So… this isn’t going to be a complete discussion of the subject, because I’m thinking through it on a lot of different levels: Body wisdom, the actual physical movements, mental levels, and also the social realm — because I was gifted with this idea by someone else, and who knows? Maybe I’m not doing it right.
That article at the link suggests that the body is not in fact a Tower of Bone (I think that’s a Celtic myth Arianrhod reference, but I’m away from my library at the moment), but rather that it’s a tensegrity structure — that it’s the fasciae that help hold everything together, the sinews which create the necessary structure. That post talks about the necessity of movement like a bowstring, of unwinding the silk thread from the cocoon, of not leaving any holes or hollows in the body… So those are the words.
What about the body wisdom? Well, it turns out that when I’ve stretched out in one direction, like on the movement called Bend the Bow to Shoot the Hawk, it’s easy to let the body retract to a normal resting state. Same with a motion like Join Earth and Heaven — the stretch is normally accompanied by a body-rooted desire to perform the retraction to a natural resting state. And if I understand the concept of tensegrity, part of the goal is to let the body do that during tai chi. I’ve been thinking about it as putting the muscular forces into tension to fight against gravity, and slow the movement down, but it turns out that this is the wrong way to think about it (well, not the wrong way, necessarily — but an incomplete way). There’s a natural position that the body assumes when standing, or sitting, or lying down, and the various stretches and movements of tai chi are, in part, an effort to create tension in that system — so that this tension can then be used for stretching, for movement, for bodily health, or (as in a martial art) as a weapon. Quite extraordinary.
So, to answer Christina’s question, I don’t think that the fasciae are moved consciously. But, I do think that tai chi and qi gong are specifically intended to strengthen that connective tissue over its whole length, like evenly-spun thread, so that it forms or makes possible this rich range of motion, and so that it can be plucked like a bowstring.
As a way of assisting this insight, I suggest the following exercise: First, stand in horse stance for several minutes, until it becomes comfortable and steady at your current level of expertise, without becoming burdensome yet. Then, try plucking the muscles along one’s left side, and along one’s right arm, so that the right arm rises into the air, all the way out to the fingertips, at shoulder level. Then release the muscle tension, and follow the movement of the waist and right arm.
For me, it isn’t so much that the muscles of the right side spring into action, or that the muscles of the left flank spring into action, as that the connective tissue, having been plucked, returns to its ordinary level of vibration. The right arm immediately swings down, and across the body as if to counter a punch; the left arm sweeps to block attacks against the tailbone; the hips twitch to find center again.
And yes, it’s gravity. But it’s something else, too. And that something else seems to be the body’s connective tissue finding its tensegrity equilibrium again. Must think on this some more.
In other news, of course, I’m having the usual post-festival blahs about my self and my work. Nothing terribly depressing or down, but simply the normal re-integration of what I’ve learned. Today, doing tai chi was like trying to get up and do tai chi in January or February of my first year; I just couldn’t find the structure at first of the work, to just leap into it. Took my time finding the energy to do it, and then did the work in a kind-of-but-not-really half-assed way. It’s a really odd thing, finding one’s regular routine after several days of joyous, awesome, welcome disruption, but I’m glad to be finding a way back into it.