During the qi gong maneuvers, there are four exercises that require waist bends. In “Five Golden Coins”, these exercises are called “Touch Earth, touch sky” or something like that, and “Carry milk to heaven.” In the form called “Eight Pieces of Brocade”, these exercises are called “toe touches” and “squat and waggle tail.” A Western calisthenics instructor would call them Toe Touches and Squats, probably.
They are not the most attractive movements to watch a forty-two-year-old do.
Part of the challenge is my shape; the other is the typical movement of my body when performing these exercises. The typical habit of my body, unless I’m thinking about it a LOT, is for my belly to hang out during these exercises, and basically be in the way. This is particularly true during the toe touches. My belly is in the way. Even if I’m breathing out on the descent, the muscles working the movement want to expand the roundness of my belly.
Understand… even though I’ve been practicing these motions daily for four hundred seventy days, I still dread these two exercises at the end of these two forms. There’s been little shift around them at all; if you look back at the archives, you’ll see that I’m not writing about the benefits of tai chi for my waist size. It’s not been something I’ve wasted words on, because there’s been little shift — and little benefit. is iEvery day, the same motions, and every day, the same basic reaction: the waist tightens, the belly swells — it’s in my way on the way down to the floor, and it’s in my way on the way up. The muscular tightness across the abdomen has actually hindered me from touching my toes the first two or three repetitions at times, and it makes me feel ungainly.
Oh, but today, a change.
Today, my belly folded inward on the descent, on the very first movement of “Touch Earth, Touch Heaven. It was out of my way. The descent was smooth, it was easy, it was fluid. It didn’t feel awkward. It felt like my body saying, “Oh, is this what you’re trying to do??” And then doing it. Easy. Not hard. Energizing. Active.
On the subsequent toe touches, the part of me that’s doing this writing, I think, was trying to observe and not try to control the process. It had to — it didn’t know what the body was doing. But it felt good. If you look at charts of chakra diagrams in the body, it was kind of like the root chakra area was engaged in pulling the right parts of the body toward itself, so that these were out of the way as the body doubled over on itself…
The movement made me realize that a great glob of tension in my lower belly is breaking up, finally. And it made me realize that another great glob of tension is getting ready to break up, in my neck and shoulders.
Of course the usual habit of these things is that there’s a breakthrough like this, gentle and gradual, and then weeks of trying to replicate the experience before it happens again, and weeks more before it becomes a regular experience. Jason Miller talks about this as the difference between visiting a place and living there. It’s a completely different set of experiences, but one often merges over time into the other. This is a step in a right direction, it feels good, but don’t be anxious if it doesn’t happen again right away. It’ll come back!
This tai chi project is starting to show some interesting results. I’m excited for what comes next.