggressive, bored, tired, or fed up, this will show in the outer movements.
In tai chi you are attempting to be ‘open’ and allow the universe to be expressed through you (as in music and all the Arts, in fact the same is probably true for the sciences and… well, everything).  Is this concept – i.e. your being a vessel of the universe’s expression – a conflict with the idea of interpretation?  Probably not; maybe the fact that it’s coming through an individualised human being is a bit like the shape of a clay pot being enhanced by a particular glaze?
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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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Stress.

Stress.
There are many reasons for stress.  What stresses one person might to another be a positive drive to action.
You would possibly think that de-stressing is about relaxation, but there are many techniques for de-stressing that have little to do with relaxation and more to do with distraction.’

The parasympathetic nervous system.
To begin with, stress is connected to the state of your autonomic nervous system, a system that is divided into the ‘parasympathetic’ and the ‘sympathetic’ nervous systems.
The parasympathetic system is your functional system which regulates your everyday bodily activities (blood supply, breathing, digestion, elimination); this carries on without your involvement, although you can control certain aspects of it.

The sympathetic nervous system.
Your sympathetic nervous system becomes active in cases of emergency.  If something happens that is potentially life-threatening, many of your body’s processes are temporarily either slowed or shut down, and an increased supply of glucose goes to the brain (whilst its access to the cells of the body is blocked – ‘insulin resistance’) in order to deal with the situation that has arisen.  In other words, the brain needs the glucose boost temporarily to find a rapid solution to the emergency.

And after the emergency…
The problems begin when the sympathetic nervous system, having dealt with the emergency, doesn’t settle down again and continues to over-function; this could be because of problems at work, at home, or with life generally.  When this happens, the ‘temporary’ boost of glucose and the shutting down of part of your system becomes more than ‘temporary’.
There are several repercussions from this including the factor that inflammation in the body is increased because the insulin/glucose balance in the body fails to stabilise.

Inflammation is a major stress factor.
We tend to associate the word with localised inflammation, in other words we think of a joint or a muscle being uncomfortable and inflamed, but this is different, it’s inflammation on a whole-body level, and whether it’s high or low level, it is more insidious than an isolated location.
We all know that an aching shoulder, knee, or elbow is tiring; it’s a constant irritation that absorbs our attention.
When the body is undergoing permanent low level irritation, it’s exhausting and energy draining, but the main problem is that it’s cyclical; the less energy you have, the less there is for the body to deal with the inflammation.
So you go for something to ‘perk you up’, usually sugar-based.  This boosts the glucose levels in the body, but because your glucose/insulin levels are not balanced due to your being in stress mode, the glucose is forced to the brain (which is what happens in the emergency situation – the brain needing the extra energy to deal with the tiger that’s about to attack you!).  In effect, you started the cycle again.

What can I do about it?
This is almost impossible to answer as it depends on what is stressing you in the first place. However, there are a number of factors to take into account that can help to improve the situation and some techniques that can also help.

1) Diet.
Some foods are more inflammatory than others. This will vary from person to person, but if you know what they are, avoid them.
One interesting example that I read recently is that red meat contains one molecule that is not found in humans; therefore, when this molecule enters the human body, the immune system sees it as an invader and, in order to fight it, creates inflammation, in effect using fire to stop the spread of the potential problem, and ‘burn out’ the invader.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t eat red meat, but this is one example of how the body deals with something that it doesn’t want.

2. Psychological.
Where to start?!
Very briefly, following an event, a part of our brain mulls an issue over and over.  It compares it to previous similar events, it forms plans as to how to deal with it, it considers what you might have said at the time, how things might have been better had something else happened, and so on.
The Chinese call this the ‘Monkey Brain/Mind’.  It’s also known as your ‘Default Mode Network’, and is the network of brain cells from approximately the middle-front of your skull towards the back.
The problem is to break the thought-cycle that is creating the stress.  This involves various techniques, many of which involve distraction from the problem, if only for a short time. Often during that short time, the situation itself either alters or possibly resolves in some unexpected way.
(In the diagram, the ‘mPFC’ refers to the median Pre-Frontal Cortex’, the ‘PCC’ to the Posterior Cingulate Cortex – i.e. front to back along the top of the head).

Distraction can be in the form of anything that alters your focus for a reasonable length of time, which engages your brain and therefore disengages you from the problem.  Puzzles, meditation, focusing on breathing, learning/playing an instrument, listening attentively to music… I’m not convinced that watching TV is as good.

Maybe it’s also worth pointing out that this part of the brain is the location of what Freud called the ‘ego’, and which is also known as the ‘autobiographical memory’.  This is where you constantly recreate that picture of how you see yourself – the Monkey Brain in action.

3. Exercise.
This is a good way to de-stress, and ties in with (2) above.  The exercise shouldn’t be exhausting, but slightly cardiovascular is good.  (Various tests have been done that show that forcing the body very hard during exercise doesn’t help to de-stress as much as gentle exercise).
Obviously this is where tai chi and qigong fit in.  This type of exercise connects the mind & body, each helping the other to relax and soften.

4. Central equilibrium.
One of the main reasons however why tai chi and qigong are so good for de-stressing you is that both are about the physical ‘balancing’ of the body, in other words, making the body work as a perfect unit.
How can you feel stressed if your body – your own personal universe – is moving breathing and rotating perfectly, and is working in perfect accord not only with itself but also with your environment?
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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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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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Tucking Under… Don’t FORCE it.

The mechanics.
When you sit down on to a chair, you automatically, and without forcing it, do a pelvic tilt.  If you don’t, you run the slight risk of hurting your spine.
The same thing should be true in tai chi and qigong when you move your weight from the front leg to the rear leg of a Bow stance; you need to do a pelvic tilt (see previous blog).

Forcing it.
Without repeating the previous blog, I’ve noticed that quite a few people force the pelvis under rather than allowing it to roll under by releasing the back and the neck.  If you don’t release the muscles in the back, you’re just creating further tension and the movement won’t function as effectively if someone were to push or pull you at the same time.
This relates to the question that people sometimes ask – How do you relax the gluteus muscles in the buttocks at same time as tucking under?

Stretching or releasing?
If you force the pelvic tilt, you are deliberately trying to stretch the lower back muscles by contracting the abdominal muscles.  Forcing it means that the movement is coming from only one place, and the back isn’t joining in the game – or only slightly. 
If you force the pelvis under, the neck doesn’t release, and the tension within the pelvis may even cause the chin to lift because the entire back, including the back of the neck, contracts.
In fact, to go a stage further, when tucking the pelvis under, your neck should release at precisely the same moment.

Feeeeeel……
When you release the back, as opposed to ‘forcing’ it, the sensation of release occurs throughout the entire back – the waist, the ribcage (sides and back), the armpits, the shoulder blades, the neck, and even in the back of the head and up to the crown of the head.  Your back should feel like a compressed spring releasing.
Should you release the neck or the back first?  Both; it’s all one and the same.

How does the front of the body behave?
When you release the back, the muscles at the front feel as though they are being drawn upwards and inwards, rather than tensed.
What happens is that the back ‘opens’ – not exactly a bowing backwards, more a sensation of the cellular structure undoing and opening, and the front of the body ‘closes’, – a feeling of the front drawing in, compressing.  These events happen simultaneously so that one reinforces the other.
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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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