Saturday, December 28, 2013

Separate the Hips and Waist

This week, I would like to talk about turning at the waist. All styles of tai chi have some type of turning movements. Push off with one foot, start to shift your weight, and turn. This type of movement should have some movement of the hips, but even more movement of the waist.

One of the things we learn in our tai chi practice is to turn our waists separately from our hips. Beginners to tai chi generally don't even know that the hips and waist can be moved separately. These students have a certain "board-like quality" to their movement. I know. I've been there.

How do we learn to turn properly? Start by sitting in an upright chair. Not on a soft cushion, but a chair where you can sit up straight. Place your feet flat on the floor. Turn from side to side. Play with it a bit. Loosen your upper body and swing back and forth. Tighten your upper body and turn at the waist.

With a little bit of playing around, you should notice that you can turn at your waist even though your hips can't move because of the chair.

Now stand up and try it that way. Play with it as you did when sitting. You should begin to feel the separate movements of the waist and the hips. If you are having trouble with this, stand with your hips against a counter or against the back of a chair. This will help you learn how to turn your waist without turning your hips.

Now that you know what it feels like, start to pay attention during your forms. You can easily figure out how to apply this type of movement whenever it is needed.

© 2013 Eric Borreson

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Physician, Heal Thyself

I recently started writing again after a couple of months without much happening. It's a great feeling to be back at it.

So why had I stopped? Stress, busy lifestyle, and feeling too tired. I have a full-time job that pays the bills. It has these things called deadlines. And I have a micromanager for a boss that creates lots of stress for everyone when he is unable or unwilling to plan ahead.

I have been teaching part time (3 evenings a week). I work at promoting classes and teaching beginners. Beginners are hard to teach because they don't know anything about anything. I have to explain everything. Over and over again. I love to do it, but it's tiring.

My meditation teacher wants me to spend more time meditating. My tai teacher would like me to spend more time practicing tai chi. My boss would like me to spend more time working. I have taken on new responsibilities with the Tai Chi for Health community. I have a thousand books that I want to read. A few minor medical issues have come up recently that I needed to deal with. I have a self-imposed deadline to write for my blog. I haven't been sleeping enough because of all the stress.

I was tired and worn out and I needed to do something about it. I teach people to live a healthful lifestyle, but I wasn't practicing it enough myself. Physician, heal thyself.

I took a couple of months off from my teaching and writing. I do have a few students that are more advanced. These students are so much easier and much more fun to teach, so I kept on doing that. But no more beginners during that time. I survived a major deadline for a project at work. I got caught up on some of the things that had piled up on my desk. I read a lot. I watched a lot of movies with my wife. But mostly, I got back in the habit of practicing my tai chi.

We all know that "it takes time", and it did, but I am finding the energy again in my own practice. One way to express that is to start writing again. I recently purchased a new tai chi DVD, Dr. Lam's Chen 36 and started working my way through that. One new form each week. I sat down for a couple of hours today and wrote enough to get me a couple of weeks ahead in my writing.

I'm loving it.

Metta and blessings to all as we near the end of 2013 and get close to starting the new year.

© 2013 Eric Borreson

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tilt the Pelvis

A common saying in tai chi is to "tilt the pelvis" or alternatively to say "tuck the tailbone". What does this mean? Simple. It's a way of straightening the lower spine by pivoting the pelvis and pulling in the tailbone. Unfortunately, this is often misunderstood to mean that we should use muscular force to put our body in a particular posture. Have you ever seen someone trying to do this? They push their pelvis forward, lean back, and end up in such an awkward position that they can hardly stand.

How can we teach this to beginners so they don't get into the outlandish postures we often see? It goes back to "sinking the qi". When we deliver energy, like with the final part of a Brush Knee movement, we shift our weight forward onto the front leg, sink our weight slightly, and exhale.

There are different types of breathing we can do during the exhale. I want to focus on what Dr. Paul Lam calls "dan tien breathing" (dan tian ? I'm not sure of the proper Pinyin spelling - does anyone know for sure?). You can read more about it here (scroll down to "Dan Tien Breathing").
As you exhale, contract the muscles in the lower abdomen (below the belly button). Focus on relaxing your hips and pay attention to the any feeling in your hips, pelvis, and tailbone. You should feel a gentle tugging that tilts your pelvis and brings your tailbone forward. This straightens your spine and helps direct any force through your legs into the ground. Now you know what it means to tilt your pelvis.

It will be very tiring to do a lot of this type of exercise. It will probably feel as though you have never used those muscles before. You can build on this through practice.

© 2013 Eric Borreson