Tag Archives: taijiquan

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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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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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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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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Sinking your Boat: (1) The Hull.

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

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

Feel it.
To experience your hull, you have to put yourself in the position of feeling exactly how you would ‘feel’ if you were the hull of a boat.  If you don’t feel it, then it’s all conceptual – all in your head.
So, if your pelvis were the hull of the boat, with your legs reaching down into the water (the keel), how heavy would you feel as you attempted to sink to the bottom?  Your upper body, everything else from the waist up, would be the contents of the boat, the deck, shrouds, rigging, sails, etc.
You could still rock from side to side, or forwards and backwards, you could still turn and twist, but all of those upper movements would be coming from a stable platform.
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James Drewe teaches Taijiquan and qigong in both London and in Kent. Details of weekly classes can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Taijiquan on one Saturday a month.

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

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Qigong – is it Yoga?

I’m not a yoga teacher, although back in 1978 I did teach yoga for a couple of years.

One of the aspects of both yoga and qigong is to enhance your potential.  If we always move in ways in which we are ‘comfortable’, certain parts of us remain static whilst other parts of us elasticate and ‘grow’, or at least remain more fluid.
Perhaps that’s a bit like only oiling the engine on the car but not bothering to grease the bearings?  If the engine works too well, it might be at the expense of the bearings which can’t take the strain.
Enhancing your potential applies to both qigong and yoga.

Qigong falls into a couple of categories: Static & Mobile.
In the static postures you get into a position and then, whilst maintaining it, you work within it, your aim being ultimately to increase your levels of qi (one of those expressions that means little to most people).  I’ll get to that in a moment…
In these static postures you aim to relax, but this isn’t a soggy-relaxation experience, it’s more dynamic. You are aiming to do more than just empty the body of tension, you are also aiming to add what I can only describe as ‘educated’ tension.

‘Educated tension’.
To give an example of this: Hold out your arm in front of you, the palm facing you as though you’ve wrapped it around someone’s waist (see the right arm in the photo).  Completely relax it in that position.
The first point is that, even though you relaxed it, it didn’t drop; all that happened was that you disengaged the muscles that were unnecessary to keep it there.
Now imagine someone is gently pushing your forearm towards you; imagine that you can feel the push but do nothing with the arm.
Then imagine that someone is attempting to pull your forearm away from you; once again, imagine that you can feel the pull but do nothing with the arm.
Now try doing both the pull and push sensations simultaneously.

Is this a form of almost-relaxation or of almost-tension?
It’s usually referred to as ‘educated force’, although I think that ‘educated relaxation’, or even ‘educated tension’ as above, would serve just as well.
This isn’t something that you will come across in yoga.

Moving Qigong takes you into and out of postures continually.  It aims to stretch and twist the body in unusual ways in order to increase the body’s potential.
It often works with acupuncture channels, fascial stretches, and the lymphatic system; this is also true of static qigong although the latter is less obvious and  direct.
This might be unintentionally similar to yoga (‘unintentionally’ because yoga tends not to refer to acupuncture).

‘Increasing your levels of Qi’.
Factor 1
In order to have better levels of energy, you need to avoid wasting it.
Energy is easily wasted.  Using the plumbing analogy – if the pipes are furred, if the joints leak, if the fluid (whatever it is) leaks on the way to the outlet, your system is compromised.
If the body holds tension or stress, the muscles contract, the bore of the piping is reduced, the pressure increases, the pump has to work harder, etc.

This analogy refers to the blood flow, the lymph flow, the functioning of the nervous system, the ability of the body to breathe, the heart to pump, and the ability of the digestive system to clear toxins… in fact any body system you can think of!
All of the body systems need to work to the best of their ability.  If they don’t, the body has to work harder, which burns more energy, and has to combat the various forms of inflammation that will likely result from the system’s inefficiency.

Factor 2
We live in a world that is powered by energy. It’s a self-propelled, self-regulating, self-regenerating system. It works, although we don’t understand how or even why.
What we can say is that it produces and uses energy; you only have to watch a plant growing against the force of gravity to witness that.
Qigong aims to allow us to gather and harvest more of that energy, so that as mobile plants, we flourish.

The Kidneys & ‘ancestral’ qi.
One other point worth mentioning is Chinese medicine’s view of the functioning of the Kidneys.
Apart from their standard physiological functioning, Chinese medicine see the kidneys as housing what they call your ‘Yuan qi’ (or ‘source qi’), which can be defined as the qi that you get from your ancestors.  This is what a westerner would describe as your ‘constitutional strength’, i.e. your ability to fight illness, as well as your susceptibilities to illnesses passed down through the family line.
Qigong aims to increase and repair your Yuan Qi, although it is openly admitted that to do this is very difficult, and is only possible in a limited way.
This does not apply to Yoga.

Does yoga aim to increase levels of Qi?
In my limited experience – yoga does not aim to increase levels of qi, but 1978 is quite a long way away, and I was quite young at the time. The only other yoga classes I’ve attended since those days haven’t altered my opinion of this either, the classes often being filled by those with an unusually hyper-extensive ability (perhaps I chose the wrong class).  The hyper-extensive practitioner is most definitely not aiming for qi-expansion!
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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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