Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 224
Greetings. Boy, are we lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest, and Port Townsend in particular. Perfect weather. Low to mid 70’s. Light breeze. All fruits and vegietables love growing here. I thank my luck stars for directing me to this place about 40 years ago. I hope all is well for you and yours.
Tai Chi is known as a healthy fitness exercise. So many benefits have been demonstrated through practice. It is my experience from over 50 years of training and teaching that that the reason for most of the results is what I call “Creating Space”. Let me explain.
When we are young we are mostly soft tissue – muscles, tendons, ligaments. The bones will spend quite a bit more time developing. So a child is flexible – able to take falls endlessly without breaking anything.
As the bones grow and become articulated together, the ends of the bones get covered with a soft, sponge like material, called cartilage, which acts as a cushion, so the bones don’t hit together when moving. The joints (where two bones come together) are held together by ligaments. These need to be flexible so the joints can bend and stretch.
So here is where the idea of space comes into play when talking about Tai Chi benefits. As we age, the cartilage starts to dry out and become brittle, losing much of its cushioning. The tendons and ligaments start to shorten making movement more difficult. The space between the various bones is squeezed so movement is hampered. This is thought of as a natural result of aging.
I have a Tai Chi best friend and a worst enemy and it goes by the same name – gravity. This force creates a root in the body that connects me to the nourishing energy of the earth. This root allows me to use the Yin energy of the earth for balance, strength, relaxation.
This same force, gravity, wears down my connective tissues, my cartilage, my inter-cellular spaces. As I age I shrink, get arthritis, back problems, loss of vision, hearing, and hair, and suffer cognitive function reduction. Veins and arteries shrink rising blood pressure, risk of stroke.
This is all natural. Yet, all of us, would no doubt want to slow down and delay the negative impacts of the aging process. That is probably the main reason a majority of people study Tai Chi – to live a long, healthy life, filled with happiness and love. That is why I practice Tai Chi with what I call “Creating Space”.
Here in Port Townsend, there is much need for infrastructure and not enough tax dollars to go around. The roads suffer. Lots of pot holes and rough surfaces. One really notices this when driving an older car. Bumps and more bumps. So it is important to keep one’s shock absorbers in the best condition. If they aren’t working up to their maximum, the physical structure of the automobile suffers. All the parts wear down prematurely and become loose, not to mention what happens to the passengers.
Shock absorbers are so important. The same with our bodies. If we do pounding type exercises, it will speed up the aging process of wearing things down. I’m not saying running and playing sports is not beneficial – only in moderation. I frequently see quite overweight people out jogging to lose weight. I observe how many do not pay attention to the alignment of the ankles, knees, and hips, so each stride puts so much stress on these joints. A little anatomy and physiology would go a long way.
The shock absorbers of the body – intercellular spaces filled with chi made by combining pre-birth chi with post birth chi, is moved through the body naturally, without thought. When I walk, all the spaces between solid objects get filled in order to cushion the bump that comes from walking. Or when sitting for long periods, the spaces would get compressed unless I use the mind to imagine the spaces expanding. This cushion effect can be magnified by the use of the mind. “Sit up straight” was the order from parents and teachers when we were younger, and it is still good advice. We can imagine the space expanding, and through practice of internal arts, including Qigong, we can direct where we need to shift this chi to be of the most help.
When you practice Tai Chi correctly, the movements are done in such a way that the connective tissues are loosened to allow the joints to open, which allows them to fill with chi which can be use to absorb incoming energy (neutralize) or use a sort of squeezing energy (like squeezing a toothpaste tube) to send the chi outward, either in a slow and steady fashion (peng jin) or short and quick (fa jin).
The bottom line is the more I can create space in the body using the mind, the more chi I can accumulate, and the more chi I have to do work. Standing mediation, especially exercises like Holding the Ball, are powerful ways to learn to work with creating space. If you stand in post stance (imagine holding a large ball in front of the chest, palms inward) for sometime, as little as a few minutes, and then slowly let the arms relax back down to the sides, I am sure you will feel this expansion. Don’t let compression take over. Use it when needed, but make space your best friend.