Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 244
Yang’s 10 Essential Points
#5 – Sink the Shoulders and Drop the Elbows
This is good, common sense advice for all aspects of our lives. All the Essential Points have something to do with growing a deep root to bring up the Yin Chi, and sending up the Spiritual antenna from the top of the head to interact with the Yang Chi.
When the shoulders and elbows are elevated, the root is weakened. Here is a simple experiment. Hold your right arm up parallel to the ground – straight out to the side, like Single Whip. Notice how your shoulder, elbow, and body energy feel. Now slowly rotate the elbow upward (counter clockwise) and feel what happens to your energy. Slowly rotate the shoulder and elbow back (clockwise), and see what happens. Let the elbow hang.
I try this with my classes and all students experience the same thing if done correctly. When the shoulder and elbow are raised (counter-clockwise rotation), most people feel energy/tightness in the upper shoulder by the neck, cutting off the energy flow from the spine. The shoulder muscles are tightened, restricting the flow from torso to the hand. The elbow calls attention to itself with tension. If you rotate the elbow back to facing down, it can relax, allowing energy to flow to the hand.
Do this exercise slowly with full attention, multiple times. I’m sure you will experience relaxation when the shoulders and elbow are dropped. Of course, the raising of the shoulders is natural when we are in a state of fear or anxiety. The head and neck are drawn back down into the torso for protection. Many people live their lives without being able to let the shoulders relax down. Tai Chi can, and does, help.
Tai Chi, being a martial art, requires the shoulders and elbows to be relaxed, allowing the flanks of the body to be protected. If you raise the elbow, the flank is exposed and vulnerable. If the elbows are held tightly agains the body for protection, movement is hindered, so we say that there is always a small space left in the arm pit. One should be able to hold a tennis sized ball in the arm pit throughout the entire form. This sinks the shoulders and elbows. If you try this, you will see how the root will be strengthened by upper body relaxation.
Then there is the issue of pushing. In Tai Chi, we don’t push with the hands and arms – we push with the legs. The hands and/or arms connect to the object to be pushed, then we push downward with the legs (usually the rear leg) and even the heaviest weight will be moved. The problem with most beginners is that they push with the arms only. Not effective. Even worse, if the elbows and shoulders are elevated, the push cannot come from the lower body. It will be the shoulder joint that takes effort. Try this.
Stand in front of something heavy that can move – like a partner. Move in fairly close – close enough so you can put your hands on that person, with a bit of bend in your elbows. Now slow and steady – push. Partner should resist so you have to use a real effort. Feel how that feels. Now let the elbows rise so the they are facing outward, not downward, and push. See if you can feel the difference. Let the elbows drop and push, then let them rise away from the sides and push. When the elbows drop the torso and legs can do the work. When they rise, the shoulder joint takes the effort.
If you have been playing Tai Chi for some time you will not only be able to feel this relaxation on the physical level, but also in the smooth flow of chi, when working with partners or solo. Don’t just take my word for all this. Try out the exercises I suggest and make up ones of your own.
Habit and Routine
I got an email from an online student who said she really enjoyed her practice. I have stated that Tai Chi is most beneficial when practiced on a daily basis. But she was afraid of forming habits, which appeared negative to her. Here was my thinking about this topic.
A habit is something that is done with little or no thought. It is something that has become involuntary, like smoking, or mindless snacking while watching TV. I suggested a different line of thought. How about the idea that you are developing a “routine”? Routines requires a high degree of intention and effort. A routine is done in a particular order frequently but not automatically.
Do you see the difference? A habit is done without thinking whereas a routine is organized and well thought out. I personally have many routines during my day. I practice Tai Chi at least 6 days a week. I like to food shop almost daily, fix and eat dinner early, and early to bed and early to rise. I have fish and birds to take care of. A garden in the growing months. I enjoy this routine. I attempt to do all these activities with full consciousness.
As far as habits go, I used to smoke – from age 14 to 24. A pack a day. When I started Tai Chi classes, Master Choy always reminded us not to smoke cigarettes or pot and don’t do any drugs. I gave up smoking and have never gone back. A nasty habit broken. Tai Chi definitely helps the player stay aware of what he or she is doing on the physical, emotional, and mental level.
So keep it up and develop smart routines.