You often hear the expression that you should stand in both tai chi and qigong as though you are ‘suspended by a silk thread’. This is open to misinterpretation, as the implication is that you hold your head very upright. I certainly spent many years doing just that in the name of good posture, and regularly gave myself a headache as a result.
How do you do it?
The first thing about it is that you shouldn’t DO anything; as soon as you TRY to ‘suspend the head by a silk thread’, you instantly start to DO something. Either you pull your neck backwards, or you try to stretch it upwards, or a combination of the two, and some people will even lift their chins or tuck their chins under.
If I were in that position…
The questions that never seems to be asked/answered about this are, if you were literally suspended by a silk thread, how would it feel? What effect would it have on your spine? How do you even begin to imagine how this would feel? It’s not the natural human condition to be in this position, and if we are in that position, it’s probably bad news, especially if your feet aren’t touching the ground.
However, it helps a little if you’re able to visualise being supported by the head, with the soles of your feet only skimming the ground… or if you’re sitting, with the buttocks only just lightly touching the chair. What would it feel like in your spine? Imagine that you’re in the same position as the person in the picture, and with your feet hardly touching the floor.
Your neck would be able to ‘undo’ – in Alexander Technique terms your neck would be able to ‘lengthen’.
Your spine, with the weight of the pelvis below it, would literally hang from your neck, allowing the gaps between the individual vertebrae to widen.
The weight of your legs (about 18-20lbs per leg on average) would help to stretch the body out, and the effect of the weight on the iliofemoral joints (where the legs attach to the pelvis) would allow those joints to decompress.
The combined weight of the pelvis and spine would in particular open out the lumbar vertebrae in your spine (the 5 vertebrae above the sacrum); this is where most people experience ‘back problems’ often due to compression of that area.
Because of the spine undoing (lengthening), the ribcage would also lengthen, and there would be more space for the upper organs – namely heart and lungs.
All in all, it would feel rather nice. If you’ve ever had Alexander Lessons, you will know a little about this feeling.
The sensation for the pelvis
I have never parachuted, but I imagine that the weight of the lower body pulling downwards from the harness would be a lovely feeling of opening of the lower spine (perhaps stopping rather abruptly when you landed!). However, I have played around on trapezes as a child, and still remember that feeling of the spine opening as you hung upside down, or hung from your arms.
The biggest difficulty is actually putting this into practise because it requires a huge change of mindset. You have to put yourself somewhere where you are not at the moment – in effect you have to change your own reality by “acting as if…”.
In tai chi and qigong terms, this undoing of the torso is putting ‘Song’ into practise.
___________________________________________________ James Drewe teaches Tai Chi and Qigong in both London and in Kent and online. Details of weekly classes both live and online can be found on the website, and there are classes for 2-person Tai Chi on one Saturday a month. There is also learn both tai chi & qigong through a monthly subscription, and there are many free videos on YouTube.