Taiji Day 349: Slowing Down

My friend Nik commented on the last entry that a yoga teacher told him once, “hold each pose until they teach you something.”  I liked that, so I tried it today.  I wasn’t able to do it right when I got up this morning, so I waited until later today to do my tai chi.  I began a little after noon, instead of in the early morning when I usually do it.  I’m usually in a rush in the morning, and I wanted to make sure that my body knew that it didn’t have to rush.  So I waited until later in the day, to break my body’s habits around time and speed.  And I learned a number of things about each of the postures in the two qi gong forms, to wit:

  • In Five Golden Coins:
    • Joining heaven to earth — keep hips level, stretch on the sides body between hips and ribcage.
    • Picking Apples — turn from the vertebrae above the hips, keep legs and hips stable
    • Bending the bow — twist from above the hips, keep legs and hips stable, tighten shoulders and arms
    • Bending to Touch Earth — don’t bounce; bring hands to the floor and touch ceiling on each movement
    • Carrying Milk To Heaven — Close hands on the rising motion, open hands on the descending motion
  • In Eight Pieces of Silk:
    • Press against Heaven — Lift hands into position, then rise on feet and press against heaven
    • Bend Bow to Shoot Hawk — Stretch out arms first, then twist from hips to generate the sideways motion
    • Splitting Heaven and Earth — tense arm and shoulder muscles to get more of a workout
    • Look Out over Shoulders — Come back to center on each look, before turning to other shoulder
    • Punch with Angry Glance — twist from hips, then generate punch, then hold before withdrawing, and turning (five moves, not four)
    • Touch Toes — as on Bending to Touch Earth, above, don’t bounce.  Bring your hands to the floor in a smooth motion.
    • Bend Knees, Wiggle Tail —I haven’t really been putting enough wiggle in the tail. Keep the knees no farther forward than the tips of toes
    • Rise on Tiptoes — Remember to keep both the ball of the foot and the toe engaged with the floor, or fall over

Doing this same process with the tai chi form would be challenging, if not impossible. There’s no way for me to hold forty-eight different ideas in my head all the way from the beginning of the form to the end.  (OK, there is, it’s called Palace of Memory and I teach it, I should know… but as Twyla Tharp wrote in her book, The Creative Habitsometimes the act of trying to remember a specific movement in the body is enough to change the movement.  Really I ought to videotape myself doing tai chi some morning. Hmm!)

But a few things stand out from this morning/afternoon’s tai chi repetition.  First, slowing down is hugely beneficial. It’s possible to tighten and loosen individual muscles; to determine exactly where hurt or pain is located in the body, and which motions generate that pain; and to experience each posture or each motion as if it was several separate movements.  I imagine that I looked quite ridiculous as I did this work today — I held positions like False Close for several seconds, even though it looks quite easy, and was trembling because I was doing it in a tightly-wound way.  It’s also possible to experience each posture as an external, body-focused way, as well as an internal, chi-focused way.

Second, slowing down helped me find exactly which muscle was hurting in my lower back.  I found four or five different postures which hurt specifically and particularly, and was able to use some of those postures to tense and release relevant muscle groups, and break up the pain.  It’s still there, but it’s much relieved, and much benefitted by the work.  So thank you, Nik!

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