This week, I am adding some more depth by adding in more of the core principles of tai chi. Add these principles to what you practiced at the previous level.
This if the last of 4 articles. They are intended to be read in order. To go to the beginning of this series, click here.
Stand for a moment in wu ji before you begin. You can read more here. The first step is to relax into the posture. Stand as still as a tree and pay attention to any sensations you feel. Do not try to change anything. Just pay attention to the sensations. Visualize a string connecting the top of your head with the heavens, lifting you and stretching your spine.
Let your mind travel throughout your body. Use your breathing as a point of focus. If your mind wanders, bring it back to your breathing. Let your mind calm down and empty out. A calm mind can better sense the flow of qi. The goal is to develop your ability to sense what is happening in your body. Awareness of your body develops your self-awareness.
Now start to adjust your posture. One area to focus on it the pelvis and buttocks. We often tighten the muscles in this area in order to help maintain balance. We need to adjust our posture so that we can relax these muscles.
Moving Your Qi
Last week, I wrote about open and closing movements. The next phase of understanding open and close is to start moving your qi as you open and close. The Conception and Governing Vessels are the main "rivers" for your qi to flow. The Conception Vessel runs down the front and center (yin side) of our torso. The Governing Vessel runs up our back (yang side) along the spine. During your practice, keep your mouth gently closed with your tongue touching your upper palate. This connects the Conception and Governing vessels.
When you open (inhale), visualize moving your qi from your dan tian, through your perineum, and up your spine toward the bai hui point at the crown of your head. When you close (exhale), visualize moving your qi down the front center of your body to the lower dan tian.
It takes practice to accomplish this. Learn it in small sections of the movement. Inhale as you start raising your hands during the opening movement. Visualize your qi moving from the dan tian, up the back, and over the top of your head. Exhale as you lower your hands. Visualize your qi moving down the front of your body to the dan tien. Repeat this several times until you start to become comfortable with it.
It is important that you do not force your breathing here. If you are not sure where to be inhaling and exhaling or you get tired, just breathe naturally.
Dan Tien Breathing
The muscles closest to the spine work different than other muscles in terms of function and neuromuscular properties. Their function is to protect and strengthen the spine. In Western medicine and anatomy, these muscles are called the deep stabilizers. Dr. Paul Lam uses the term dan tien breathing to describe a way to strengthen these muscles as well as develop proper posture and alignment.
To learn how to breathe with this method, place one hand over your upper abdomen, above your belly button. Place your other hand over your lower abdomen, below your belly button. When you inhale, imagine that the air fills your lungs, bypasses your upper abdomen, and fills your lower abdomen and gently expands it like a balloon.
When you exhale, gently contract your lower abdomen as if the air is leaving the balloon. During both in hales and exhales, try to keep your top hand from moving. When you are comfortable with dan tien breathing, remove your hands and stand in dan tien. In addition, the dan tien breathing method can be practiced while doing the Open and Close Hands form of Sun style tai chi. Dr. Lam describes it like this:
“The dan tien breathing method is especially effective for relaxation and for healing. Whenever you feel stressed or nervous, take a gentle breath. Start doing open and close. Breathe in and out and you most likely will find your mind clears up and the stress eases off.”
Another way to think about this is to gently contract the muscles of the pelvic floor located at the midpoint of the perineum, at the hui yin point. Visualize that you are contracting those muscles toward your belly button as you inhale. Allow those muscles to relax as you exhale. The total movement should only be about 1/4 inch or about 1/2 cm. If you get tired, just relax and go back to breathing naturally.
This type of breathing uses your diaphragm to expand your lungs. As we get older, we tend to breathe shallower. This change is primarily due to sitting and hunching over. This exercise greatly expands your lung capacity and counteracts the bad influence of hunching over. This is very relaxing and improves your qi.
Description of the Movement
Keep working on relaxing your body, especially your shoulders, waist, and pelvis. As you extend your hands out during the initial movement, inhale and visualize your qi moving up your spine. Just let your mental focus move up the spine and over the top of your head. At the same time, gently contract the muscles of the pelvic floor.
As your hands start to come back down, visualize your qi moving down the front of your body. Just let your mental focus move down the front of your body. At the same time, gently release the muscles of the pelvic floor.
As you bring your hands back in toward your waist and up along your abdomen, inhale and visualize your qi moving up your spine. Just let your mental focus move up the spine and over the top of your head. At the same time, gently contract the muscles of the pelvic floor.
As you start to extend your hands and step forward, visualize your qi moving down the front of your body. Just let your mental focus move down the front of your body. At the same time, gently release the muscles of the pelvic floor.
This writing project grew so much bigger than I expected. There is so much more to talk about. I will add to this some time in the future.
This is a lot to learn. It's too difficult to do it all at once. Have a point of focus every time you practice. Take some time to focus on relaxing any tension. Develop song in all your movements. Focus on the principles I have written about.
To read the first article in this series, click here.
© 2013 Eric Borreson