This is a third article in the series on beginner principles of Tai Chi written by R. Shawn Tucker for Spirit Seeker. It will appear it its August 2012 issue.
One of the essential principles of Tai Chi is the concept of sink. The most obvious outcome of properly sinking is to lower one’s center of gravity. Learning how to sink with proper alignment of the head, shoulders, trunk, hips, knees and ankles is critical to achieving any improvements in Tai Chi form or push hands. Sinking is equally important when practicing meditation or standing Qigong exercises. Sinking optimizes the numerous health benefits associated with practicing Tai Chi and Qigong. In addition, I have found it very helpful when hugging!!!! (A very important form of Qigong.)
My teacher, Sifu Justin Meehan, gave me a CD entitled the Tai Chi Classics several years ago. The Classics are written from a perspective of another time and another culture. They are our closest access to the source of the art.
Here is what the Classics have to share about sink:
Complete relaxation requires sinking. Sinking means not floating. Floating violates Taijiquan. If the body can sink, it is good. But sinking the Qi concentrates the spirit which is enormously helpful. When the spirit is gathered, the mind becomes clear.
Sink the chest and pluck up the back. The chest is depressed naturally inward so that the Qi can sink to the Dan Tien. Don’t expand the chest: the Qi gets stuck there, and the body becomes top-heavy. The heel will be too light and can be uprooted. Pluck up the back and the Qi sticks to the back; depress the chest and you can pluck up the back. Then you can discharge force through the spine. You will be a peerless boxer.
Sink the shoulders and drop the elbows. The shoulders will be completely relaxed and open. If you cannot relax and sink, the two shoulders will be raised up and tense. The Qi will follow them up, and the whole body cannot get power. “Drop the elbows” means the elbows go down and relax. If the elbows raise, the shoulders are not able to sink and you cannot discharge people far. The discharge will then be close to the broken force of the external schools.
Ah, ancient wisdom to guide the here and now. I love it!!!
The lower body also expresses the sinking posture. Tailbone tucked, relaxed flexed hips with bent knees aligned over the ankle to midfoot. In my previous article I shared the concept of “Sung Kua”. Even though I explained and offered a reference to Justin Meehan’s article on relaxing and sinking the hips, I cannot imagine anyone ever learning how to sink properly without studying with a competent teacher. Various styles of Tai Chi and different teachers vary in the development, performance and utilization of the essential skill of Sinking.
Sifu Jim Gera, who teaches Hun Yuan Tai chi and Qigong at the Brentwood Center of Health, has this to share about “sinking.”
” To sink means to completely relax the body and allow your weight and energy to drop into the support of your body’s structural alignment. It is similar to hanging coats on a coat rack. The proper alignment of the coat rack allows the coats to hang without effort.
If the rack is imbalanced because coats are on one side or the leg is wobbly, then the entire system will collapse. This is similar to the body that is imbalanced and cannot support anything. In Tai Chi, “Sink” is not an on/off action but a more or less action. When practicing Tai Chi a student is always sinking… the only differences are in the amount of sink.”
Spiritually speaking, Sinking is important when practicing Qigong to recharge your personal Qi or to transmit Qi to another. Sinking is relaxing, and relaxing is sinking. Proper sinking aligns the body for optimal Qi circulation. Sometimes I use the term grounded to explain what it feels like to sink. By grounding or rooting into the earth, one can withstand conflict or chaos with a steady or balanced perspective. I have noticed that when I sink, all of the body parts with alignment and relaxation that I feel connected to that which is in me and around me and that a lightness enters my heart and my mind.
I am sure that there are formal religious and psychological terms for what I am describing but I simply call it “connecting to Source.”
Therapeutically, I have noticed improvements in neck, lumbarand shoulder problems with physical therapy patients when they integrate sinking and relaxing into their postural awareness training.
So next time you are feeling muscular tension and stress inyour neck and shoulders integrate the wisdom of the Tai Chi Classics. You will be practicing high level self care by lowering your Qi!!!!
See you in class sometime! Tao Bless!
This is a second article in the series on beginner principles of Tai Chi written by R. Shawn Tucker for Spirit Seeker.
Many people wonder why in Tai Chi and Qigong we move so slowly. As a new student of Tai Chi I wondered the same. My teacher would often say that going fast is learning slow and going slow is learning fast. I felt the wisdom in these words, but it didn’t make it any easier. This slowing down thing was harder than it seemed.
I remember being challenged by Tai Chi right from the start, both in slowing my mind and moving slowly. As I struggled with this seemingly simple concept, it dawned on me, it was quite possible that I had never consciously chosen to move, breathe and think slowly all at the same time.
Moving into the slow-ness of Tai Chi was like learning a foreign language. And like all languages, this new form of movement had its own alphabet, the learning of which would greatly alter my thinking… and my being. It took time for me to speak in it, to dream in it.
Movement or exercise at a normal (fast) speed represents part of the movement alphabet; the hard tense aspects. It’s only when we move slowly, with a focus on something, that we can begin to form full sentences in the language of movement. Connecting motion into paragraphs and ideas involves the entire movement alphabet, fast and slow and normal speeds.
To further describe the experience of going slow, I have sought the wisdom of Sifu Herb Parran. A soft spoken, joyful and reflective person, Sifu Herb is a student of my teacher, Justin Meehan, and a Tai Chi teacher himself. He teaches all levels, both in his own school and at several local colleges.
Question: What is the importance of going slow when practicing tai chi?
Answer: It’s the mindful slowness of Tai Chi that allows us to notice aspects of ourselves not readily apparent at life’s usual pace. We are also able to focus on the details of movement. If we practice quickly, we are not able to learn the details as efficiently. If we want to learn detail, we must go slowly, otherwise the detail we want to learn is there and gone before we see what it was. Why do we want to learn detail? The martial techniques, and the greatest benefits, are to be found in the details.
Taking time to practice going slow carries over into other areas of life. Going slow with one’s breath and one’s movement carries over to other domains, spiritual, emotional, relationships. We learn to breathe with the movement and keep our energy smooth when we go slowly.
Taijiquan (Tai Chi) is a sophisticated martial art. An art within an art. Going slow allows the student to explore all of the other principles.
Question: How does going slow progress the student’s health or martial ability?
Answer: Often, when the beginner student allows for going slow, it is then they begin to notice improvements in their health. This is especially true when it comes to the ability to fall asleep and improved sleep quality, lowered or normalized blood pressure, and improved balance. Going slow is directly related to the principle Relax, and I see it helping to improve my students’ sense of confidence as well. However, it takes a little faith to let go of the protective condition to move and think fast for most beginner students. And letting go is critical to going slow.
Question: How exactly does this application of going slow support a student of Tai Chi’s health?
Answer: Going slow allows for the muscles to soften at the attachments to tendons and joints. This release of tension allows Qi to flow more completely and smoothly. Improvement in Qi flow has a direct positive effect on the circulatory system and the nervous system. In this way many aspects of health are improved.
A warm thank-you to Sifu Herb for his insights. I hope the opportunity to practice the beneficial art of going slow inspires you to join a Tai Chi class. It’s a language worth learning. For more information about Sifu Herb’s beginner tai chi classes visit traditionaltaiji.com.
RELAX INTO CALM NATURALLY
|means “relax” in Chinese.|
|Relax.Whether a student is seeking martial, health or spiritual improvement, in Tai chi and qi gong, the beginner principle “relax” is the key. Then why, so often and for so many, is this state of being more like a four letter word?Just being told to relax can trigger quite the opposite:“Relax? How am I supposed to relax?”“I thought I was relaxed.”“What am I not doing? Apparently I’m not very good at this…”Relax.You are not alone. Though seemingly a simple word, relax can be more than simple in so far as a state of being one moves into. Given that this principle is so vital, not only to Tai Chi and qi gong, but to life, let’s take a closer look.
Taiji has yin and yang. Stillness and movement. Inhale and exhale. Soft and hard. Close and open. Short and long. Withdraw and extend. Practicing Tai chi can help one cultivate a sense of what is meant by this word, relax. This never more beautifully stated than in the following quote by O Sensei, Morihei Ueshiba:
Relax Into Calm Naturally
In the end, they collectively summarized all that they shared into one statement. They answered the question many of us had — “How do we receive optimal health and self cultivation from practicing qigong and Tai Chi?” — into four simple words:
“Relax into calm naturally.”
Yes. There’s that word again.
If this is a word you are wanting to move into on a deeper level, Tai Chi awaits you.
This article was written by R. Shawn Tucker, PT as a part of the series on beginner principles of Therapeutic Tai Chi and has appeared in Spirit Seeker, a monthly magazine.