Feel Your Body-Move Slowly and Relax

One of the reasons for feeling the body is so that we can notice when it feels good and enjoy the feeling. Another reason is so that we can notice when there is a lack of sensation. Yet another reason is so that we can learn how the parts of ourselves relate.

If we don’t have a clear idea of what we are trying to do, then by feeling our body in whatever we are doing, we can notice how we feel and in the process gain experience.

As we gain more and more experience we’ll be better able to develop a clear idea of what we want to do.

If we have a clear idea of how we want our body positioned or how we want it to move, then if we feel our body while moving it, we can check to see if what is actually happening matches up to what we want to happen.  We can then make changes where necessary.

Moving Slowly and Smoothly-

So that we can feel our body while we are moving it, one of the things that we can do while moving from one position to another is move slowly and smoothly. Yet another thing that we can do is relax our body as much as possible given what we are trying to do.

Generally the slower and smoother we move the easier it is to feel our body. Actually, in order to move slowly most of us have to focus on what we are doing. So say we are in a lunge and we want to lift our back knee and then lower it. To do this requires awareness, not only of the knee we are moving but the front foot as well since we are using it to help us balance.

In this case the slower we move the more we have to feel our body so we can tell that we are moving slowly.

If in addition to moving slowly, we are as relaxed as possible given what we are trying to do, then the actual process of making sure that we are relaxed is a way of feeling our body. Plus, the more relaxed we are the easier it is to sense tension in our connective tissue and via that tension the weight of whatever body part is hanging downwards.

Tai Ji

Practicing Tai Ji I use my feet to tell me when I have shifted fully from one position to another. I can feel when my weight is fully on one foot, or when body has shifted so that the front and heel of my front foot are pressing down evenly. Part of this is relaxing my feet enough that I can notice changes in pressure where my foot contacts the floor.

Another part of this is “shaping” or positioning my foot so that it is naturally stable. Yet another part is moving slowly enough so that I have time to both feel what my feet are telling me and to respond to what I sense.

Being able to feel my feet I can use them to tell me which foot my center is over and exactly where in relation to my feet my center is. I can then tell when my center is where I want it to be.

Applying this to a static yoga pose like Warrior 1, I can try bending my front knee. As I do so, if I feel the forces acting through my front foot I can move my foot forwards more or back so that those forces press evenly through the front and back of that foot. When this happens I’ve got a pretty good indication that my shin is vertical or that my knee is over my foot.


Carrying this body awareness upwards from my feet, I can then focus on feeling my pelvis and hips. I can either pull my front leg hip back or my back leg hip forwards so that my hips are square to the front. (I’m still in Warrior 1 pose.) I can then adjust my feet accordingly so that there is even pressure through the front and heel of the front foot and through the inner and outer arch of the back foot.

For a more finely tuned pose, I can brace my front foot so that my front leg acts like a buttress for the pelvis, and then I can relax my hip muscles so that my pelvis “naturally” faces the front.

Practicing Slow Movement So That We Have the Option of Moving Fast

Having practiced feeling my body while moving slowly, it is then easier to carry that feeling into doing movements quickly. I can practice a Tai Ji sequence quickly while carrying the same feeling from doing it slowly. Or I can enter straight into a pose like Warrior 1 and find the sweet spot immediately without all the fiddling around.

Making Muscle Tissue Smart

Focusing on feeling, whether moving slowly or quickly, the sensation or experience is of the parts of the body positioning themselves. Muscle memory kicks in. However, this can be more than the muscles following the same groove over and over again. It is the muscles finding the best groove depending on what is happening at the time. We give our muscles a rudimentary intelligence or consciousness so that they can respond in the best way possible depending on the circumstances as they are now.

The smarter we make our muscles and the parts of our body in general, the easier it then is to get our body to do what we want it to do. We can then lead our body by looking for the feeling of what we are trying to do, or by simply having a clear idea.

Building Chataranga Dandasana From the Ground Up

Lifting Up into Chataranga in Stages

What is the correct height for Chataranga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose or Push up Position to you and me?) How high of the ground should our body be? What should we do with the shoulders or shoulder blades? How should the hands be positioned? Where do the elbows go?

It’s pretty complex.

I prefer simple.

Rather than remembering where everything should go I prefer to practice feeling the parts in isolation and then adding them together one by one in such a way that each part added provides the foundation for the next part. Being able to feel my body I can then position it based on what I feel and what I am trying to do.
So how do we build a Chataranga Dandasana, one that feels good and is safe in the doing?

From the Ground Up

One way is to start with everything on the ground.

This could be like building a bridge or an elevated highway. The pylons are built first and then from there truss work can be built either side of each pylon to support the framework for the road bed. Once that’s in place the road bed can be added section by section, working outwards from each pylon.

Once the framework is complete and self supporting (the cement poured,) then the truss work or temporary “scaffolding” can be removed… and used to help construct the next section of road way.

Instead of moving from plank pose down into Chataranga, we can work from the ground up. And instead of lifting everything up at once, we can practice lifting one element at a time, securing it and then using it to help lift the next element.

Measuring By Using Our Senses

Another aspect of building Chataranga or any pose for that matter is being able to feel the parts of our body and how they relate.

The same is true in any engineering work. Everything has to be measured in order to position it, so that it all fits together and works as required. In that way we have roads and bridges that don’t fall down if a truck carrying too much weight uses it.

Rapid Gaining of Experience

One of the ways that structure, relationship and proportions of a construct are decided is from experience. Based on experience (whether from previously designed and built structures or from experiment,) engineers know what works and what doesn’t. In some cases, they have massive safety factors so that they err on the side of safety, to much stuff, as opposed to on the side of failure.

So that we can measure while we build our pose, we can use our senses and feel each part of our body. So that we know where to place each part, we can gain experience by building the pose over and over again, each time noticing what our senses are telling us and then building on that experience. If we do this from the very beginning then each time we do the pose we can work at making it better, or at using less effort to do the same thing, or we can work at using our whole body to support what we are doing.

To build a pose and experience it, we can simply practice moving in and out of it repeatedly, perhaps with our breath, but more importantly while feeling our body so that we learn what feels good and is good and what isn’t.

Focusing on the Arms

For Chataranga Dandaasana, our arms can be considered our main support. While on the floor we can practice positioning our arms and shoulders. We can widen the shoulder blades and then pull the elbows back. We can then use our arms to push our hands into the floor. So that this is easier, we can keep the pelvis on the floor.

At this stage we are only concerned with lifting the chest by using the arms, and even then lifting the chest so that the shoulders end up at the same height as the elbows.

The smoother we move and the slower we move the easier it is to then learn to feel the parts of our body and how they relate.

For rapid onset of experience, we can lift up while inhaling and lower down while exhaling. So that we can continue to feel our body while doing this we can lift up slowly and smoothly and lower down in the same way.

If we practice lowering down smoothly we are practicing the same action as lowering into Chataranga but from a lower position. In both cases we practice feeling and controlling our body. If we can do both then we need not worry about what position the elbows, shoulder blades and arms should be in, we can choose a position and put them there and based on what we are feeling adjust this if necessary. See side box for soap box speech.

One position may very well be “ideal” but if all you practice is that one position then you’re not being very flexible. nor are you exercising your body’s full potential.

Rather than getting stuck on one ideal position, instead define a position you want to go to. It may be the ideal or a variation of the ideal. And then go there.

The “ideal” is one single definition. You might not even know if it is the ideal, you just have your teachers or many teachers word on it. so why not explore for yourself to find out what your ideal is.

How do you define an ideal pose? One that feels good and doesn’t have any negative after affects after wards.

The thing is, the ideal may change as your body changes. (I heard one guy, resigned or dedicated to his marriage saying “I know I’ll be married to five different women… I accept that and I accept them.” He was talking about the change his partner will go through even as he himself changes in the course of marriage.)

If you can feel your body then you can feel your ideal as well as define it on any given day no matter what mood you are in or how your body feels.

Lifting the Pelvis

Once used to lifting the chest and feeling the arms, we can then try lifting the chest and pelvis at the same time. Prior to this we might practice engage the abs once we have our chest lifted.

Like building a bridge, we don’t just throw or drop components into place, we slowly lift and place so that we can make adjustments as we do so.

So even if we only lift our chest and pelvis a little bit, that’s fine, at least we’re getting off the ground. Better yet, we’re feeling our body while we do so. And even better we’re learning that we can do instead of worrying about what we can’t do. (It’s too difficult…)

Adding the Knees and Taking a Break

Once used to that we can lift our knees as well. They don’t have to be straight, just lifted.

We can take a break if we need to and then get into it all again.

One way of taking a break is to move into downward dog.
Before doing so we can lay on the ground and practice pressing our knees straight and the back of our thighs and shins up. Then we can carry this into down dog.

Each inhale we can press our legs back.

We can also practice using our spinal erectors to bend our spine back, again while inhaling and relaxing while exhaling.

Another way we can take a break from Chataranga is to practice Shalabhasana. We can do this in stages also. We can lift and lower our head, slowly, then we can add our upper ribcage, lower ribcage and to this we can add straightening knees and elbows and reaching arms and legs back together.

When lifting head and ribcage we can reach our back ribs forwards.

Holding and Then Making Changes

Once we’ve had a break, the next step we can do is to practice holding for a breath (an inhale and an exhale) and then lowering. We can practice this while lifting only the chest, and then chest and pelvis and then including the knees. With regular practice we can skip the intermediate steps and go straight to lifting all parts together.

Once we have experience and ability to do and hold we can then work at making changes. Can we go higher and lower, forwards and backwards. We can experiment with shoulder blades together and spread apart or somewhere in-between. (Spread the shoulder blades first, keep the feeling and bring them together slightly.)

Generally, with the arms forward, the shoulder blades can be spread both for stability (using the serratus anterior) and for mobility of the arms with respect to the shoulder blades.

With the arms down or with the elbows beside the body and slightly behind it, we can retract or bring the shoulder blades towards each other.

If lifting up from the ground, since the arms will end up forwards relative to the body we can position the shoulder blades wide.

If lowering down from plank, we can bring the shoulder blades together.

These are suggestions only. I would suggest experimenting, feel the results and choose based on what you experience.

Feeling Forces

Now if we are really sensitive, we can feel the way our body weight presses through our arms. We can also feel the forces and the way they pass through our forearms. We can position our palms shoulder width and then position our elbows by feel so that they press straight down through the hands. Likewise we can feel any forces passing parallel our upper arm bone. We can feel our shoulder blade and how it relates to our ribcage.

Doing Chataranga Sensibly

Perhaps the main reason people get injured when doing poses like Chataranga Dandasana is that they do it over and over again without paying attention to what their arms are doing. The better we can feel our body and the more attention we pay to feeling it while moving it the more likely we are to make our movements safe. At the very least we can notice when things aren’t right and not do what we are doing.

Prior to that, if we work at building a pose gradually and repeatedly so that we experience it and understand our body, we can then continue to do the pose and enjoy the pose with out hurting ourselves in the process.

The Science and Technology of Taking a Dump

(Why is it that I Often need to Go to the Bathroom While Swimming?)

Notice what happens next time you go to the bathroom for a number two (rhymes with poo.) Notice your abs tensing and a downwards pressing feeling. Each time you push, does your lower back feel like it is being pulled forwards?

The supposed ideal position for doing a number two is to squat. I’d modify and say that “Make sure any articles of clothing are clear of the drop zone.”

I’d also modify that further to say “Make sure that you exit orifice is directly over whatever receptacle you are using whether a hole or a porcelain “squatter.”” 
(I once had the pleasure of observing a miss placed “exit article” half on and half off the edge of porcelain. I got a distinct impression of texture which I unfortunately carried back with me to the dinner table. (The impression, not the item. I was at an Italian restaurant in Taiwan at the time.))

Anyway, with those basic guidelines out of the way, in a squat the front of the hips are closed, so that the knees are close to the chest. We can simulate this while on the bowl by slightly pressing down into our feet and leaning forwards so that our buttock are  no longer in contact with the seat or just touching it.

Feeling the Psoas

psoas side view

psoas side view

One muscle of main importance in this position, and especially while taking a dump is the psoas.  Within the belly cavity, its fibers reach forwards and down from the front of the lumbar spine to the front of the pelvis.

Some of its fibers may partially support the rectum. If not directly then via connective tissue which acts or looks like a downwards sloping hammock for the rectum. When contracted, the psoas may help to till the rectum forwards helping to put it in the ideal position for offloading our payload.

(Bombadier to pilot, bomb bay doors open, bomb positioning mechanism in place.
Pilot to bombardier. Roger that.

Because the psoas can be used to pull the lumbar spine forwards actually causing it to bend backwards, we can counter this tendency, or the body naturally counters this tendency, by engaging the abs. See if you can notice this for yourself. Each time you push, do your abs engage? Does your lower back feel like it is being pulled forwards?

If you can feel your lower back being pulled forwards as if from inside your body, that just may be your psoas activating.

The Diaphragm (The One we Breathe With)

One other sensation to look for, and another key player is the diaphragm. (Sensation is generated when it activates and presses downwards.)

Positioning bombs ready for release is fine but we need some sort of release mechanism. With bombs in an airplane we simply leg go, however if you’ve seen a b52’s bomb bay doors, those doors are huge. Generally the opening for our own bombs is a little smaller. So we have to push.

Push It Out, Push it Out…. Way Out

Where does the push come from? Well, our abs are already engaged. In doing so they help to squeeze inwards on the abdominal organs. Further push pressure can come from the diaphragm pressing down.

Women use this when giving birth and women and men can use it when pushing out a number two. This is our release mechanism. Next time your squatting, or sitting, see if you can feel a downwards push and better yet notice where it is coming from.

Now one of the cool things about all of this is that most of the same components are used when we breath, or can be used with breathing. Basically our abs and diaphragm can be used as pumps. In the case of air they can be used to create a vacuum to draw air in, and then used to push air out. In the case of a number two they are solely used as a push pump to push stuff out.

When breathing we can use our diaphragm, pushing it down to increase the volume of our lungs to draw air in. This action pushes down on the abdominal organs which cause the belly to protrude. Then we can use the abs to push these organs in and the diaphragm up to reduce lung volume and push air out.

Together we can simultaneously use the abs and diaphragm to squeeze the abdominal organs, which means we squeeze our intestines, and rectum and guess what comes out!

If we more finally tune our ab control, we can pull just our lower belly in so that our upper belly expands. If our abs are relaxed just enough then when our diaphragm contracts it can push the ribcage upwards. If in addition we expand the ribs we’ve got extra power for drawing more air in.

I Practice My Kegel Exercises Every Day!!!
(I’m even practicing them now)

So what was the point of talking about taking a dump?

A while back some guy name Dr Arnold Kegel became famous because he taught women how to orgasm by doing simple exercises that helped them tune in to their pelvic floor so that they could contract, relax and orgasm at will.

He taught them how to learn both sensitivity and control.
One description that is commonly used-“Use the same muscle that you use to control the flow of pee.

In a similar way, we can use “number two” time to feel our diaphragm, abs and psoas or to practice feeling them, or at least to practice putting our awareness in the right place so that we can get used to feeling them.

This sensitivity can be used to improve body control both on and off the pot.

As an example, on the pot if you are having trouble squeezing stuff out, you might focus on a downwards sensation in the lower belly. Focus on the feeling rather than thinking about the feeling. You may notice actually movement as a result.

An analogy could be that the bombay doors are stuck so the copilot has to go back and unwind them manually. Likewise, if your bomb bay is jammed up, put your awareness down there to help get things flowing.

(Bombs away. Roger that, returning to base.)
(Credits roll with a picture of an airmen coming out of the commode, toilet paper trailing out his pants.)

Noticing the sensations of our diaphragm, psoas and abs engaging while on the pot, off the pot we can continue to feel and control these muscles while breathing, doing yoga or tai ji or while having sex… or while doing anything else that involves the body.

The Connection to Swimming…

So why do I sometimes want to take a dump when doing lots of swimming or underwater swimming? And why did I bother mentioning it? I actually did think it was interesting at the time. Two days in a row, when I went swimming, while I was swimming, I felt the urge to go to the bathroom. I put it down to the action of my legs and hips helping to loosen my bowels. And that may in turn have been part of the inspiration for this article.

Doing the Dance of Shiva Slowly

In any exercise that we do, we can focus on feeling our body.

By practicing feeling our body, the parts and how they relate, we allow energy to flow because to feel our body we have to position it just right.

In anything that we are learning to do we can focus on using our senses to “feel” what we are doing.

Doing math we can use our eyes to see equations.

Driving we can sense the traffic around us.

While in a conversation we can listen to what our partner is telling us.

In the process of feeling our body we position it in a way that feels good or we notice where we feel tight and ask ourselves what can be done about it.

So when we feel our body we aren’t just feeling it, we are responding to what we sense.

Sensation is the Flow of Energy

Initially, we can use our mind to direct our senses, to help us notice what our senses are telling us.

This is like learning to drive and finding out where the speedometer and rev counter are and what they are for. (One tells us how fast we are going relative to what is around us, the other tells us how fast the engine is turning relative to it not turning.)

The feelings are the result of electrical signals that pass from our sense receptors to our brain.

When we feel we are allowing energy to flow. When we finally tune our position so that we can use our senses we send signals from our brain to the appropriate muscle control centers. This too is energy and by fine tuning our positioning we again allow energy to flow.

Better yet, by directing the way we use our senses and the way we control our body we direct where the energy flows to and from within our body.

Elements we Can Sense and Control

What is it that we can learn to feel and control?

We can learn to feel the parts, ideas or elements and how they all relate.

  • We can learn to feel the weight of our bones and how our bones relate to each other.
  • We can learn to feel our muscles and whether they are active or relaxed on in the process of activating or relaxing.
  • We can learn to feel tension in our connective tissue generated by any combination of muscular activity or relaxation or caused by the weight of one bone or another hanging down.

Smooth and Slowwww

So that we can learn to feel the parts of our body, discrete and identifiable bones and muscles, we can practice moving slowly and smoothly and we can focus on feeling and controlling specific parts of our body at a time.

We can focus on basic body elements or we can focus on sport/movement/activity specific movement elements that relate directly to what we are trying to do.

We can also focus on doing clearly defined movements so that it is easy to guide what we are doing and to check what we have done. This is where the Dance of Shiva comes in.

The Dance of Shiva aids in

  • clear thinking,
  • concentration,
  • improving body awareness,
  • equalizing/balancing left/right mobility and range of motion
  • develops or improves mind-body coordination
  • and a few other things besides.

It’s a tool for thinking creatively, for seeing potential and realizing it.

The Dance of Shiva

My own practice of learning to feel and control my body has evolved from my study of yoga, tai ji and the Dance of Shiva.

I’ll talk about the Dance of Shiva in this article because it is relatively simple to begin with and can be learned easily from a book or video.

Plus, practicing it makes learning and doing things like Yoga and Tai Ji easier.

Simple Elements

The Dance of Shiva has 8 basic positions for each arm.

These 8 basic positions can be combined by using both arms at the same time. As a result there are 64 different arm position combinations. (8×8….)

The nice thing about these positions is that they are well defined and simple.

In four of the positions the palms face upwards, as if balancing a small bowl or cup of lobster bisque. (1, 2, 3 and 4 in the picture at right.) In the other four positions the palms face outwards as if holding a spoon or sword but the palm and fingers are flat…. (kind of makes it hard to hold but we’ll forget that for now and move on!)

(a, b, c and d.)

Simple Ideas

The simple idea of Dance of Shiva is to learn how to connect each of these positions to every other position.

If we include connecting a position to itself then we have 64×64 movement combinations.

That is quite a lot of movement combinations but… they are all based on 8 basic movements. I didn’t mention it, but there are 8 basic movements that can be used to connect any of the 8 basic positions to each other.

One of those moves is a zero move.

Why the zero move?

In any situation we always have the choice of doing nothing and that is one way we can think of the zero move, the possibility of doing nothing. We can also think of the zero move as the move that contains the possibility of all other moves.

So how many movement possibilities are there?

64×64 because from any position there is always the possibility of doing nothing!

Zero is potential, non-zero is realizing that potential.

Plus, when using both hands together, if we want to connect two positions that are different by only one arm positon then we need to only move one arm. The zero move takes care of the arm that doesn’t move.

The zero move also makes the math neater.

With the Dance of Shiva we practice seeing potential, perhaps even creating it, and we also practice realizing potential.

And rather than wasting time by thinking about what we can’t do we practice focusing on what we can do. And it all starts with 8 simple positions and 8 simple movements that join those positions.

Sequences of Movement Combinations

With 64 different movement combinations, we can create sequences of movements that repeat four times to bring us back to where we started. By practicing these sequences (called Warps) we can practice the movements of the dance of shiva in a logical and structured way.

This trains us to think clearly about what we are trying to do. With a clear idea of what we are trying to do we can easily check if we are doing or have done it correctly. The sooner we spot any mistakes the sooner we can correct them.

And because we can check each move as we do it we can practice the benefits of checking as we do as opposed to after we’ve done.

Checking as we are doing or while we are doing, mistakes are a lot easier to find and correct before they become big problems. Not only that, we don’t have to look for the source of the problem.

(And that is a large part of what problem solving is, finding the source of the problem.

Only when we know what the problem is can we then go about fixing it.)

Practice Feeling

Learning Tai Ji or a Gong Fu routine (or even Chinese calligraphy) we can learn the basic structure of what we are doing. We can think of this as the choreography or even the script (to a play that we have a part in.) Once we’ve learned the script or choreography or sequence of moves we can practice feeling it.

The nice thing about feeling is that we can vary it slightly depending on what is happening at the time.

What we have learned begins to become alive within ourselves.

By focusing on feeling, and on making micro adjustments based on what we feel we have the opportunity to maximize the flow of energy within ourselves.

Once we’ve learned a movement patterns, a sequence of moves, we can use this movement pattern to practice feeling our body.

As an example, all positions have the palm facing either upwards or outwards.

To begin with we can practice feeling our hands and making sure that they are facing upwards or outwards.

From our hands we can expand our awareness to our elbows and shoulders.

We can feel these parts and position them so that it is as easy as possible to put our hands in the required position.

As we get more comfortable with both the sequences of moves and with feeling our body, we can expand our awareness to include our head and ribcage.

We can practice positioning our ribcage (and thoracic spine) so that it is easy to use our arms and we can position our arms so it is easy to use our hands.

Finally we can expand our awareness to include our waist, pelvis, legs and feet.

What we have then is a way of practicing using the whole body to do what we are trying to do.

This whole body awareness can then be used in any other activity that we are doing. And if the awareness we learned from the dance of shiva is lacking with respect to some other activity that we want to do, then at the very least we have a framework for filling in the pieces that are missing.

Once we can feel one part, or many parts, those parts become references for feeling anything that they are connected to.

Training the Mind

By the way, the Dance of Shiva can be done standing or sitting. It can be done while sitting in a chair. It can also be done in the head or on a piece of paper.

As well as helping us to learn to feel our body the Dance of Shiva is an excellent way of training the mind.

Because we define the movements and the positions, there is no ambiguity as to what we are trying to do. Instead we can focus on doing it and feeling it.

We can learn to connect each position to every other position without ever worrying about what is possible or not possible. Instead, it is all possible and all we have to do is choose.

The Point of Feeling is Flowing

So what is the point of feeling our body in anything that we do? So that we can flow. For myself, by focusing on doing the sword form that I am learning slowly, I can feel my body as it moves.

The better I feel it then the easier it is to move quickly and accurately. Rather than trying to remember the moves I am feeling them. And because I am feeling them my movements have a liquid essence. They flow. And it feels really good.

I used to be focused on memorizing Dance of Shiva and then on doing it quickly.

This does have some benefit but I think true benefits, true inner skill or gong fu comes from feeling the movements.

Carrying this sensitivity into the world outside of our practice, we can then become more sensitive to both ourselves and what is around us.

We become present. Life becomes more joyful as a result.

Practicing slowly we can feel our body and then carry that feeling into doing movements at any speed including fast.

Then we are doing gong fu-practicing with inner skill.

Feeling the Body

One of the things I talk alot about and do alot of is try to feel my body.
Generally, the better I put my attention into feeling my body, noticing the relationships between the parts, the better I can operate it or respond to what I sense. As an example, practicing Tai Ji recently, I’ve been practicing relaxing my body more and more as I do the movements of the form I am practicing. Specifically I’ve been focusing on my hands because they are a week spot in my sphere of awareness. Feeling my hands as I practice, I notice my wrists and my fingers and I do my best to relax them given the action that I am doing. Relaxing my hands more and more I notice that it affects the rest of my body. But also it affects my awareness itself. I feel like I am then led to sense my feet or reminded to. Sensing my feet in the same way that I use my hands I can then practice making my steps very soft, smooth and deliberate. I can gently touch the floor and as I feel part of my foot touch down then I can commit my weight to that foot. Not only that I can do so in such a way that my weight presses down through the center of my foot.
The interesting thing is the better I focus my weight through my foot the better my foot can support my weight. With my weight properly centered over which ever foot I am on my foot can relax even though it is bearing weight, it can relax in such a way that it naturally supports my weight without even seeming to try. It’s as if I’ve aligned the bones with each other and rather than an external instruction, “point the knee in the direction of the toes” it is alignment driven by feeling my body from inside. It is natural alignment that occurs as a result of letting go.
Aligning my feet from “inside my body” it is then easier to find the natural alignment for the rest of my body. Feeling my hips at the same time as I feel my feet I can operate my legs in such a way that my feet and hips (and knees) find the best position possible given the action that I am trying to accomplish. With my legs naturally positioned it is then that much easier to straighten my spine and relax the muscles of my back. Even if my goal wasn’t to straighten my spine, perhaps to make it “neutral” the better my base is the easier it is for me to control my spine. Not just my spine but the parts that it is made up of including the pelvis, ribcage and head.
With my spine aligned, my head and ribcage are both affected as are the shoulders. My shoulders can then rest on the ribcage and hang from my head, relaxed yet supported and in turn then able to support my arms with the help of my head and neck.
In Tai Ji one of the reasons we try to relax the body is that it is then easier to feel it. Also, the more relaxed we are the less energy we use. Also, the more relaxed we are the easier it is to respond, to control our body with a minimum of effort.
Not only that, the more relaxed we are the easier it is for all the parts of the body to work well together. That translates to smoothness in action. When the parts of the body are all connected, they can act as one and then we can flow from one action to the next.
How do I apply the same idea outside of Tai Ji?
Feeling my body while riding a motorcycle, if I really am feeling my body I’ll notice how I go around corners. Recently I realized that while riding a bicycle I wasn’t using the handlebars to turn. Instead I was leaning my body which caused the handlebars to turn which in turn caused me and the bike to go around the corner. However, if I wanted better control I needed to use my arms to turn the handlebars while allowing my weight to shift at the same time. Applying this to riding a motorbike, if I feel my body I can feel if my arms have room to move, i.e. if my elbows are bent enough to allow me to turn the handlebars. Not only that, I can feel if I am holding unnecessary tension. If I can let it go then that my whole body can work together and it can work with the bike. My body and the bike can then become one.
What allows me to feel my body? Relaxing, but even before that choosing to direct my awareness in such a way that I notice the parts of my body and how they relate.
Riding a bike that means noticing where my center is in relationship to the bike by noticing how my sitting bones press down. It also means feeling my body and the bike as I go around corners, noticing what I do with my arms (are they turning the handlebars) and my weight (am I shifting it into the corner so that I am balanced?)
Feeling the parts of my body and more importantly noticing how they relate to each other and whatever I am connected to I can respond to what I sense.

Be Water, Be Like Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee says “be like water.” How can we be like water? Water is soft and fluid so that when poured into a cup, bottle, teapot or other container it adapts itself to the shape of the container. An important question to ask is why does it do this. Because of gravity. Water flows because gravity pulls it and because it is soft and relaxed.
How can we become like water, by relaxing. By feeling the weight of our bones and letting them sink down.

It’s been a Bruce Lee week. A few days ago I was in a martial arts class and someone said that Bruce Lee was born in America. An argument ensued and afterwards a friend found on the net that Bruce had indeed been born in America.
Later this same week Leo Babauta posts an article about Bruce Lee on his web site. (actually its a guest post by a Jonathan Mead)
That same day I take my bike to the shop to get the chain replaced. When I return to pick up my bike a friend is there playing on the computer. He is watching a YouTube video of Bruce Lee playing ping pong with nunchucks. Apparently it may not be real but still would I be surprised if he really could have played ping pong with a set of nunchucks?

It was incredible to watch and it might beg the question how did he do it. Obviously practice is a huge component of how he did what he did but I believe that a larger part is due to him being able to sense his body so that he could relax it. The same awareness that he applied to being able to sense his body he could then apply when encountering things outside of his body. Sensing his body and relaxing it and then sensing the motion of a ping pong ball he could respond in such a way that he could return the ball to the person he is playing.
Of course he didn’t just sense the ball and his body (and perhaps the intent of the person hitting the ball) but he also sensed the weapon he was using, the nun chucks. Sensing all of these things and keeping his body as relaxed as possible he could respond in any way he chose.

The subject of this post occurred to me this morning after I had just finished a very good Tai Ji practice. I realized that the practice had been one of my better ones because I had been so relaxed.
How did I know the practice was a good one? Because of the way I felt afterwards and even during the practice. The movements felt easy, light and effortless and all the parts of my body felt unified as if they were working together towards a shared goal. Afterwards I simply felt good, energized, happy.
How did I relax? By feeling my body. For me that means feeling the weight of my bones being pulled down by gravity. It also means lifting my arms or my legs with the absolute minimum amount of effort necessary to do what I am trying to do. Moving slowly while doing Tai Ji it is pretty easy then to sense tension and let it go.
It’s as if I am a marrionet with each piece of my body hanging down from a string but the puppet master is so good that there is just a little bit of tension at each of my joints so that rather than loosely connected bits of wood bouncing around my body is one connected whole moving smoothly from one position to the other.
Doing tai ji, the more I relax the more I feel tense spots and more I can let go. And while I might practice moving slowly I feel like I can keep the same relaxed awareness and ability to respond when I move faster. It’s like I’m riding my body like a wave and my body flows smoothly from one pose to another.
How do I flow, by staying relaxed and feeling my body and responding to what I sense.

Sensing tension I respond to what I sense by either relaxing the muscle that is tense or my repositioning my body as necessary so that it can relax. Sensing our body as well as what is outside of our body we can do something similar, we can respond to what we sense by moving our body based on the idea of what we are trying to do. Using nun chucks to hit back a ping pong ball, sensing our body and where the ping pong is going to be, we can respond to what we sense by moving our body in such a way that we cause the end of our nun chuck to co-locate with the ping pong ball, hitting it back where we want it to go.

Doing yoga, doing Tai Ji, doing weight lifting, running, body weight exercises, the more we sense our body the better we can respond to what we sense and the better we can do what we are trying to do. It’s as if the thing we are doing is the shape of a glass and we become water by flowing into the shape of what we are doing.