What I Learned from Robert Tangora about Spinal Qigong

Recently, we hosted Robert Tangora at Brookline Tai Chi for an introduction to Bend the Bow Spinal Qigong. Prior to the workshop, I had put together a few thoughts on what it feels like to work with the spine in Tai Chi and qigong. This weekend definitely helped me refine my sense for what Spinal Qigong can do, so I wanted to share some of those lessons with you.


The foundational practices I describe in the video prepare you to work with the more sophisticated connections you access in Bend the Bow. One of the main goals of spinal qigong is to link the arms and legs by connecting them to the spine. By learning to use the spine as a bow that can store and release energy, you learn to move the arms and legs from the spine, not just with the spine.

Targeting the Spine in Qigong

We used an exercise very similar to the one Robert demonstrates at 4:00 in this video to begin to feel the way that the arms and legs connect to the spine:

In terms of qigong principles that apply to working with the spine, Robert made it very clear that:

  1. The first level of any qigong practice is all about coordinating moving parts. You need to practice slowly and careful, with the goal of synchronizing the timing of the movements.
  2. Once timing is there, you being to build internal connections, i.e. it becomes possible to have the sense of one part leading another.
  3. You have to develop a clear sense of how the big muscles of the back connect to the arms and legs.
  4. Through partner feedback, you can start to discern how the arms and legs “pull” on the spine.
  5. You refine how the limbs pull on the spine in order to balance the left and right side of the body.
  6. If your body is open enough, spinal qigong can give an incredibly balanced, whole-body feel to all your movement.

Since the workshop, I’ve used this exercise as a daily warm-up and it has been spilling over into my Tai Chi practice nicely. Everything feels more linked together. I’m working on a post right now about breathing and some of the conclusions are the same: once deep internal connections are in place, the circular nature of these movements opens you up continuously as you practice. That is a huge contrast from linear stretching, which feel like you’re flicking a switch on and off.

So my biggest takeaway about Spinal Qigong (at the moment, of course!) is that you need to approach it like every other qigong exercise that is designed to open up your body, but there definitely are some unique experiences that come up working with the spine.

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