I very seldom do any static stretching and yet I’m flexible and can move easily. I credit Tai Chi and Qigong for that!!! Tai Chi and Qigong incorporates “internal stretching” rather than “static stretching”. This means that we engage the connective tissue (fascia, muscles, tendons) which in turn engages the whole body. Fascia is connective tissue. It is an internal netting like a spider web. The deep fascia surrounds our organs, blood vessels, nerves, muscles, bones and helps keep everything in place. By engaging our fascia, muscles and tendons we gain knowledge of our physical boundaries. As Tai Chi and Qigong practitioners we never force anything to move past the point where we lose the engagement. We do not contract but instead expand. There are no locked joints or tense muscles. Tai Chi and Qigong creates elasticity and resiliency. I know some of you may be thinking, “Our fascia, muscles and tendons are always engaged just by being upright.” Good point and true BUT not in the same way that we engage them in Tai Chi and Qigong.
For example, take your hands. Let them hang down by your side. Now, bend your arms at the elbows. The elbows are at the waist and hands are hanging down from the wrist in a relaxed way. Notice the feeling in your forearms. Leaving your arms where they are raise your hands up until the palms face the floor. The next step is to lightly bring your fingers together, open the tiger’s mouth (the arc between your thumb and forefinger) and both physically and with your mind, expand your hands in all directions, while still keeping your fingers lightly touching. Feel energy in the pads of each finger. Every joint is expanding. Your hands should not be tense or tight in any way. If you turned them palm up you could carry a little bit of water in your palms. Expand them until there is a feeling that you have lightly stretched a rubber band from your elbow to the tips or your fingers. You may not feel it at first. It is a subtle feeling. This feeling is everywhere in Tai Chi and Qigong. Allow this feeling to inform your movement. When we move beyond our boundaries, we lose the “connection”. You can feel it even standing by focusing on Ding Jin or upright energy. Tuck your chin until your neck lengthens. The head feels like it is being lifted up. Connect the feet to the ground and allow the body to relax. Now there is a dynamic polarity between heaven and earth, top and bottom. Feel the whole body engage and every joint expanding. Feel how the fascia engaged just by standing and putting your attention on it. Over time learning to engage the fascia, muscles and tendons in this way creates flexibility and suppleness of movement. This will keep us “young” as we age. Happy Training!!!
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