You breathe (hopefully). Maybe you breathe efficiently, maybe you don’t, but in order to live you obviously need both an ‘in’ and an ‘out’ breath; you must have both. One breath cannot exist without the other. You feel the end of an in-breath, and you convert it seamlessly to an out-breath. But when moving, many people don’t do so in the way that they breathe; they often move as though they’re continuously breathing either out or in. Breathing is yin and yang. It’s expansion and contraction. It’s tension and relaxation. It’s the opposites that make our lives function efficiently. It’s creative. It’s one of our main connections to the planet and reflects everything that happens on the planet.
Exercise 1a: Jumping. 1. Bend your knees and then STOP. 2. Without bending your knees any further, not even a millimetre lower, jump in the air.
Exercise 1b: Jumping. Now do exactly the same as (1) above, but this time when you do (2) you can allow the knees to bend further in order to leap off the ground.
What did your body do? During that last small knee bend, prior to jumping, a number of things might have taken place: 1. You dropped a little lower, and then the second before your feet detached from the ground, you might have done an extra tiny knee bend. 2. You probably relaxed your body more. 3. You might also have taken an in-breath. 4. Your shoulders sunk. 5. You probably relaxed your neck.
In fact, this happened:
The ball is you. And that’s exactly how your body should feel inside when you drop to jump off the floor. The ball is the internal aspect of you; it’s what it should feel like inside. Your body is elastic, it can contract/expand, compress/release, it’s flexible, and your nervous system has an infinite capacity for experiencing these aspects. You are experiencing gravity, and, just before you leap in the air, if only one muscle holds on, you are no longer fully experiencing it, and the body has lost its pliability. 1
This (slightly worrying!) video shows Sumo wrestlers grounding themselves. Watch what happens to the bodies they ground themselves:
Now watch closely when this high jump video gets to any of the following places: 0:12-0:13, 1:02, 1:18, 1:33, and a good one at 1:55. The body compresses just before the jump (look at the shoulders), and then see how the body expands – just like the ball did, where the top of the ball extends upwards as it left the ground:
Timing. The jump exercise above (Exercise 1b) is a matter of ‘timing’. You experience gravity like the Sumo wrestler, who doesn’t want to become ungrounded, but you ‘catch’ the sensation and make use of it like the high jumper, who does want to become ungrounded. 4
APPLYING IT in TAIJI & QIGONG.
Exercise 2: Without a step. A tai chi and qigong move such as the one at the beginning of many tai chi forms is useful to feel the first part of the bouncy ball effect, i.e. when you sit down having just raised the hands. All you have to do is to experience you body as though it actually is the sinking ball. In other words, as you bend your knees, every cell of your body should feel as the ball might feel when it hits the ground – if it were sentient, that is; i.e.
Empty every cell – not just in your legs, but throughout the entire body. Feel gravity.
Soften your entire body, everything becoming pliable.
Stop holding on.
Feel the weight of your body. You can’t feel if you’re holding on.
Exercise 3: With a step. The basics are:-
Bend both knees.
Keeping all the weight on one foot, place only the heel of the other foot slightly ahead.
This is the same concept as the first exercise. It is important that you remember that slight ‘extra’ sinking of the body that you did in the micro-second before leaping off the floor. This is the moment for the step. To put it another way, the sinking feel includes the extension of the heel (with no weight on it), and you shouldn’t move the foot ahead until you’ve felt the sinking. Therefore, the heel moving outwards is the end of the compression of the body; the final moment of the ball spreading over the floor; the conclusion of the sinking.
Once again, this is a ‘feeling’ in the body; it’s an internal release, initially in the neck, but then through the spine and passing down through the body. It’s this release that frees the body for movement.
This is NOT to say that you are going to do taiji and qigong as though you’re on a Pogo stick, bouncing up and down like the ball does. To repeat what I said above, “The ball is the internal aspect of you; it’s what it should feel like inside.”