Archive for the ‘Tai Chi Online Training Tips’ Category

The First Fa Jin In The Long Form

Monday, October 18th, 2010

The first fa jin in the 99-step Chen Pan Ling form we do often causes students some problems. The logical thing to do would be to copy the movement, but that’s not really how you can get this posture, or for that fact, any posture right. Technically perfect movement is still not Taiji. One student we had a few years ago was a professional dancer and it took her three weeks to learn the form. What she didn’t get was the understanding of the flavour of the movement. This flavour, this feeling is what makes Taiji what it is rather than a sequence of movements. Flavour is in the feeling. The English language is well equipped to describe each sense in isolation, we have many adjectives for describing sight, sound and touch, but the feeling of movement is a combination of these senses for which English, or for that fact any other language has no vocabulary to describe.

So, how do you learn something you can’t describe? Through experience.

The process of learning Taiji is largely experiential. It isn’t till you have experience the flavour that you can really know or understand it. Some teaching methods just got the student to repeat the postures again and again until an awareness of the flavour develops, but we don’t believe that is an efficient way to learn. What we prefer to do is to present different metaphors, give new perspectives to the student that they can try with the movement until they catch a glimpse of the flavour they’re aiming to capture. That glimpse is all that’s really necessary, as the student can then develop that glimpse until it is a part of the form they practise every day.

How To Use Taiji Form – Healing a Back

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Last year, I hurt my back – and I used my Taiji form to help me heal it and get back to my normal self within a week or so.. And I thought I should share how I did it.

It’s my own fault really, I had a “me Tarzan, You Jane” moment and was a typical man. I lifted a 45kg chest of drawers from the showroom to the car and then up the stairs to my son’s bedroom. Now, bear in mind that I (Tannage) am a middle-aged 5’4″ midget who weighs in at 65kg.

So, unsurprisingly something had to give, and unfortunately it wasn’t my pride.

Two days later, I wake up unable to really bend at the middle. If anyone of you have ever seen the Cybermen, that’s what I looked like when I walked around, well minus the shiny suit and evilness.

My back had gone into spasm, and a rather unpleasant spasm it was. I get stabbing pain, the sort that feels like hot chopsticks being stuck into your body.

Taiji person, heal thyself

So, having taken this hit to my pride, I resolved to be even more of a man. No painkillers. Stabbing pain? Crippling discomfort? Nah, I will be a man and get through it all!

Well.. Actually there was a method to my madness.

I’ve used Taiji to help me heal my back before, but it’s not quite as straightforward as just running through the form again and again, although that would also help.

Shotgun vs Sniper Rifle

Practising Taiji form heals the whole body, and if you have a bad back it will also help heal it, but this is something of a shotgun approach. A rising tide lifts all boats so they say. Raise the general health of the body and the back will heal itself.

Y’see, for a Taiji person, I was (1) Impatient, (2) in dire need of salvaging some pride.

I prefer Taiji practise for healing to be somewhat more focussed, I prefer it to be like a sniper rifle.

The question then is..

How Can I Practise Specifically To Heal My Back?

First up, I played through the form, paying attention to which postures caused discomfort, and the nature of the discomfort. Yeah I was doing the macho thing without taking painkillers, but there is method to the madness. Painkillers dull your sensations, and by taking them I would have dulled my sensitivity to the pain, and would therefore not have got as good a reading on which postures I needed to work on.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re thinking of doing this, and you ARE in severe pain, maybe take some (but always consult your doctor first). There’s no point in being in so much pain you can’t concentrate on anything.

1) Find the Postures That Hurt

I drew up a list of postures that were uncomfortable or painful, and took some notes on how these postures were different to the normal way I usually practised. Unsurprisingly, these postures were the ones that all had gentle flexing of the back, like cloud hands, snake creeps down, needles at sea bottom and especially grasp swallow’s tail.

2) Play The Form, Focussing On The Postures That Hurt

So what I did next was play the form repeatedly, paying attention to those postures, focussing on the back at those postures and making sure it got some movement and some flexing and circulation during the form. The main focus was in relaxation, as it was my back muscles going into spasm that was causing all the pain. I didn’t push these postures as hard as I normally did, didn’t sink as low, or make the movements too big, as the focus was to help rehabilitate the back.

Well, it’s remarkable what a few days of focussed practise can do.

3) Other things to consider

Now this, in of itself is not the whole story. I was also paying strict attention to how I was holding my body during the day, as bad posture is a major contributor to my back pain, as a bad posture is sure to bend an already hurt back even more out of shape. Give your back the best chance at healing itself is what I say, so even though I’d be practising, I’d still be doing other things that would help too.

It took a week, but my back was well and I had no pain after that time.

It’s worth mentioning that I had strained the muscles in my back, and there was no structural damage like tearing or inflammation. This was a back spasm (which I’m sure many of you will be aware of), so if you have some tissue damage this method may not work and you should see a health professional.

Taiji Form is a Tool

Taiji form is more than just a sequence of healing movements. It’s a tool that has certain properties. Just like you can use a knife to cut vegetables, slice meat and so on, your Taiji form can also be used in a variety of healing ways, it’s a tool that, if used in the right way can yield great results.

How to do Fa Jin

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Following on from the Fu Zhongwen Fajin blog post, we thought we’d add a bit more to the pot. Faijin isn’t just for martial arts or self-defense. Fajin can also be used to help the body heal itself, and keep itself healthy. A bit of impact every now and again helps the bone density, apart from the fact that you just feel good after practising fajin for a bit.

So, we’ve filmed a short video on how to practise basic fajin, which, at its heart is just a quick shake of the hips. The trick to it is to be relaxed enough so that the weave of power produced by the hip shake flows all the way into the limbs and fingertips. The feeling is not unlike a bounce. You’ll feel the wave of power bounce out from your core and into your extremities.

Now, you don’t need to have complete mastery of fajin to garner health benefits from it, and we believe the tradition of needing fajin being absolutely perfect stems from the self-defense days. Fajin was (and still is) used as a method of generating massive power over short distances, e.g. striking over a couple of inches. At high levels, this power would be lethal power over such short distances. In the days when there was no police force in China, mastery of fajin to this level of martial effectiveness was the difference between life and death, so it would obviously be emphasised. Fajin was after all what gave martial Taiji it’s edge, it’s what made it different and was the thing that it could do that not everyone else could.

Fast forward a few hundred years, our priorities are not so much “Am I going to walk away alive” but rather “How can I fix my back?” and so on. So, the emphasis of Taiji, and of fajin is now different. We’re all about the healing, and fajin, just like any other exercise in Taiji, will assist with that.

Breathe Like Babies! How to do Abdominal Breathing.

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Just around the time we both dropped off the face of the earth with assorted life-events, we were talking about breathing, and more importantly, how breathing can help you with your Taiji practise ,stress control etc. etc. etc.

Greeny mentioned that we should answer the rather obvious question of how you should actually breathe. Now, there are lots of ways to breathe, and different schools will tell you many different things and go through lots of different techniques. There’s to name but a few, tonic breathing, reverse breathing, abdominal breathing, burst breathing, the list goes on. What we’re going to focus on here is abdominal breathing, the simplest and most natural way of breathing.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a young child or baby available, just watch them when they’re sleeping. They breathe abdominally. We can all agree that babies have not had the opportunity to develop bad breathing habits, so their bodies are just going to breathe however they want to, i.e. abdominally. If you hearken back to the post on just letting your body breathe, that’s what your body will do if you just let it do the breathing, but for you all who find this difficult (and we had quite a few emails from those of you who found letting go and letting your body breathe) this is the exercise that can help you bridge the gap between breathing consciously and breathing naturally.

What is Fajin?

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

Loosely translated, Fajin means “to issue power”. There are lots of explanations for this phenomena, from relatively simple to rather mystical.

Practically speaking, Fajin is a way of generating power, more specifically short power for striking or grappling applications in the martial aspects of Taijiquan. Training Fajin can allow you to generate tremendous amounts of power over short distances, something first popularised by Bruce Lee’s one inch punch. If you’ve been studying Fajin for martial purposes for any length of time, you’ll probably have realised that that sort of power is your bread and butter power for martial Taijiquan.

This doesn’t mean to say that Fajin does not have its applications in the healing discipline within Taijiquan or any internal martial art. “Soft” Fajin is a way of practising Fajin that allows the body to experience gentle impact to stimulate the bones and allows the body’s Qi to circulate more freely. Practising Fajin is also a useful way for the Taijiquan practitioner to “self-diagnose” areas of tension or Qi blockage within his or her own body, as the wave of power will travel and stop at any points of tension or blockage. The practitioner can then practise to relax these areas in his normal Taijiquan form practise. Fajin for health is not often taught these days, and it is a point of interesting historical speculation as to why it was not emphasised in the modern teachings of Taijiquan.

Biomechanically, a Fajin is nothing more than a vigorous shake of the hips, allowing the wave of power to move up through the body and then out through the hands, much like the force travels through the hanging ball bearings on a Newton’s cradle. Whilst this principle is very easy to describe, the practise of it is slightly more tricky because the body has to be relaxed enough to allow the power to flow.

Much of the initial practise of Taijiquan is aimed at relaxing the body, because this relaxation is required for effective Fajin to take place. Once the body has achieved a baseline of relaxation, then meaningful Fajin practise can begin, and each posture of the Taijiquan form can be used as a short Fajin drill.

If Taijiquan is all about balance, the soft, slow movement of the form has to be balanced by quicker, harder movement, which we believe is the role that the practise of Fajin in the cultivation of health fulfils. In the next post, we’ll talk a bit more about why Fajin is so good for you.

Relaxation is Relative

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Photo by exfordy

There’s a blog post over at martial development on The Four Paradoxes of Standing Meditation.

The post describes the philosophy of Wang XiangZhai, a master of Yiquan boxing and a hard as nails dude in his time.  Yiquan’s training syllabus is based completely around standing meditation, and practitioners do hours and hours of standing as it is the heart of the system.

I’d like to draw your attention to two things in the blog post:

1) Perspectives: Chris gives a different perspective to what happens when you do standing meditation.  What happens to all of us when we practise standing is essentially the same thing, but we all perceive it in different ways.  Chris’s perspective on what happens is different and you may find it useful as it’ll give you another way of looking at the experience to the Taijipedia, and different perspectives are always helpful.

2) Comment: There’s a small argument that goes on in the comments section.  A reader asks about whether we can “objectively verify a state of relaxation”.   Comments 2 and 7 are the ones I’m referring to.

You can’t really objectively verify a state of relaxation.  Our senses and perceptions are relative, and thus, our perception of relaxation is relative, and by inference, all relaxation is relative.  You may feel really relaxed today, more relaxed than this time last week.  However, you may be MORE tense than last week because you had one of those days yesterday and was stressed to the eyeballs.

Your state of relaxation is much like your sense of smell.  If you step into a room with a bad smell (read tension) hanging around, sooner or later you get used to it and don’t notice it any more.  Go into a room with the same smell, but not as bad and you’ll hardly notice it (tension less than before, but still tense).  It’s only when you come out of the room (totally relax), then go back in (tense up again) that you’ll notice the tension again.

So, what does this mean for your Taijiquan practise?  The training and practise will, over time relax you even if you cannot yourself always perceive this relaxation.   It’s a proven method that’s worked for hundreds of years, so you can trust it to deliver the benefits, all you have to do is practise.

The Power of Breathing Without Breathing

Monday, July 6th, 2009

The title of this post might sound a bit like a Zen koan, but it’s something one of my teachers asked me if I could do. In typically traditional and mystical fashion, he left me to figure out what it meant.

I spent quite a bit of time contemplating the question, pondering the nature of the breath, looking at different breathing techniques, observing the breath to see if I could shed light on the rather cryptic lesson. At the time I was at the height of my Taiji nerdity, and I systematically went through all the principles to see if they would shed any light on how to breathe without breathing. Reaching the answer took a few years.

In that typically clichéd Golden Harvest Kung Fu movie fashion, the answer came to me whilst I was reminiscing about my childhood in Malaysia. It’s one of my earliest memories, and I think I was about five. One day I became acutely aware that I was breathing. My chest was moving and air was entering my lungs before I emptied my lungs. I was concentrating on breathing in, filling my lungs, and breathing out, emptying them. It occurred to me that I was controlling my breath and then it all came crashing into my fragile 5-year old mind.

What happens if I stop trying to breathe?

Naturally, this really scared me. What would happen? Would I stop breathing and asphyxiate? Was it possible for me to survive without breathing? What’s Mum going to say when she realises I’m not breathing? Ahmagawd! I’ve not even done my chores! I couldn’t contemplate the consequences to the last question, but I knew they’d be worse than when I shaved my eyebrows off for a laugh.

You might be thinking that it’s all kinda obvious, that I’d have to have been breathing, but to my little 5-year old brain predisposed to missing the obvious, it posed a rather interesting and frightening problem.

This was the point when I realised that I’d got so caught up in the retribution I’d get for not doing my chores. I’d stopped trying to breathe, but a funny thing was happening. I was still breathing! I was not consciously trying to control my breath, and I was just letting my body breathe by itself as it wanted to. I was breathing, without breathing

Naturally I was relieved that this was the case. I’d be able to get my chores done, and all those images in my mind of being a zombie child vanished (The music video of Thriller was fresh in my mind). No life of being undead for me, I’d still be alive and breathing although I’d probably not stay that way for much longer if I didn’t get my chores done.

Now having worked it out, and put it into my practise, I have come to understand the wisdom of my teacher. Here are three ways breathing without breathing can help your Taijiquan:
- You won’t hold your breath – Your body is doing the breathing so it’ll always keep itself breathing, only pausing naturally between each breath. As you’re not holding your breath, you won’t hold tension, which leads me on to..
- You can explore deeper levels of relaxation: Now that you’re not unconsciously tensing yourself up by holding your breath, your body is free to relax even further, for free! You won’t have to concentrate on relaxing as your body will start to do it for you.
- You let your body do what it needs to: Your body will take in as much air as it needs at any given time, and the best thing to do is to just let it do this. You can trust it, it knows how hard, how fast and how deep it needs to breathe.

The last point is by far the most powerful one. We sigh to release tension, we breathe quicker and more deeply to feed our muscles oxygen, our body regulates our breathing for us to do whatever we need at the time, and we don’t even have to think about it.

It’s amazing if you think about it.

One of the fundamental steps in healing is to stop doing anything that’s going to make the situation worse, and letting the body breathe and regulate itself is one way of doing this.

Even if we have bad breathing habits, our body will, if we just let it, start to breathe appropriately for our state at the time. All we have to do is get out of the way.

So how do you learn to breathe without breathing?

The principle is easy to explain and is an extension of the technique explained in the post about breathing and form.

All you have to do is to become more aware of your breathing, observe and understand it, watch how it changes and what happens to it when you do various activities.

When you become aware of your breathing, you will then know when you are messing with it, i.e. deliberately breathing like I did when I was 5, or when you are letting your body breathe.

Deliberate breathing has a different feel altogether, like when you breathe in just before a sigh.

Natural breathing just happens. Stop your breath for an instant, and then just watch what happens next. Your body will just start breathing again, all by itself, and that feeling of your body just doing it, is what you need to get to.

This can be a bit scary, the conscious mind starts to think like me when I was 5. It’ll probably say

“WHAT!!! NOT BREATHING???!? ARE YOU NUTS!!?”

Yeah, big scary caps like that. Ignore your conscious mind. If my little story from when I was 5 proves, your body will simply start to breathe as nature intended it to.

Breathing in Form – Non Blue Face Edition

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

A question I get asked a lot in class is how to breathe whilst you’re doing your Taiji form. It’s difficult to answer it because how you go about learning breathing in your Taijiquan form isn’t intuitive. You can’t just give a student a pattern to breathe to as it’s a sure way to see someone go blue in the face as they try to do the form with the “correct” breathing.

You can always spot someone who’s trying to breathe to a pattern, because they’re usually the ones holding their breath. A posture that takes a bit longer than normal to complete means they’ll have to exhale for a lot longer, but because they’re not so good at it yet, they exhale almost completely by the time they’re 2/3 of the way through the posture and then hold their breath for the rest. This makes them hold tension and is a little self-defeating. They’re putting a lot of effort into relaxing themselves off, only to have their breathing pattern tense them up again.

Practising form for long periods breathing like this isn’t good because the body will, eventually pick up on that habit of holding the breath and start doing it, which means more tension.

Not good. It just ain’t Taiji as there’s no continuous change in the breath.

The other reason why you can’t just take a breathing pattern and shove it into the Taiji form is because your body varies quite a bit from day to day, and one day it might find it easy to breathe in the pattern you’ve been given, and the next it might struggle. This is something you don’t have conscious control over, because your body is different from day to day. That’s just the way it is.

One of the ways to get around this is to teach the body to coordinate breathing with movement. This way, whatever your internal state, your body will just start to regulate and synchronise whatever breathing pattern is most appropriate and most relaxing with your movement. It is, however somewhat unintuitive as it doesn’t use your conscious mind. Just try it out and see how it works, even if you don’t believe me.

Practise breathing with very natural movements, such as walking and eventually your body will get the idea, so that when you do start doing Taiji form, your body will automatically breathe to the movement, you won’t have to try to “fit” your breathing to the form.

So, the next time you’re walking along to get somewhere, breathe in for four steps, and out for four steps. As you walk along, gradually increase the length of the breath to ten steps in and ten steps out. Try not to hold your breath in or out at any point. If you’re trying to take ten steps and you run out of breath by eight, then that’s your limit for that moment in time. Don’t try to force it, we don’t want anyone going blue in the face. You need to practise long and short breaths, as there are long and short movements in the form. Go as high as you can without tensing up or holding your breath and do this often, try it out when you next walk to the shops or when you’re in the gym.

If you do this often enough, your body will get the idea of co-ordinating movement with breathing and it will automatically start do regulate your breathing during your form practise.

Good Breathing Habits – And How To Get Them

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Photo by karloswayne

This week’s Big Idea is Breathing

Breathing in Taiji is one of the big kahunas. It’s because breathing is a primary way we relax ourselves. Think about what you do when you sigh. It’s a way for us to relax and let go of tension.

Try it now, breathe in… and sigh…

Some part inside of you just lets go doesn’t it? It may not come as a surprise then that breathing affects us physiologically in a million different ways. It isn’t a coincidence that so many internal arts and qigong forms empahsise the importance of correct breathing to help the body heal itself.

If you hold your breath, you’re automatically going to hold tension in the body. It’s an unnatural state for your body to be in, stuck in some sort of limbo between breaths, because the body’s natural state is one of constant breathing, constant change. Try it, hold your breath for as long as you can and you’ll notice that there will come a point when your body starts to tense up. Holding the breath is stressful.

What happens when you’re stressed and thinking about a difficult issue? More often than not, you’ll be holding your breath. If you work in an office, watch someone who’s having a bad day. As they concentrate intently, they’ll inhale and hold their breath whilst they’re thinking or trying to do something, then instinctively exhale and sigh as if to try to relieve the stress. When you’re holding tension mentally, or emotionally, you’ll more than likely start to manifest it physically by holding your breath.

As another example, what happens when you get startled, or surprised? Say someone hides behind that tree and jumps out shouting “BOO!”. You get startled, and you breathe in sharply, and then you hold your breath

If you do any sort of martial art and have done some sparring, you’ll know that when you get hit or put under pressure you start to run out of energy quicker, unless you can stop the panic and clear your head. I’ll bet that it’s because you’ll be holding your breath at and the added pressure from your sparring partner just saps your strength quicker.

To handle the stress of childbirth both mentally and physically, pregnant women are taught to breathe. Soldiers in some forces are taught breathing techniques to handle the stress of combat. Just as our internal state can affect our breathing, so can our breathing affect the rest of our physiology.

If you can focus on your breathing and breathe in a more controlled manner, or better yet, just let your body do the breathing, it’ll start to let go of the tension that’s been collecting in the body. If we focus on calming the breath, the body and mind will follow.

This is why breathing is important in Taijiquan.

It’s not because breathing during Taijiquan practise will make our Taijiquan better, it’s because practising breathing correctly will make every part of our life better.

It’ll do that by making you a lot more relaxed for a start.

Once your body gets used to breathing correctly during Taijiquan practise, it’ll start to remember it when you’re in your everyday life. When you hit some turbulence, you’ll instinctively start to breathe more gently to relieve the pressure. You might even find it’s a conscious thing. When you start looking at a new problem at work, you might even catch yourself doing a “Deep breath… let’s go” sort of thing.

It’s the same idea that you’re re-programming the body to do something it does naturally. Just as we can have bad postural habits, we can have bad breathing habits, and practise of Taijiquan with the right breathing can really help us let go of these habits.

And that, can only be a good thing.

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Taiji For Back Pain – How Taiji Form Heals It

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

The second in our videos on Taiji for back pain. The Yang Taiji 24 form’s a good form for helping your back heal, it’s not too demanding on the body and is simple enough to learn quickly. The gentle movements and flexing and stretching is very good for your back as it will loosen up your back and allow bits of it to move.

Another benefit of getting yourself to relax is the fact that relaxation allows the circulation of blood in the previously tense areas of your back to improve. More blood going through it means more healing as blood brings with it lots of good stuff that the back needs, and takes away all the bad stuff that might have been sitting there waiting to be cleared.

The link to connecting to centre can be found here.
And here’s the first in our lessons on the Yang Taiji 24 Form.