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EMOTIONS AND PHYSICAL HEALTH

Zookinesis posture - Bob Klein

There is a battle going on inside of us for control of the body’s posture. Our instincts urge us to posture our bodies for maximum efficiency and health. Our emotions try to express themselves through the body’s posture.

So if we try to push in the push hands exercise, our emotions tell us to expand the upper body and rise up so as to express power as we would imagine a muscle bound weight lifter to have power. Yet that is not an efficient posture for pushing because we would be top heavy and tense.

When I correct a posture in a Tai-chi form I have to take into account all the emotional expressions that control the body. Each part of the body is in an emotional relationship with all the other parts and as a whole, the body expresses very complex emotions.

If I were to correct only one part of the body the student would feel very awkward because he is used to a particular configuration of expression and now, one element of that expression is in the “wrong” position. So at the beginning the student doesn’t appreciate the corrections because he is still judging his posture by how well it expresses his emotions.

I have to correct as much of the emotional control of the body as possible to give the student an appreciation of how beautifully the body is designed and how good it feels to be in the natural, “neutral” postural position.

I taught a group of physical therapy students a few days ago. This workshop that I give every year gives the students a different perspective of how to bring a patient’s body back to a healthy state. While a physical therapist only works on the physical level, they have to deal with all the emotions of their patients as well. Sometimes that is the greatest challenge.

My ending point in that workshop is that in order to be effective in dealing with the patients, the therapist has to be comfortable in his or her own body. If your mind, body and emotions are not connected, balanced and centered, then your patients will certainly not feel comfortable with you and you will not be able to connect with them. Learning something like Tai-chi or Zookinesis can be a very valuable aid in working with physical therapy patients.

We also discuss how the way be breathe, walk and do other everyday activities can either help our physical condition or deteriorate our bodies. By understanding Tai-chi principles, you can make suggestions to improve these everyday activities to strengthen the patient in general. In this way you will not only be helping the particular condition they came in with but help to prevent other problems in the future.

Unfortunately, most physical therapy practices only give ten or fifteen minutes to each patient, certainly not really as much time as they need. But due to economic considerations, many practices just try to get as many people through the door each day as possible.
A good physical therapist would suggest that a patient get involved in a more thorough practice of exercise once their physical therapy sessions are over. This is why some schools of physical therapy expose their students to several exercise modalities so they can make intelligent suggestions to their patients once they are in their own practice.

The physical therapist may not directly address all the dynamics of a patient’s condition because they are only licensed to correct a physical problem in a physical way. But in a Tai-chi class (or Yoga or Pilates or Zookinesis class), it is more informal. You can work on many levels at the same time and explain how a human being works on all these levels in an integrated way. Tai-chi practice is not limited by law to only fixing a physical problem in a physical way.

I believe that our modern day culture makes us a foreigner to our own bodies and disrupts the integration of body, mind and emotions. It makes sense that we fix the fundamental problem with our health and not just patch up the symptoms as they pop up as in the “whack a mole” game. Many people get involved in Tai-chi practice because of health problems. They know that Tai-chi can improve general health and put them back on a path of general health recovery.

HOW DOES TAI CHI WORK?

Zookinesis and Tai chi promote health.

We hear that Tai chi exercise is much more healing than other types of exercise. It strengthens the internal organs, makes you more flexible, improves the flow of blood, lymph and intercellular fluid, improves the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs, sharpens your attention and strengthens your immune system. How can a simple exercise do all that?

We hear that it has something to do with improving the flow of “chi” energy but for most of us, that means little. The idea of chi is not part of Western culture and we don’t have a feel for what it means. In the almost 40 years of teaching Tai chi and Zookinesis (a type of chi-gung exercise) I have found ways to explain how these exercises work beyond the benefits of other exercises and offer an explanation below:

We modern people pride ourselves in being somehow superior to animals. We think great thoughts. Our behavior is not controlled by instinct. We feel that our superiority is demonstrated by our technology. We have advanced drugs and surgery that save lives.

Yet our general health and feeling of well-being may not be superior to people of older times. In fact our world is filled with emotional stress and chemicals, which stress the body biologically. Heart attacks and other heart disease strikes earlier and earlier in life and the rate of cancer has greatly increased.

How does Tai-chi strengthen the body’s health and calm our emotions so we are resistant to stress? I have proposed in my writings and classes a simple theory that can make the logic behind Tai chi and Zookinesis more understandable.

In our modern world our basic instincts are almost irrelevant. We don’t live in natural surroundings for the most part and our instincts have been molded by natural environments. So we now rely on our minds, which tell us how to work our devices and how to tell time so we won’t show up for work late. This requires a subduing of natural instinct which hasn’t had time to evolve to function in the world of computers, cars and cell phones.

Yet our bodies still have to function biologically. The molecules and cells within our bodies aren’t controlled by computers. In fact, the entire body is a sort of biological computer, with its trillions of molecules all containing a kind of information as to how to function and adapt to varying situations within the body.

If the thinking mind imposes its patterns on the body’s functioning, there is a conflict. The body has to function one way in order to be healthy but the mind is sending signals into the body to behave quite differently.

With instinct the information in the biological computer moves upwards to control the organism and make it behave in order to achieve maximum health. With the thinking mind the control moves downwards to subdue the body and even its biochemical activity.

When we practice Tai chi, especially in the push hands exercise, we have to yield our attention to the body. We train each muscle and joint to respond with ease, precision and intention. At the beginning this requires the thinking mind (to learn our forms or the principles of push hands, for example). But then our minds have to let the body go and the movement of attention must be from the body’s individual body parts upward to the organism as a whole. The thinking mind could not possibly process all this information in real time.

We get to such a degree of precision that the decisions of movement are not made by a muscle as a whole, but rather, each nerve energizing a part of the muscle must act independently so that the muscle contracts in a wave. The smaller and smaller you can get in this precision the better. But even more importantly, you need to allow each tiny part to “make its own decisions”. If you are still making those decisions in your head, you counteract the precision of the body.

But, you might ask, if the thinking mind is not controlling all these precise movements, then what is? Now we get to the question of “chi”. The experience of chi is that of a communications system other than the thinking mind, nervous or endocrine system, that coordinates all this activity.

The real secret of chi is that it is a conscious energy that works from the level of the very small, upward into the body as a whole. Unless we cultivate this “chi consciousness” (known as “Body-Mind”), the body loses its precision – not just in practicing a form, but in staying healthy in general. The movement of consciousness from the tiny to the large must not be dampened by the movement of consciousness from the large (the mind, the feeling of ourselves as an identity) to the small.

To allow the movement of consciousness in both directions allows us to remain intelligent and also healthy. Each movement of the Tai chi forms or the Zookinesis exercises and each principle of movement of push hands, promotes this upward movement of consciousness, that is, of course, if it is done correctly.

Simply memorizing a Tai-chi form or pushing someone will not have this beneficial effect. Only a legitimate teacher can explain and teach you how to practice Tai-chi in the proper way that promotes this healing effect. This is why even teachers keep learning from other teachers to understand the best ways to practice their Tai chi to promote this effect.

Few people in modern times have experienced the upward movement of consciousness emanating from within each part of the body, let alone how this movement of consciousness is completely connected to the natural environment. When you live in a simple and natural way you soon can feel how the cycles of nature promote similar cycles within your body, which then promotes adaptive behavior on the chemical level and on the level of how you live your life day to day. You feel very connected to your environment.

The disconnected way we live our lives now leads not only to poor health, but also to a feeling of isolation, which then reverberates into the fabric of our society. We do not feel as connected to other people or other living things. That disconnection leads us to order our society in such a way that we can easily ignore the suffering of others or of the earth.

Tai chi practice has the potential of transforming our society, our health and our happiness by restoring the natural flow of consciousness that rejoins us to the earth.

CHI MEDITATIONS

Breathe in and ignite the sun within your belly.
Breathe out to release its rays to join the sun in the sky and the earth below.
Center your breath and relax your body to the four directions.

Expect to receive energy from everything you see and feel.
Leave space inside of you for that energy to move.
Allow the energy to continue on in its journey.

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.

TAO TE CHING – The Art of “Not Knowing”

Snake Creeps Down movement of Tai-chi Yang Form

The Tao Te Ching is one of the formative books of the philosophy of Taoism. Written by Li Ehr (Lao Tsu) in the 6th century BC, this little book of 81 paragraphs provides a mysterious and poetic view of this naturalistic way of life.

The first paragraph states:
The Tao that can be told
Is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
Is not the eternal Name
(translation by Stephen Mitchell)

This paragraph can help us to gain greater skill in our Tai-chi forms and push hands practice. It suggests a way of “knowing” that is different than memorizing facts. This little book points us in the direction of a depth of awareness that lies beneath our normal way of perceiving and analyzing. In Norse mythology this same substrate of awareness is called “The Underworld” and the “Tree of Life” is what connects the deeper, surface and higher levels of awareness.

When you begin to learn Tai-chi you have no choice but to use your programmed mind (thinking mind) to memorize movements and principles. You feel that if you can do all the movements in the proper order and write down all the principles, then you have learned Tai-chi.

But there is still more to learn. The purpose of Tai-chi practice is to lead you to the deeper level of awareness and to understand the nature and dynamics of consciousness. The exercises are just a means to an end. Without full access to this deeper substrate of awareness you don’t have your full power in life.

At a certain point in your practice you must be willing to “not know”, that is, to allow the intelligence of your body to take over the movements and let the “head” (thinking process) to just sit there and not get involved. At first the student feels that if he lets his head just “sit there” he will not be able to function. How can he exert his intention without thinking?

There is a different type of intention possible that is organic. It is like dropping a pebble into a still lake. The ripples emanate from the initial action (of the pebble). Feel your belly area as the still lake and your tensions and thinking as the pebble. Drop the pebble into the lake and then do your Tai-chi form or push hands. At every moment your movements should come from dropping pebbles into the lake.

This means that the grabbing, tense, unsatisfied mind ceases to “claw at the world” and just takes a break. This frees up a lot of energy for the natural mechanisms of the body to work. If we claw at the world our perceptions are limited to what we are grasping for. When we give up grasping, then we can really see what is going around us and inside of us.

“Naming” in the paragraph of the Tao Te Ching refers to the tendency to making the world we perceive conform to the world we expect. I call this, “The Echo of Expectations”. (What you see of a reflection of what you expect to see). Your body activities, down to the cellular level, then conform to your expectations rather than to your perceptions. You are locked into what you “know” (the story you tell yourself about what is going on). Your world becomes small and your ability to react appropriately becomes limited.

And so Tai-chi practice is a process of “not knowing”, i.e., being willing to not control every movement with the thinking process but to remain in the feeling mode, to participate in life and allow yourself to “not know” where that will take you. Your attention should be within the action, not in the head looking down at the action.

And then you find that you are now outside of a cage you didn’t even know you were in, a cage of “knowing”, of “naming”.

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.

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.

PUSH HANDS – THE GAME OF LIFE – NOW COMPLETE

Volume 2

The new “Push Hands – the Game of Life” dvd is now complete – both volumes 1 and 2. This program is a workshop about how to make your life more powerful using Taoist principles. It uses the Tai-chi two person exercise of Push Hands to visually illustrate these principles.

It explains the physical dynamics of the human body and the mechanics of the mind (attention) in great detail and how, by gaining skill of these mechanics, we can influence the course of our lives. What we think of as great obstacles, can easily be dissolved using the skills we gain in push hands practice. We can even neutralize the aggression of other people, whether emotional, mental or physical.

Most importantly, Push Hands – the Game of Life, teaches strategies to deal with everyday life to make your life more healthy and successful. Even if you do not practice push hands, you will easily understand the principles and be able to apply them.

LINK TO VOLUME 1

LINK TO VOLUME 2

FRUSTRATION!!!

My students have gotten frustrated that I continue to correct their postures in the Tai-chi form. They feel their postures should be perfect by now. In the last class I explained that, while they know how to achieve perfect postures, there is an issue that is interfering with their form.

I correct their postures to get them to achieve an “emotionless state”. This means ending the battle of the mind and emotions in which the natural, relaxed state of body feeling is disturbed by the worries and fears of the thinking mind. This battle then gets represented in the postures of the body. The body is expressing the battles of the mind and emotions.

In the “emotionless state” you are still feeling things such as your connection to the world around you, your energy and enthusiasm, etc. But your body is not being used to express internal battles.

When students try to remember the proper stance in a particular part of the form, they try to remember the feeling associated with that stance and duplicate the feeling, hoping that will make the body assume the proper shape. But they are also dragging along all sorts of other emotional expressions. It is difficult to remember the proper “stance feeling” cleanly without other emotional expressions hanging on.

Instead, they need to “clean house” by freeing every joint and muscle of the body from emotional control and letting each part of the body “sit” comfortably and yet be fluid enough to move in any direction at every moment. It is a “suspended” state in which the body is open to anything – to any sort of response. It is that openness; that relaxed and suspended state that they need to use as a reference.

They already know the right way to hold their bodies for a particular stance in the form. But they need to be free of conflict in that stance. This is something they can do by themselves. If they depend on me to correct their outer form all the time, they will be depending on me for the rest of their lives.

Now that they know the form in and out, they need to know themselves in and out. They need to know when their inner emotional state is trying to take control of their body postures and instead let their postures be controlled by proper body mechanics (which they are also very familiar with by this time).

In other words, it is time for them to correct themselves. The Tai-chi forms were developed to serve as a tool to teach you to end slavery to your inner conflict. Once you have learned the form, the real work begins. The teacher teaches you the tools but only the student can use those tools for his own progress.

One of my students is an actor. If he has just finished one role and must now begin working on a completely different role, there must be a time in between where he sheds the first role before taking on the second role. At this time he has to be neutral – not one role or another role. He can clean himself out of the first role so that he can be open to something completely different.

We try to remain in this “neutral state” throughout the form. The form is not a movement from one attitude to another but must be free of attitude throughout. In this way the body and mind are always open and ready for anything new. The mind does not cling to any frozen state or feeling. It is a state of non-attachment.

During the last class, my students expressed their frustrations that they are not progressing as fast as they would like. When frustrations build to a head, the students are usually ready for a breakthrough. They are ready to let go of the conflict of mind and emotions. Their frustration is an expression of the last gasp of that conflict.

WHAT IF THE WORLD WERE FLUID?

One of the most important lessons I have learned from my training is that the condition of your mind and emotions greatly affect how you perceive your physical environment. Your senses don’t simply tell you what’s “out there”. The senses are in a fluid relationship with what is going on inside of you.

My wife Jean used to teach a class in the “foam roller”, a four foot long, eight inch thick piece of sturdy foam. At the beginning of the class you lie on the floor and notice how your back feels on the floor. Of course, the floor feels very hard.

After rolling on your back on the foam in various ways, you lie on the floor again and the floor feels as soft as a soft mattress. How you feel the floor depends to a large degree on the condition of your back – tense or relaxed.

After a push hands class, students feel very different than before. Push Hands requires you to relax and to be connected to your partner. Your attention must fill his body so that you know what is going on inside of him. In this way you will know if he is preparing to push you. Your attention must be “released” into the partner as well as into the ground, so that you are “grounded” or “rooted”. If you are rooted you are much harder to push over.

After class your state of connected attention is still with you. As you move in your surroundings, you seem much more connected to them, less isolated and more aware of what is going on around you. The world around you seems much more vivid. It seems to be part of your flesh and much more alive.

Now imaging feeling this way all the time. You would have to live in a “softer” (more natural) environment to be able to exist constantly in this state. Otherwise the “harsh” world would wear you down quickly.

And that is why we tense up and withdraw our energy from the environment. Our modern environment is not “biologically friendly”. It is friendly to machines. And so we must become like a machine and become dead to the relationship between our inner state and our perceptions. Our state becomes frozen so that we can feel comfortable in a frozen environment.