Saturday, October 19, 2013

Application of Song (Relax and Loosen)


Song – The most common translation is relax, but this is not sufficient to adequately describe the term. It can also be translated as loose, open, yielding, free, and responsive. It can refer to releasing all unnecessary muscular tension while maintaining structural alignment. This means loosening and stretching your muscles, releasing your tensions throughout your body, and opening your joints from within. This does not mean that you turn limp and soft. It means loose and prepared with no unnecessary tension.

So how do we do this thing called Song? How do we teach it to our students? Start by moving slowly. Quick movements hide the tension. It is easier to identify any areas of tightness in the muscles and joints when moving slowly. It allows us to feel every muscle as it contracts and loosens. Work on developing your Song by visualizing your joints loosening up as you move. Here is a simple exercise to help you learn about song.

Hands
Look at your hands at the inside of your wrists. At the base of your palm, right where it joins with the wrist, there is a line, or fold, in the skin. You can usually see this line on both hands. Bring your hands together so that your hands are in a prayer position. Hold your hands together, palms facing each other, and align the two lines. Look at your finger tips. For many people, the fingertips will not be even. One hand is larger than the other. Note which hand is smaller. If they seem to be the same size, note which hand is your non-dominant hand. I am right-handed, so my left hand is non-dominant.

Now, look at your smaller or non-dominant hand. Start with your little finger. Relax your hand and look at the first knuckle, the one closest to your palm. Visualize that joint is expanding and stretching. Keep your attention there for about 3 to 5 seconds. Move to the next joint on the little finger. Visualize that joint is expanding and stretching. Focus for about 3 to 5 seconds again. Move your attention to the last joint in the finger and repeat.

Move your attention to the next finger, the ring finger. Look at the first knuckle and do the same visualization. Follow this with the rest of the knuckles. Move to the middle finger, then the index finger, and then the thumb. Do the same visualization for each knuckle. Now, visualize your entire hand. Imagine that the whole hand is expanding, that it is growing with each heartbeat.

Now, line up your hands again from the line at your wrist and check the size of your hand. Most people find that their hand has grown a little bit. You certainly didn't increase the size of your bones in that short time. The increase has to come from the space between the bones, the joints. This is Song.

Now the tricky part begins. Use this same technique for the rest of your body. Don't worry about the measuring or comparing here. You know it works.

Forms Application
Let's look at one specific form as an example. I like to use the Sun-style Playing Lute. Any style of Press the Mountain should work too. Let's look at moving to the left. After Brush Knee, we step back into Playing Lute.

Footwork
Ignore your arms for now as we learn the footwork and body mechanics. Place your right foot behind you at an angle. The toes should be about 45° to the right. Then slowly push off with your left leg and shift your weight back onto the right leg. Bring your left leg back and place your left foot near your right foot, but still pointing forward. Your left leg is now empty and your right leg is full. In Sun-style, you touch down with your left foot on the ball of the foot. In Yang-style, you touch town with the heel. Either works in this example.

Sink slightly and pay attention to the right leg, especially the knee and thigh. If you keep your body facing forward, you will feel some twisting force in your right leg. Allow your body to rotate to the right so that it points in the same direction as your right foot, more or less. You can learn the correct angle to turn your body by rotating it left and right and noticing the angle where the twisting force in your leg is minimized. Practice this several times so that movement and rotation seem natural.

Hips and Waist
Now, let's focus on the hips and waist. As you push off with your left leg, your hips and waist start to rotate to the right so that your body can line up with your right foot as before. Practice this several times so that movement and rotation seems natural and you are very aware of how your waist feels as you turn it.

Shoulders
Now, let's focus on the shoulders. As you push off with your left leg, your torso and shoulders follow the hips and waist as they rotate to the right. Practice this several times so that movement and rotation seems natural and you are very aware of how your body feels as you do it.

Arms and Hands
Now, let's focus on the arms and hands. Place yourself in position at the end of Brush Knee. Your right hand is in front of your right shoulder at about shoulder height. Your left hand is beside you at about waist height. Keep your shoulders tight and the upper arms tight against your torso. As you step back and rotate your hips and waist, your arms will follow the rotation. This is NOT Song. This is to teach you the wrong movement so you can learn to see the difference between the right and wrong movement.

Do it again. This time, be aware of keeping a little space under your arms. Visualize placing a small ball under your arms to maintain that space. You do this so that your arms and torso can move independently.

Start with your right arm. As you step back, your right shoulder rotates to the right and back (clockwise relative to the floor). Allow that shoulder rotation to pull your right arm back with it. Be aware of that space under your arm. Loosen the shoulder in the same way that you loosened your knuckles earlier. Let that space under your arm close as you rotate. Sink the elbow.

Keep the shoulder relaxed and loosened. Gently guide your right hand from it's original position in front of the shoulder to its new position at your waist. Your arm twists slightly to turn your hand from the palm forward to the palm left toward your body.

Now pay attention to your left arm. As you step back, your left shoulder rotates forward and to the right (clockwise relative to the floor). Allow that rotation to push your left arm forward with it. Be aware of that space under your arm. Loosen the shoulder in the same way that you loosened your knuckles earlier. Let that space under your arm open up even more as you rotate. Gently guide your left hand from it's original position at your waist to its new position in front of you. Your arm twists slightly to turn your hand from palm toward your body to palm forward.

Combine all the movements. Place your right foot behind you at an angle. Push off with your left leg and let the hips and waist rotate to the right. Let that rotation push your left hand forward and pull your right hand backward. Bring your left foot back to empty position.

Summary
Your shoulders rotate with the rest of your body. Your right hand gets pulled with a gentle curve backward and down. The space under the arm closes and your arm and hand end up in the correct position. Your left hand gets pushed with a gentle curve forward and up. The space under the arm opens and your arm and hand end up in the correct position. This can only happen when your shoulders are loose.
  
Further reading:

© 2013 Eric Borreson