I remember the first time I really got a sense for "opening and closing" my joints. We were on a qigong retreat and the person who was helping me probably spent 20 minutes "pulsing" my wrist, so that the fluids in the joint were moving in a smooth, even way, alternately creating more and less space between the bones.
When you pulse, you're manipulating the fluid flows inside your body so that the spaces inside your body compress and expand.
Now, this is certainly not the normal way that we think about movement.
Most of us are trained in the "pulleys and levers" way of thinking. Contract this muscle to bend this joint (This is the logical conclusion of understanding movement based on dissection. When you cut back the skin and see muscles attached to bones.)
When you practice opening and closing, you start to understand, on a visceral level, the flows that are constantly at work inside your body (and later you can more easily see them in the world all around you).
Pulsing is a central skill in the Marriage of Heaven and Earth Qigong. In this early episode of Qigong Radio, we discussed why pulsing is the bridge to more advanced practice (see part 4 especially).
If you have a more refined sense of how opening and closing works, you can also see the way it is integrated into movement in this progression of qigong videos.
Today, though, I want to show you a simple exercise you can use to fine-tune your sensitivity to opening and closing:
After you practice the simple exercise in the video, see if you can sense a similar kind of internal movement going on inside a full-body movement. At first this isn't easy to detect, but over time, you will become more sensitive to opening and closing on many different levels.
If you're curious about how to track opening and closing in more dynamic exercises, check out this practice video.