I would like to start our 2019 journey for Health and Martial Arts with a Mind-Body series about the MajorUp & Down Forces, or the 3 Spheres which I refer to in my Sunrise Tai Chi book on pages 18 to 21 and in my Sunset Tai Chi book on pages 30 to 35. This series will help you understand the 3 Up Forces, the lumbar, the thoracic Spine, and the head suspended and the 3 Down Forces, relaxing your abdominal muscles, dropping your shoulders, and dissolving your face. These Up and Down forces will help you understand and be able to practice some important principles from the philosophy of Tai Chi, Chi Kung and Yoga.
ALIGNING & LENGTHENING YOUR SPINE
The first goal in this series is to start to create proper alignment through your spine. As you can see from the illustration the spine is not really straight. When you hear “Sit up straight” it is because so many of us collapse our spine when we stand and even more when we sit. This figure of speech is a great motivator to help you reverse this lazy, collapsing behavior. But it ismuch easier said than done!
The truth is that it takes years of learning and practicing in order to achieve proper alignment in all 3 parts of the spine.
So let’s start! Straighten your spine, please.
Correct spine alignment
In the Tai Chi philosophy to achieve optimal energy flow and martial power, Jing, correct alignment through the spine and the rest of the skeleton is key. When you can keep your spine aligned and not collapsed throughout your daily life and especially when fighting you have reached the level of a Tai Chi Master.
It is common for people to collapse either one or all 3 parts of the spine: the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical which leads to compression of the neck and misalignment of the head.
Keeping your spine aligned and lengthened throughout the day has many health and martial benefits but it takes a lot of discipline and practice!
Maintaining correct alignment in the spine has many health and martial benefits such as reducing stress on the vertebrae and internal organs and promoting a strong, smooth flow of blood and energy and is essential for upgrading your energetic system and then transmitting power into your opponent.
Deep breathing and oxygenation are very important
When your spine is not lengthened and aligned properly, your lungs are compressed and you only utilize one third of their capacity.
Aligning your spine and utilizing your full lung capacity, breathing deep, gives you many health benefits such as reducing blood pressure, anxiety and stress.
Deep breathing has been scientifically proven to affect the heart, brain, digestive and immune system in positive ways and is beneficial for full oxygen exchange or trading incoming oxygen with outgoing carbon dioxide.
Correct spine alignment also allows optimal flow and function for your internal organs.
Challenge 1: The first 2 Major Up Forces - The lumbar & thoracic spine
I challenge you to sit, stand, and walk with a straight, lengthened and aligned spine as much as possible. Imagine lengthening up into the clouds.
You can practice sitting, standing or when walking or running. You can practice in the car, at your desk, when exercising at home or at work.
Sit on the edge of a chair, or if possible, on the floor
Remember, deep breathing will help you Empty your Mind
In Chi Kung philosophy the breath is one of the tools, or a banana, for capturing the Monkey mind, or emotional mind. Capturing the emotional mind is referred to as Seizing the Monkey (lecture at Dana Farber about the monkey and the horse mind, 6 minutes).
For some people, sitting, lengthening the spine, breathing deep and emptying the mind is easier than for others.
If you find you are having a hard time emptying your mind by using only your quiet breath, I suggest you use a trick in the beginning to help capture the Monkey Mind.
After a few weeks of practicing with one of the tricks (enjoy the links below) the next challenge is to sit still in total quiet with no external or internal distractions using only your quiet breath to empty the mind.
Sitting in silence with water breath is harder because the monkey mind is more active when it is quiet.
Methods for capturing the Monkey Mind
Common methods for capturing the Monkey Mind are external sounds such as music, the sound of bells, or tibetan bowls.
Other methods are focusing on external visual objects - still ones or moving ones - when doing this exercise.
You can also find a page full of meditation practices on my start-up company CWellnesswith Jeff Sirlin (You might need to create a free log-in to gain access).
For those of you who want to try doing this exercise while using an external moving visualization, the flame of a candle is a great visualization. It is used for both health and martial arts.
Candle Watching Meditation
In the Chinese martial arts I have been learning and practicing over the last 40 years there is traditional meditation training for the purpose of predicting or reading your opponents’ movements. To achieve this skill you can watch the smoke rising from incense or you can look at the flickering flame of a candle. I invite you to do it together with me.