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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).

HOW TO MAKE THE BRAIN POWERFUL

Only a fraction of the human brain is used in modern times.  We have moved our focus of attention away from those parts that make us powerful and coordinated physically and which allow us to channel the biological forces of nature through our bodies.  This leads to lower vitality and premature old age. 

When we practice Tai-chi and Zookinesis, it is essential that we stimulate the entire brain, including what is called the “reptilian brain”, or “primitive brain”.  Rather than being primitive it is an essential part of the brain.  We gradually enliven all parts of the nervous system which, in turn, enlivens the entire body.  The result is that our very perception of the world around us is sharpened.  We can perceive deeper levels and finer details of our senses and bring back senses that have been allowed to become dormant.

The process of bringing power back to the brain is most vividly experienced in the Push Hands exercise (a two person exercise in which each person tries to throw the partner off balance.  (This has been described in detail in other “weekly lessons”).  But you can use the techniques of Push Hands in everyday life in ordinary situations. 

As we practice Push Hands we experiment with “seating” our attention in various parts of the brain.  As an example, we concentrate on the lower rear part of the brain which is the reptilian brain.  As you are about to push the partner you may notice that your attention jumps forward which causes your entire body to lunge forward.  This allows your partner to turn to the side and allow you to fall forward.

The dynamics of your attention can pull your own body off balance.  An important principle in Push Hands is to keep your attention centered.  You generate the force to push the partner through “internal” movements of your body.  This consists of moving individual joints and muscles in relationship to each other but not allowing the whole body to lunge back and forth.  The result is similar to break dancing moves in which the body undulates, sending waves of force through itself, but the body remains in a centered position. 

This can only be achieved when your attention is centered.  If your attention is concentrated in only certain parts of the brain, the frontal lobes for example, then it is already off center.  You are already off balance as far as your attention is concerned and then your body copies that pattern of poor balance.  The body reflects the pattern and quality of your attention.  If your attention jumps around a lot, then your body will exhibit excess movement. 

You can practice spreading your attention throughout your brain in the Push Hands exercise, your Tai-chi forms, Zookinesis exercises or any other activity.  This practice will enable you to keep your attention full and balanced in the brain in your everyday interactions with people.  I guarantee that you will amaze yourself with how calm and powerful you feel when you keep the reptilian part of your brain energized in interpersonal interactions.

Rather than paying attention to the reptilian brain from the frontal lobes, try having the reptilian brain as the seat of attention and looking out from it.  Make believe that right in front of the reptilian brain there is a window and you are looking out that window.  The window is in the middle of the brain (back to front) and at the bottom of the brain.  You may feel both your body and your breathing relaxing.  You will feel more connected to your surroundings and more secure. 

This exercise does not cut off your frontal lobes (the intellectual part of the brain) but includes them. Your attention will feel more centered within the entire nervous system.  The quality of your attention will be more relaxed, sharper and stronger.  Your body will be able to respond more accurately to the changing condition around you.  You can see that energizing the reptilian brain is essential for practicing Push Hands.  It is also essential for living a more powerful and effective life. 

You begin to look at the dynamics and qualities of attention in other people as if you were a healer diagnosing a patient.  Your understanding of these qualities in others gives you a deeper understanding of their resultant behavior which in turn, gives you more options of how to respond to them.  If they are off balance, then you own balanced state can help them to become balanced.  Their attention responds to the qualities of your attention as one tuning fork vibrates when another one next to it is sounded. 

On the other hand, you can avoid having your own attention thrown off balance by the unbalanced state of their attention.  You see the underlying mechanisms of the interaction and can avoid the pitfalls.

It’s amazing that simply by bring the focus of your attention to a different part of the brain and “looking out” from there, you can change the whole dynamic of your personal life.  It is so easy to try and the results are so obvious. 

This is the type of training you would receive in what is called a “mouth to ear” transmission of teaching, such as Zookinesis.  This means a tradition that is taught from teacher to student through long term, disciplined training, rather than from books or shallow training.  There is a whole world of such training methods.

Once you become comfortable with looking out from the reptilian brain, you then create other foci of attention.  Examples – a point on the palm between the third and fourth finger and one inch down, the point on the bottom of the foot at the rear of the ball of the foot and centered between the left and right side, the coccyx bone and the tan-tien (an area just below the navel in the center of the body).

You concentrate on these spots to either energize or relax them as you do Push Hands.  The patterns of energizing and relaxing in these areas create different alignments of the body and affect the flow of forces through the body.  This allows you to send force out into the partner while keeping the body still.  The result is that the partner is thrown back and it doesn’t seem as if you did anything.

If you could not access the reptilian brain then you simply could not create and coordinate these multiple foci of attention because your attention would not be centered.  This is part of what is known as “Taoist alchemy” which is the basis of Tai-chi and Zookinesis.  Taoist alchemy is the inner work to bring back your mind, body and spirit to full functioning.

From that inner point of view you can perceive sources of energy that are normally invisible to us.  You realize that our culture is not built on a foundation of “whole brain experience” or what I call “whole body attention”.  Anything outside of our modern cultural perspective is considered to not exist.  And so, while we may have perceptions and feelings of these sources of energy, we ignore them in order to feel emotionally secure.  We need to feel part of this culture.  It is like a child grabbing onto his parent’s leg, fearing to venture too many steps away.

The mouth to ear training allows you to take those steps and to understand the inner experiences which you have ignored up to now.  In this way a whole new world is revealed which allows your life to make much more sense.  Your culture, which previously caged your perceptions, now is seen in a wider context. 

You can begin this training by yourself simply by massaging the rear of your head several times a day to make it easier to pay attention to.  Remember that the goal is not to pay attention to the rear of the head from the front of the head.  The goal is to “seat” the attention in the rear of the head (as an exercise) and then to eventually fill the entire brain with attention so that the attention is balance. 

Paying attention to the rear of the head is only the first (but necessary) step.

I’m sure you will have many questions and comments about this type of training.  Feel free to use the “comments” section to the left of this article for your questions and comments.

YIN AND YANG ATTENTION

The principle of yin/yang can be applied to the dynamics of attention. A large part of the training of Zookinesis is to learn that attention itself has dynamics. There is a physics to the energy of attention. Each aspect of attention (its strength, agility, resolution, etc.) can be developed.
Zookinesis recognizes two ways in which attention can be used. In modern times, we use Yang attention. Our attention grabs onto things, whether objects we see or thoughts in our minds. It is an aggressive attention as if the attention was hands grabbing out through the eyes to get things.
Yin attention is different. It is like what happens to attention when you rest. Your attention just drifts and expands. Yin attention is associated with relaxation while Yang attention is associated with agitation and aggression. Both are necessary in balance. When you have too much Yang attention, you may have high blood pressure and people say you are “wound up” or “wired”. If you have too much yin attention, you may be lazy and careless and people say you are “flaky”.
You can imagine yin attention as if your eyes were the edge of a waterfall. The water is like all the things you see, and they come pouring in through the eyes and fall down into the tan-tien (an area just below the navel inside the body. This is the geographical center of the body – the balance point). You “absorb” the world around you with your attention.
Yang attention is associated with action and Yin attention with feeling and awareness. One of the problems in teaching Taoist arts is that people find it difficult to perceive and to act at the same time. Since our attention is single pointed (able to focus on only one thing at a time), we can either perceive or we can react.
There is no biological reason for this. It is just cultural. Zookinesis and Tai-chi-Chuan teach us to use all the dynamics of attention at the same time, to be able to perceive and react simultaneously. In this way you can constantly adjust to the situation. The expression “release your attention” means that you stop holding onto the attention and you let your awareness expand all around you. It feels as if your inner feelings become connected to the world around you.
This is the natural state of a human being. Being disconnected is not natural. Yet if I were to ask you if you were connected to the world around you, you might say you were. There is a difference between being connected because you can see things around you and being connected because your attention is “released” to expand into the environment. This can only be understood through training, or through extensive time spent in nature.
We get a glimpse of it when we are in love because then something flows between you and your loved one and connects you together. For many, it is difficult to experience attention separate from what you are paying attention to. Attention is not the same as thinking and it is not the computer monitor you are looking at.
At the point you do experience this, you have made great progress in your practice. Then you can begin to develop your attention. You will realize that all living things are connected to each other through the energy of attention.

TAI-CHI-CHUAN – THE “GRAND ULTIMATE MARTIAL ART”

Tai-chi-Chuan is a unique self defense system due to its basic principles. STICKING – You remain connected to your opponent, following every nuance of his movements with your own body.  To him, it seems that you are like wet clothes, clinging to him.  As he tries to move back, you move back with him.  As he moves forward to you, you move back to maintain the same relationship.  
He controls the movements and you follow the movements.  But you control the relationship. That relationship consists of mirroring his movements and then your strikes emane from the flow of movement. You do not block his strikes because that would mean that you are disconnected from him in the first place.  Rather, you remain connected even to his strikes, keeping a light connection between you.  He feels as if he were punching or kicking into the air.
REMAIN CENTERED – All your movements should revolve around your center. When you respond to your opponent, seek your own center first and then his.  This means that your response should emanate from your center (the tan-tien, an area about 1 ½ inches below the navel and in the center of the body). More generally, movements should originate from the hips and power originates from the legs and hips. You then direct your power to the opponent’s center of gravity to create the maximum effect.  By keeping the dynamics of power at the centers, you need the least strength and the least amount of movement for the maximum effect.
There is a tendency to expand your body and to bring your attention up to the top of the body. In this way you may feel more powerful but you are actually the least effective. Each of your strike’s power must pass through the center. There is a tendency, after the first strike, to keep striking without returning to the center. This is a mistake because a strike that does not come from the center is ineffective.
BOTTOM HEAVY, TOP LIGHT – This is called, “aligning heaven and earth”. The air is light. The ground is solid and heavy. We arrange our bodies in the same way. The legs are heavy and provide a solid support. The top of the body is light and fast. The hips are rubbery (in between light and heavy) to allow for the transfer of energy from bottom to top and vice versa. Yet, as shown in the Yin/Yang symbol, within Yang there is the “eye” of Yin. Within Yin there is the “eye” of Yang. Within the heavy legs there is a springy energy created by the compression of the body. This allows for fast leg movement. Within the light top of the body, the power of the legs and hips flows through, providing solid strikes. This is the meaning of the phrase that a Tai-chi fighter is like steel wrapped in cotton.
STRIKE THE INSIDE – We do not focus the strikes on the surface of the opponent’s body. Neither do we focus past the opponent’s body. If we are striking the torso, we focus on the inside surface of the opponent’s back. Thus our attention is already within the opponent’s body. When we strike, we are already past his defenses. Focusing our force on the inside of his back causes a reverberation of the force within his body cavity for maximum effect. The idea is to pass by his front muscle and bone layers and create the effect within his body. Many people have strong muscles and are used to taking strikes. Furthermore, they may have practiced types of chi-gung that toughen the surface of the torso. We penetrate that layer as cleanly as possible. When we do focus on the muscles themselves, we focus on the interior of the muscle.
THREAD THE STRIKES – We train to narrow the force as much as possible as it is being delivered. We are usually not trying to damage the surface but want to penetrate that surface. The more narrow the force can be made (while still maintaining the actual amount of force), the more easily it will penetrate the surface (either the surface of the torso or the surface of a muscle if you are trying to injure the muscle). It is like threading a needle. You can’t thread a needle if the thread is frayed.
YANG FORCE FLOWS THROUGH YIN PARTS OF THE BODY – The Yang parts of the body (back and the outside of the arms and legs) serve as the conduits of force, like a pipe serves as the conduit of water. The Yin parts of the body (front and the inside of legs and arms) should be kept “empty” (relaxed), so that force can flow through them. Force should never move through your back or the outside of your arms and legs. The Yin parts of the body are like the inside of the pipe, which is empty so the water can flow through it. The Yin parts of the body even stays empty at the moment of impact so that the force cleanly moves out of your body and into the opponent’s body. The force is thus contained so that it doesn’t dissipate. The result is that you (the striker) hardly feel the strike (but your opponent certainly does!).  All the force has left your body. If you tense up the whole body as you strike then much of your force goes into your own tension and you block your force from moving into the opponent.
STRIKE THE ORIGIN OF THE FORCE – If the opponent punches, we do not have to strike his arm but usually strike the origin of his force, which is usually the shoulder. The shoulder may be the origin of the force because many people bring their energy up to their shoulders and then strike using the strength of their arms. This is not effective, of course. But if the shoulder is the origin of the force, then we strike that shoulder, weaving our bodies away from the strike at the same time. If he kicks, we may gently re-direct his kick with our palm but at the same time, strike his hip. We look at the opponent in terms of how the force is being generated and directed. We strike to interfere with that force as much as possible, rendering the opponent’s actions ineffective.
In grappling, direct his force into your center. This brings the arena of action into your center where you have the most control. As he grabs you, notice each contact point and the direction of his force from each contact point. Re-arrange your body so that the force from each contact point goes to your tan-tien, and into your hips and legs. Direct the interaction from there. If he twists your arm to lock a joint, notice the direction of his forces. In this case, align his forces with both your own center and with his shoulder. Receive his force in a spiral manner towards your center and then back outward into his shoulder. This is an advanced training which is hard to contemplate without direct instruction from a teacher (as is the case, really, with all of Tai-chi-Chuan training).
MOVE AWAY FROM YANG AND INTO YIN – When the opponent strikes, we call that “Yang”. That is where he is concentrating his force. We move away from Yang and into the “Yin” areas of his body. We never move away from him (we stick with him), except in rare cases to create the element of surprise. We are always moving into his “Yin” and striking. If we were to move into his “Yang” (as in blocking his strike) then we would be placing our attention at the focal point of his power. This puts us into a vulnerable position. Blocking also wastes a move and if the opponent is big and strong, your arm may get hurt. Let him strike. It is your job not to be where he is striking, but not to move his arm or leg out of the way. Let him wear himself out.
STAY ROOTED – Each joint must sink into your root. The root is the weight of the body, sinking into the ground. Each joint individually connects with the ground so that every point in the body has an active connection to the ground. When you strike, your weighted leg presses into the ground as you strike. This creates a pressure within the body which then explodes into the punch or kick. The strength of a grappling opponent is drained through each of your joints into the root and provides you with even more compressed force. Furthermore, this draining of his force then provides you with a direct “route” back into the origins of his force.
These are some of the basic principles of Tai-chi-Chuan (and Phantom Kung-fu) sparring. There is an excellent movie showing Tai-chi sparring – “The Tai-chi Master”. While the plot and the editing of the film makes it a bit hard to follow, the sparring is genuine (though exaggerated) and is a rare opportunity to see how Tai-chi is truly the “Grand Ultimate Martial Art”.