I’m getting excited about Immersion Week at BTC next month, where we’ll take another look at the Spine Stretch and the Three Swings. Another look? Like we’ve done it before? Yes!
Why is it exciting to go back to the same qigong sets over and over again?
So-called creative people understand better than most that there is nothing new under the sun. Working with boulders of granite, with empty stages, with blank paper, they are credited with making something out of nothing, but that isn’t exactly what they do. All art is derived from what is in actuality a remarkably finite human experience. Whatever the medium, the creative person’s task is to interpret an essentially unchanging reality, a dog-eared reality pondered by Homer and Mel Brooks and everyone in between. The artist succeeds if he or she can present something familiar from an unfamiliar angle.”
— Rheta Grimsley Johnson
This quote comes from a book about Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts. In this post, Austin Kleon breaks down the 12 familiar devices that Schulz used over and over again to tell different stories in his comic strip.
By reusing the devices, Schulz at once created context for the reader to return to and at the same time set us up to be surprised by new insights, twists, and revelations.
Let’s try to do the same thing in our qigong practice, instead of letting familiar sets become stale and dead.
New Insight in Old Exercises
In planning this year’s event, here are the themes I hope to explore and “discover.”
For the Spine Stretch:
- How the movements reveal physical layers — from superficial fascia to the deep muscles surrounding the spine.
- Legwork that enhances your connection to the ground.
- The difference between sinking chi and dissolving and the way this contrast will help you get more rooted (sinking) and penetrate deeper into the spine (dissolving).
- Finishing the spine stretch with a more integrated connection between the arms, legs, and spine and a sense of internal stillness.
See, many of these qualities can be found in a standing practice or a complex moving form of Tai Chi, but the interesting question is how we can draw them out of the procedure of the Spine Stretch. I know they’re in there!
For the Swings:
- Can we release the arms throughout the swings series in a way that enhances the overall feeling of release and relaxation in the body?
- How, given the degree of movement in the swings, can we tune into steady and continuous head-to-toe sinking or dissolving?
- Can we use the rotational motion and rhythm of the Swings to refine our feeling of the Central Channel as an axis of movement?
- At the end of the series, can will come to rest in a way that feels loose, alive, and settled simultaneously?
I love the challenge of extending internal awareness into an active practice like the Swings. Even as the arms are flying up above the head, you have to learn to stay grounded and connected. The rhythm and timing become an anchor for your mind in a way that’s hard to get even in a slow-motion Tai Chi form.
Immersion Week: April 22-25
We’ll spend 2.5 hours a day on each topic for four days, April 22-25.
We will be doing Swings in the morning and Spine Stretch in the afternoon.
This format lets us approach all of the exercises from many different angles: direct feeling with the mind (standing qigong), partner exercises to sensitize different body parts/capacities (twisting, loosening, sinking), and mini-exercises that allow us to feel key principles/pieces of each larger exercise (arm drops and swing, kwa squats, folds, and hinges).
Both events will be held at Brookline Tai Chi and there is limited space. If you plan to attend, I encourage you to sign up by April 1 to ensure a space.
And if you’re coming in from out of town, consider extending your stay to refine your Long Form with Craig Barnes.