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Posts Tagged ‘chi-gung’

BREATHING TO HEAL

The breathing process is essential to understand in order to promote healing. Proper breathing organizes the posture and functioning of the entire body.

When you breathe in the diaphragm pulls downward. This inflates the lungs. When we practice Tai-chi, this pulling down of the diaphragm towards the feet not only aligns the body, but also provides some of the power of the movements. Breathing in requires relaxation of the abdominal muscles, which then promotes the relaxation and sinking of the entire upper body. As the neck and shoulders relax, the head can sit comfortably in its position. Breathing becomes easy and full.

The downward pull of the diaphragm also coincides with the broadening of the bottom of the foot through relaxation. As the foot relaxes and the diaphragm presses down, this creates a pressure that connects the feet to the ground. This and the general relaxation of each joint and muscle create the “root” that makes your stance solid yet your body loose and flexible.

Each in-breath creates a pulse of downward pressure into the root, which creates a wave of energy through the body upward. It is important to maintain the downward pressure even while the wave of energy moves upwards or else the wave will pull you out of your own root.

As your diaphragm pulls down, the lungs fill up from the bottom first, and only towards the end of the breathing in do the upper lungs fill. If you fill up the upper lungs too early you stop the downward pressure and the whole process of generating the wave of energy.

Imagine that your lower abdomen is a clamshell and that as you breathe in the lower part of the clamshell opens downward and presses into the ground. The breath then flows forward (as you are still breathing in) out of the opening in the clamshell.

Advanced Tai-chi students learn to breathe precisely so that the way the diaphragm presses down varies in order to create certain effects in posture and movement. In this way the form and push hands are really controlled from the abdominal area downward with the upper body just responding to the dynamics of that area. The result is that an intricate complex of “waves of energy” are created to give the form more substance and to make the push hands more effective.

Unfortunately most of our attention is in our heads and it is difficult for us to work with the dynamics in the lower area of our bodies because that area is “so far away”. So we say that you have to “live in your legs and pelvic area”. This means that your attention is not stuck in your head but can fill the lower area and operate from that area. The lower area of your body becomes the “home” of the attention just as much as your head is its home now.

For most people the attention is stuck in one location like a king sitting on a throne. In order to achieve the high level of health and awareness required in Tai-chi, the attention has to be able to move and flow just as the body moves and flows. The attention must be like water, not like a king on a throne. Achieving this change can be frightening. We are so used to the attention being frozen in place that we usually cannot even imagine it moving. Yes, we can pay attention to one thing and then to another, but the “seat” of the attention remains frozen.

This frozen attention then freezes the entire body down to the organ and cellular level and inhibits the activity on those levels. When we practice Tai-chi the fluidity of the body influences the fluidity of the mind and the fluidity of the mind releases the body.

It all starts with understanding Tai-chi breathing (natural breathing) and its role in “melting” the frozen mind and body. This can only be accomplished by working with a competent teacher. Make sure that your teacher understands these principles so that your Tai-chi practice will be truly a healing experience.

VINTAGE FOOTAGE OF TAI-CHI MASTERS

I am going through my old archival footage and finding gems of Tai-chi masters demonstrating their skills. The videos are going up on our youtube.com channel which is called zookinesis49. Plug in zookinesis49 into the search bar.

Here is an example of my teacher, William Chen, performing his Yang style form with voice over. It is very old footage and the video quality is not the best. But it is really worth watching.

ENERGY MEDITATION

This meditation helps you to stay centered, relaxed and energized.

Breathe into the belly, gradually opening up the palms and flexing the feet and slowly looking slightly upwards as you widen your eyes. At the end of the inbreath, continue the breath into the upper area of the lungs, so that now both the belly and chest is expanded.

On the outbreath, slowly relax the palms and feet, slowly looking slightly downward, relaxing the eyes, and concentrating on your tan-tien (the area about one and a half inches below the navel, in the center of the body).

Repeat four to six times. This exercise also helps cleanse you of stagnant energy. It can be done standing or sitting.

ALIGNING BODY, MIND AND BREATH

Push Hands Practice

At the recent push hands workshop in Connecticut the greatest problem the students had was energizing their bodies from the ground up. Since most of their attention was in their heads, their energy tended to start from there and go downward.

Teaching them to “even out their attention” had a great effect, not only on their push hands, but also on their most basic feelings and attitudes. In the “evening out” exercise I point out to them where their attention is weak in terms of in front, back, at the top, bottom, to the right and left of their bodies. Then I get more specific and point out more minute areas of unevenness.

Each time I point these things out, the students can clearly sense the unevenness and fairly easily rebalance their attention. But before it was pointed out to them, they didn’t notice the differences.

When you are trying to “uproot” your partner in push hands to throw him off balance, your energy must come from the ground up as you breathe in. You use your whole body and your breath, while the arms and hands just serve to connect your body to the partner. You don’t actually push with your arms.

Push hands trains you in the basic principles of Tai-chi-Chuan as a martial art. It also teaches you how to use your body properly in everyday life. Even more importantly, it teaches you how your body and mind may be twisted up in knots and how that affects your ability to enjoy your life and interact with other people.

My approach to teaching push hands is not technique oriented. I show people what they are presently doing and ask if that makes sense in terms of what they are trying to do. Usually it doesn’t. Then I explain how the body and mind were designed to be able to perform difficult tasks with ease. If you use your body and mind as they were designed your life will be easy.

It is a process of unraveling the twisted knots of body and mind to arrive at the simplest solution. One of my students said that the reason that there are no shortcuts in Tai-chi-Chuan is that the proper action is already the shortest action.

A push hands player may have his hand right on the body of his partner and be in a perfect position to push. But if his mind is somewhere else, he will feel he is a mile away. We learn to align the body, the processes of the mind and align the body with the mind so that everything works together, at the same time and for the same goal in the simplest, shortest way.

If you can learn to send your energy upwards and forwards from the legs and hips into the partner, not allowing the energy to escape towards the chest and head, and use the in-breath as the basis of your push, you will begin to align your actions properly. And that action will begin to transform the alignment of your body, energy and mind properly.

You can think of your belly as a floodlight covered by upper and lower flaps. When they open, the light floods out and forward as you breathe in. As you breathe out, they close. As you breathe in, widen your eyes and when you breathe out relax your eyes. You can use this as a meditation.

IMPORTANCE OF FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT

Tai-chi and Zookinesis training emphasize the ability to move every part of the body freely. Why is this important in everyday life?

Most of the people who first come to Tai-chi classes cannot move very well. Their joints and muscles are so frozen that simple things like walking are an effort. They wear their bodies out quickly. The lungs don’t fill completely with air because they don’t fill the lungs from the bottom up. Their abdominal area is tight and the ribs have lost their flexibility so they only breathe into their upper chest. If you don’t breathe fully, your body doesn’t function efficiently and you lose energy quickly.

Physical tightness also affects the emotions, making you more rigid as a person. The emotions reflect the physical state vice versa. If you are physically unsure of yourself, if your body feels it cannot function well, then you become emotionally unsure as well. By becoming fluid and skilled physically, this gives you emotional confidence as well. You feel more comfortable in your body and so you are more comfortable around other people.

Going through life tight and rigid is like being in your self-made prison. You can release yourself from this prison by learning Tai-chi and Zookinesis Exercise.

DON’T FEEL AWKWARD

One of the greatest difficulties in learning Tai-chi is that very few people can control their muscles and joints on a fine level. Most people are awkward and are often worried about showing their awkwardness in front of other people. No worries. Everyone else is awkward too.

In order to regain a complete connection between your attention and every muscle and joint of the body, we begin with Chi-gung exercises. In the case of my school, we practice “Zookinesis” (animal exercises). There is no point in learning Tai-chi forms, let alone push hands, if you are not connected to your own body.

The result of this complete connection to your body is that you are able to feel the flow of momentum through your body and can make your movements smooth. You can feel the flow of internal energy (chi) through your body and let go of the ways you block that energy. This results in being able to feel life more intensely and being able to feel more joy.

Then when you practice forms or push hands, you can see how your habits of tension and fear freeze parts of your body so they can’t participate in the exercise. For example in push hands, the pelvis should be relaxed so that it feels like a piece of wood floating in the ocean, bobbing with the waves. The upper body should move with the action of your partner so you don’t resist his actions.

While the hips and upper body work together to neutralize your partner’s pushes, they cannot lock together. Each works in its own way and has its own qualities and yet they also work together. In fact each muscle and joint should be independent and work in its own way and yet all work together for a common goal (of neutralizing and pushing the partner).

If I can get your hips to lock together with the upper body and get your upper body to lock together with your fears and habits, then I can control your movements. So you see that the ultimate goal of push hands is to free you from your fears and habits so that your body and mind can work effortlessly and efficiently.

The result is that each part of your body becomes conscious and can experience joy and your life is much more fulfilling.

We had a wonderful weekend at the Tai-chi Park (successor to the Tai-chi Farm). There were many workshops on Chi-gung, forms and push hands. This is a 30 years old plus tradition started by Master Jou, Tsung, Hwa. The present incarnation is a 23 acre park in the woods with a beautiful stream running through the property, in Northern New Jersey.

It’s like a Tai-chi family reunion. Many teachers only meet each other once a year on this weekend. We are hoping to start our own traditions on Long Island with Tai-chi in local parks and the first annual Tai-chi workshop at our school (the Long Island School of Tai-chi-Chuan in Sound Beach) on Sat. Sept. 22nd. Maybe we can develop a closer Tai-chi community here.

I am also making plans to give workshops at other teachers schools. Hopefully the teachers can all visit each others schools and bring fresh ideas to our students. If you have similar Tai-chi get togethers in your area, please let me know (631 744-5999).

MY MOTHER’S INSPIRATION

My mother always wanted to be independent. She lived nearby in an apartment and called my brother and me each day so we could sure she was all right. At about 85 years old, she started falling a lot. Luckily she never broke any bones, but she usually fell in a way that she couldn’t reach the life alert button hanging around her neck.

As she got weaker, she made the painful decision to move to a nearby nursing home; one our family could visit regularly. I also began to adapt a system of chi-gung exercises for her to practice, one known as “animal exercises” or what I now call, “zookinesis”. But I didn’t have enough time before her death to bring back her strength and health.

I continued adapting these exercises for the chair to provide for other elderly people to regain their strength and health, producing instructional dvds and teaching in senior centers and nursing homes.

When I first begin teaching a group of seniors, at first they are not sure what to think and just a few participate. Within a couple of month all are participating and soon they ask me to upgrade the level of the exercises. It always amazes me how quickly seniors take to the zookinesis exercises and enjoy them.

As I teach I always think of my mother who first inspired me to teach exercise to seniors and now I myself am entering that phase of life. I hope the seniors of today have greater expectations of their continued abilities and demand to have exercise as a vital part of their nursing home programs. It is as important medicine as drugs, and I feel perhaps more important because if seniors can remain healthy, they might need a lot less drugs than they take today.

My doctor told me that almost all seniors nowadays take drugs for various ailments. He is surprised that I don’t take any. For me, zookinesis is my substitute for drugs. Basically it is just moving every part of the body in every way to get the “juices” flowing.

ZOOKINESIS EXERCISE FOR INCREASED ENERGY

This exercise will increase the flow of blood and lymph in the body, improve breathing, increase energy levels and make your body more flexible.

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and the knees slightly bent.  Imagine a line connecting your right shoulder to your left hip.  Relax the right shoulder so that it sinks towards the left hip along that diagonal line. 

As the shoulder sinks in this way, breathe out.  Then stretch the shoulder back up to its original position and a little beyond as you breathe in.  Do the same with the left shoulder and the right hip.  Four repetitions each would be fine.

Next, sink your lower ribs into your lower back as if the front of the lower ribs were sitting on the lower back, and breathe out.  Then raise your lower ribs forward and up as you breathe in.  Again, use four repetitions.

Sink the sternum into the mid back as if it was sitting in an old chair and breathe out.  Lift the sternum forward and up as you breathe in.  Four repetitions.

Lift the left side of the ribs to the left  and then up as your body bends slightly to the right and you breathe in.  Then let the ribs settle back to the center as you breathe out.  Do the same for the right side.  Four repetitions per side. 

Stretch your neck forward (breathe in) and then relax (breathe out).  Stretch your neck to the rear and then relax.  Stretch your neck to the left and then relax.  Stretch your neck to the right and then relax (with the same breathing each time).  Do forward, back, left and right and repeat the sequence four times.

This is a basic Zookinesis series.  Zookinesis (animal exercises) is a system of chi-gung.

This sequence can be done once per day or as needed.  In just a few days you should feel a whole lot more relaxed and have steadier energy throughout the day.  Feel free to comment on your results in the comments section.

“EASY EXERCISES FOR AN ATHLETIC BODY”

Our newest dvd includes the zookinesis exercises, “Crane Greets the Sun” and “Waking Eagle”.  They are designed for people involved in martial arts, dance, sports and as a great general exercise.  Each is based on the stretching and warming up movements of these birds after waking up in the morning.

They combine toning, flexibility, fine motor coordination, mild aerobic movements and stress reduction and they are fun to do.  ($19.95 – 55 minutes).  Available from our online store (link on the right side of this blog).