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The phrase "a game of inches" is usually associated with horseshoes. But as many of you are noticing, Chi Development is a game of inches as well.
By that, we mean that you Chi Development requires precise movements. For example, if you are required to move your hand, being just an inch or a few centimeters off in the movement can seriously prevent you from improving your chi flow.
So if you practice without this level of precision, your Tai Chi and Qigong practice is a pleasant exercise, with a few good benefits. But with this level of precision, your Tai Chi and Qigong practice allows you to reach your full Chi potential to improve your health, relieve stress, and gain energy and vitality.
Precision really comes into play when we are talking about developing chi flow using "meridian tiao shen" movements. "Tiao shen" means "tuning the body", and it refers to precise skills and movements that teach you body structure. And "meridian" tiao shen are physical "tuning skills" that we use to improve the efficiency of our meridian system and encourage chi flow.
Let's take a look at three of these "meridian tiao shen" skills from Level 1 of our ChiFusion Complete Course. Exercises from Level 1 make good examples, because they focus almost exclusively on chi flow, as opposed to the chi storage practices we explore in higher levels. In addition, the Level 1 exercises appear simple, but underneath the surface hide complex interactions in your chi energy systems.
In Level 1, you'll find an exercise called "Touch Heaven and Earth" that is an excellent example. The "single handed" version of Touch Heaven and Earth is a simple exercise, involving only hand and arm movement. But despite its simplicity, you'll find a number of high-level precision details and instructions for Touch Heaven and Earth designed to encourage chi flow.
If you are already one of our advanced training students, I'd suggest that you follow along with the discussion below using your Complete Course. So right now, please open another browser window and log in to the Complete Course. Go to Level 1, and click on Lesson 2. Then click on "Next Page" to get to Lesson 2B: Touch Heaven and Earth.
Let's start with Detail #2 in the "single handed" version of Touch Heaven and Earth, entitled "Correct Path of Hand Downward". As your hand performs its downward movement, notice how it falls down to the navel then sweeps to the side diagonally to the side of the hip. Those of you who have received personal coaching from me in our coaching course know that I insist on making sure this "sweep to the hip" is performed with as much precision as possible.
That's because this movement is one of many "channel tracing" techniques you'll find in the ChiFusion course. Channel tracing involves tracing chi meridians or vessels with our hand movements. This is a way of encouraging circulation and/or storage using the chi surrounding the hands as a guide.
The theory here is that the hands are a large source of both emitted and surrounding chi. By moving the hands in a path that is close to or parallel to a given meridian or vessel, you encourage energy to circulate in the chi meridian or to collect in the vessel. (Not certain of the difference between a meridian or a vessel? See the "Energy Pathways" introduction to Level 2 in the Complete Course.)
In Touch Heaven and Earth, as the hand sweeps to the side, it roughly traces the front part of the Dai Mai ("Belt Vessel"). The Dai Mai is a chi vessel that encircles the body near the waist and intersects the Gall Bladder meridian. While most energy pathways traverse the body vertically, the Dai Mai encircles the waist horizontally. It is an important chi storage vessel that stores and feeds chi to the organs in this part of the body.
As your hand sweeps to the side in Touch Heaven and Earth, it traces the front part of the Dai Mai and finishes near one of the following acupuncture points that lie on the Dai Mai - the Gall Bladder #27 point, Gall Bladder #28, or the Dai Mai #2. This movement of the hand is meant to draw the "attention" of your energy system on the Dai Mai to help draw chi to that vessel.
Note that as you perform Touch Heaven and Earth, your hand movement does not need to be right over the top of the Dai Mai. While that is ideal, your movement actually depends on the length of the arm. For example, instructor Carole Taylor and I have long arms in relation to our torso, so our trace is much lower. When we perform the movement are hands are somewhat below the Dai Mai.
However, that doesn't matter. What is important here that the hand movement should at least be parallel and in the same direction as the Dai Mai. As you become more energetically aware, you will feel the chi movement in your Dai Mai when you perform this hand sweep.
Now let's look at Detail #1 in the "single handed" version of Touch Heaven and Earth, entitled "Correct Path of Hand Upward". As you lift your hand, notice how we ask you to keep your hand on your centerline as you press it over head.
At the crown of the head, on the centerline, is a point known as the the Bai Hui. Bai Hui roughly means "Meeting of the 100" in reference to the large number of chi meridians that meet at this point at the top of the head. The Bai Hui is known to acupuncturists as GV20, or the 20th point on the Governing Vessel. The Governing Vessel is on the centerline of the body.
The Bai Hui is an important point for collecting and emitting chi through the top of the head. In Chi theory, one purpose of points like the Bai Hui is to help push "stagnant chi" - chi that has become unmoving - out through the point to the surrounding chi field for "re-processing". By pushing out this stagnant chi, your body can improve the flow of chi through the meridians that intersect with the Bai Hui.
As you press your hand overhead in Touch Heaven and Earth, you'll use a "pulling" technique that will assist the "pushing" out being done naturally by your energy system. You'll use the chi from your hand to help "pull" stagnant chi out of the meridians that meet at the Bai Hui. As you become more in tune with your energy system, you may actually feel a pulling sensation at the top of your hand as you perform this movement, much as if you were a puppet or marionette being pulled by a string on top of your head.
Once again, the exact position of your hand as you pull stagnant chi will depend on your arm length. Being exactly over the Bai Hui is ideal, but not completely necessary. What is necessary though is that you be right on the Governing Vessel, the energy pathway on the centerline of the body that includes the Bai Hui. This Governing Vessel alignment will help pull the stagnant chi out through the Bai Hui.
Finally, let's look at Detail #3 in the "single handed" version of Touch Heaven and Earth, entitled "Direction of Fingers During Movement". In this detail, we instruct you to keep your fingers pointing to the opposite side as you lift your hand and press overhead. In other words, when pressing the right hand overhead, your fingers should point left. When pressing the left hand, the fingers should point right.
This detail means that as you lift your hand overhead, you will be rotating your palm outward and away from the body. This creates a twisting movement localized to the wrist and forearm, though you might actually feel it all the way down to your shoulder. Those of you who've studied martial arts recognize this as an "Adductive Wristlock" in which the back of the wrist is being rotated inward. In martial arts, we often perform these wristlocks on the wrist of our opponent. In Touch Heaven and Earth, we are applying the wristlock to our own wrist.
Energetically, localized twisting movements like this cause "chi pressurization" in the meridians of the arm. In other words, the movement builds chi in the arms before releasing and redirecting it throughout the rest of the body. The imagery often used is that of water flowing through a garden hose. As you step on the hose, water stops and builds up pressure, and when you release the pressure, the water spurts through the hose and will clean out anything blocking its path.
Likewise, as you twist, you build up chi in the meridians of the arms, which then spurts through the meridians cleaning any blockages when the twist is released. In Touch Heaven and Earth, to enhance this "spurt-on-release", we instruct you to flip the hand over while it is still overhead BEFORE you allow it to drop.
This is important: Do not simply perform the lowering of the hand as a "mirror image" of the rising. During the rising, we apply a gradual twist. But we don't want a gradual release as you lower the hand. We want a sudden release. That's why you should flip the hand over, while it's still overhead, before lowering your hand.
Flipping over the hand while it is still in the air will heighten the sensation of released chi in the arm, especially as it starts to descend to the Dai Mai for the sweep to the side.
While the techniques of "Channel Tracing" and "Point Pulling" are subtle, there's nothing subtle about "Locking". Twisting to lock chi, then releasing to push out blockages is a primary technique we use throughout the ChiFusion course, especially in Level 2's Spiraling Qigong, what I consider one of our most important practices. Locking techniques often result in dramatic experiences of chi.
As you can see, even an exercise as simple as the "single handed" version of Touch Heaven and Earth is filled with many opportunities for precision. Techniques such as channel tracing, point pulling, and locking will help your practice become "chi filled". This will allow you to reach your full "Chi potential" to improve your health, relieve stress, and gain energy and vitality.
So until next time, keep practicing, and especially - keep practicing those ChiFusion details!
Wishing you the best in Tai Chi, Qigong, and Chi Development,
Certified Tai Chi Master,
Three-time Inductee into the U.S. Martial Arts Hall of Fame