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PUSH HANDS AS CHI-GUNG

Push Hands is the most effective way to get in touch with the inner workings of your body, to learn to perceive and use internal energy, to perceive the dynamics of consciousness itself and to unite mind and body into a powerful and efficient system.  The original type of Push Hands exercise was a type of two person chi-gung. I list below some of the Push Hands principles for those who want to use their practice to develop internally.  These points will be especially meaningful to those who already practice Push Hands.  For those who have not yet learned this wonderful exercise, this will give you some insight into its flavor.

The exercise begins with the two partners facing each other with one foot forward.  Their forward feet are right next to each other.  Their arms are connected and the goal is to push each other over.

1. Aligning Heaven and Earth.  The earth is solid.  Heaven is gaseous.  Align the body in such a way that all of your weight sinks into the earth.  The legs are heavy with weight and the top of the body is very light.  The hips are in-between so they feel rubbery.  The hips connect the lightness on top to the heaviness on bottom.  There is a tendency, when force is applied to you, to tense up on top, bringing your weight upwards.  Think of yourself as a pyramid.  You have a wide base on bottom.  Your head is like the point of the pyramid.  When someone pushes you on top, your chest for example, they feel that there is nothing there; that most of you is underneath their push.

2. Connective Tissue.  Absorb their push into your connective tissue (ligaments and tendons and fascia).  Think of yourself as the bowstring of a bow.  The bow itself is between you and your partner.  When your partner pushes, he is pushing back the bowstring.  You then release that stored force from your center (your tan-tien) as the bowstring releases, (adding your own internal energy and the force from your legs and hips).  This is just like an arrow shooting out from the center of the bow.  Remember that the bow itself (the structure of your body) must remain firm.  The bowstring (your connective tissue, ligaments and tendons) is all that bends.  It is also important that all of the connective tissue of your whole body bends equally, just as the bowstring bends equally throughout its length.  As to how to direct the partner’s force to just these tissues of the body, a competent teacher is necessary to help you learn this principle.

3. No Telegraphing. When you are about to push, don’t telegraph your intentions.  This means that you don’t raise up your force to your upper body as if to say, “I am about to push you.”  There is a psychological impulse to prepare for the push.  You must remain in an aligned position throughout the Push Hands so that you can push at any moment from where you are.  Needing to prepare for the push means that you are not aligned at that moment.

4. Notice Telegraphing.  Watch for this telegraphing activity in your partner.  As soon as he prepares to push, push him at the moment of preparation.  His force will be top heavy at that moment and he will be easy to push.

5. Don’t Resist.  Don’t tighten up if you feel your partner is about to successfully push you.  It is better to get pushed than to tighten.  The whole point of this exercise is to learn to remain relaxed, to neutralize the opponent’s force through relaxation and to issue your own force with a relaxed mind and body.  You are only cheating yourself if you tense up to avoid getting pushed because you will never learn real Push Hands.

6. All Force is Your Force.  Don’t think of the force of your partner as “his force” pushing against you.  Accept all force as part of your own energetic system and realign your body to distribute that force equally throughout your body.  If you remain even in this way at every moment, his force will have no effect.  You are like the ringmaster of a circus.  You are coordinating all the acts so the show runs smoothly.  Similarly, coordinate all the forces you feel (gravity, momentum, the partner’s force etc.) so that nothing gets jammed up.  Don’t think of the partner’s force as an attack but just as force that needs to be aligned and balanced within your energy system.

When you do any chi-gung exercise it is important to balance the chi, not only within your body but with the chi of your environment as well.  It is dangerous to hold chi just within your body and isolate it from the environment.  Push Hands teaches you the importance of balancing your internal forces with outside forces. 

7. Use of the Joints.  Receive your partner’s force within all your joints as well.  Don’t deal with his force as one attack but absorb the force into all of the joints of your body.  In this way each joint will be dealing with only a tiny fraction of the original whole force.  That will be much easier to deal with.  When your joints and the connective tissue, ligaments and tendons are all dealing with his force, what seemed like a powerful push now seems like a bunch of tiny pushes that are easy to neutralize.

8. The Floor is Under You.  When you push, there is a tendency to freeze part of your body (usually your back) to serve as a solid floor from which to push.  Your back should remain relaxed and flexible.  Use the real floor itself as your ground.  Position yourself as a wedge between your partner and the floor with no frozen part of the body in between.  There is also a tendency to freeze your attention in order to push.  This is a difficult issue to learn about on your own and requires a competent teacher.  Buddhists call this “the round of birth and death” (of the attention).  It is similar to the issue of “telegraphing” (#3 above).  You feel you must solidify your attention in order to act.  Push Hands teaches you to maintain the fluidity of your body and of your attention at all times and to use the solidity of the ground beneath you.

9. Remain Stable.  Don’t lean on the partner.  If you try to thrust your weight into the partner, he will just turn to the side and you will fall down.  Always remain stable within yourself.  The applications to everyday life are obvious.  Force issues from the ground up with the sequential expansion of each joint.  In this way the force moves in an upward and forward direction, uprooting the partner.

10. The Tan-tien is the Top of Your Force.  As the force issues from the ground upward, it moves into the Tan-tien (just below the navel in the center of the body) then out to your pushing elbow and into the partner.  You force should never rise above elbow level.

11.  Yin and Yang.  The Yang part of the body is the back and the outside of the legs and arms.  The Yin part is the front and the inside of the legs and arms.  Yang force can only move through the Yin parts of the body.  Imagine a ceramic water pipe.  The ceramic is the Yang part, the structure of the pipe.  The empty space inside is the Yin part.  Water can only flow through the empty space, not the ceramic.  Your pushing force should only move through the front of the body and the inside of the arms and legs. 

12.  Breathing.  It is common to breathe out when pushing.  I teach that you should breathe in.  Imagine that you are a balloon.  When you breathe in the balloon expands, pushing the partner.  Try sitting down in a chair and then standing up.  When you sit and relax, you tend to breathe out.  When you stand and are ready for activity you tend to breathe in.  Breathing in is active and breathing out is passive. 

It is important to breathe into the lower abdomen only and not into the upper chest.  Breathing into the upper chest will bring your force upward and it should rather go forward and outward.  Breathe equally into the belly and the lower back so that the whole center of the body expands.  Remember that a balloon expands spherically.  In this way you will not need to tense your back.  The breath will provide the solidity.  This is why breath is called “the soft bones”.  Breath provides solidity so that the body can remain relaxed.

13.  Maintain Your Connection.  Make sure that the connection with your partner through your arms and hands remains steady.  Keep that pressure constant even though the pressure should only be “four ounces”.  You may have a partner who is extremely tense.  In that case the pressure should be four ounces lighter or heavier than his, depending on whether you want to lead him into you or away from you. 

14.  Control from Your Center.  Lead your partner into your center.  From there you can make slight adjustments in the angle of your hips to lead him off balance.  If his force is connected to your center then you are controlling the action from the center of your body.  Imagine you are picking up a heavy metal pipe.  If you pick it up from one end, it seems heavy.  Pick it up from the center and it seems light because it is balanced. 

When you connect the partner’s force to your center and work from there, you need much less effort and movement. 

15.  Eyes in the Belly.  There is a tendency to “view” the interaction from the head because that is where the eyes are.  I teach that Push Hands should be done with closed eyes so that you are concentrating on the feel rather than the sight of the interaction.  This also allows you to center your attention in your belly rather than keeping it in the head.  Once your attention is centered, the whole body will become centered.

These are some principles you can bring into your Push Hands practice to make it a form of chi-gung rather than a pushing and shoving contest.  When it is done properly, Push Hands can easily take care of the “pushers and shovers”. More importantly, it can be a great tool for healing and learning to live your life more effectively.  (See our “Push Hands – the Heart of Tai-chi Training” dvd).