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Opening the Spine is one of the most beneficial practices we teach in Level 1 of the Complete ChiFusion Course. Given the large number of people who have back and neck problems in today's society, this Qigong pattern is especially valuable.
However, students have asked me about two unusual aspects of Opening the Spine. These aspects are "unusual" in that they differ from other "forward bend" exercises you may have learned from other instructors or programs.
These unusual aspects are the correct "downward movement" in the exercise, plus the breathing pattern associated with rising from the bent position.
The correct downward movement in Opening The Spine starts by bending forward from the bottom of the spine near the tailbone and lower back, and then working your way to the top of the spine at the neck and skull. (See the instructions for Opening The Spine in your ChiFusion Complete Course for more details on this movement.)
Bonnie, one of our students, once asked me about this:
The correct downward movement for opening the spine is proving really difficult. Rolling down, starting at the bottom of the spine is the opposite of what feels natural to me - I've always rolled down, starting at the top of the spine. I've been working on this one for 2 weeks and still feel very awkward and know that I'm not doing it correctly. I'm not having any trouble with the upward movement and have good flexibility in my spine. Do you have any hints to help with this?
I know that for many people bending from the head and neck to start opening the spine feels more natural. For a number of reasons, we tend to have more of an "upper body focus". Since we are more in touch with what's happening in the upper part of our torso than the lower, bending from the neck seems much easier to start with than bending from the lower back. Also by starting with the head, the weight of the head makes it easy to "drop" yourself down, opening each vertebrae of the spine by pulling on them with this added weight. And sometimes, prior training makes a head-initiated bend easier, since many disciplines, including some forms of yoga, actually do spine stretches starting from the head.
Our version of Opening the Spine is designed to combat these problems. We are trying to increase overall body awareness and especially focus on the lower back (becoming less "head-centric"). We are also trying to prevent "pulling" on the spine by the weight of the head, by instead using the larger muscles of the body to control the movement.
|One technique you can use to help you work on this is to use a "spotter" - a partner to help you out with the practice and provide feedback. Getting feedback from a partner to work with can dramatically shorten the time it takes to learn many skills. As a matter of fact, you'll see as you work through higher levels of the ChiFusion program that we have more and more partner exercises to help you develop skills.|
The correct breathing pattern for Opening The Spine involves taking three breaths. What is "unusual" about Opening the Spine is that in the bent position, you inhale, and as you rise out of the bend, you exhale. (See the instructions for Opening The Spine in your ChiFusion Complete Course for more details on how to coordinate the breath in this movement.)
Karen, now one of our ChiFusion certified instructors, was one of the first persons to ask about the unusual breathing pattern.
In the Spinal stretch, I notice that on the rising back up from connecting with the toes, you state to breathe out - which is opposite to which I have been used to practicing. Both in my Tai Chi and Yoga, as you open and expand the body, you inhale, and when you close, contract or on physical effort breathe out. Could you elaborate on this breathing please?
In the Complete Course, we do mention the primary reason for this breathing pattern: "The unique breathing pattern may also energize and stimulate the kidneys, benefiting the uro-genital processes." In the instructions, you'll also notice that we focus on inhaling in the bent position. We specifically instruct students to "pause in this position [bent over] and slowly inhale, especially into your lower back/kidney area."
Inhaling in the bent position, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, can charge up the kidney area in the lower back. This area and indeed the entire uro-genital process is seen as one of the primary sources of "jing", the raw material from which Chi energy is said to be created. (For more information on jing, please see the Four Treasures of Tai Chi report in the bonus material of your ChiFusion Complete Course.)
|BREATHING INTO THIS AREA IS SAID TO IMPROVE the conversion of "jing" into "chi". Inhaling as you are bent over and slowly letting out the air as your rise creates a "pressurizing" effect on jing conversion. By stepping up the jing-to-chi conversion, we are intending to help our students generate more chi - and more chi awareness.|
|BEING ABLE TO EXPAND AND CONTRACT CHI independently of your breath makes you the most adaptable in the greatest variety of situations, whether we are talking about health, stress relief, personal growth, martial arts, or spiritual aspects. In some situations, you may find it difficult to synchronize your Chi intention with your breathing, or in some cases disadvantageous.|
So as you continue to practice Opening the Spine, pay special attention to both the correct downward movement along the spine, as well as the breathing pattern for the movements.
While Opening the Spine is already a great exercise for mobility and flexibility, you'll find that both of these unusual features will help you "rev up" the benefits you'll get to an even higher level.
As always, you have my best wishes for Chi Development,