Last week I got back from two weeks in the UK doing an instructor training with Bruce Frantzis on Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body, the core chi gung set in his program. We're right back into the swing of classes now, but I wanted to post a little review before too much time passes.
The Energy Gates set is made up of six different exercises -- they run the gamut from standing still holding a simple posture, to vigorous shifting, turning, and swinging. The range of skills and movements you can practice with them sets the foundation for all of the other work done in more sophisticated chi gung sets as well as in tai chi and ba gua.
But if I had to say one thing about this past training, I would say to forget that standing, spine stretch, cloud hands, and swings are different movement patterns and instead focus in on their common element: sinking or sung in Chinese. At least, this is how Bruce organized the training this time through. By focusing on one element, you have an elegant lens through which you can look at all the movement patterns.
In chapter 7 of Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body, Bruce tells the story of how he learned to get the feeling of sung in his own body. I think it illustrates pretty clearly what you have to do. Learning to do it, and making sung a habit should be a nice long-term piece of your tai chi or chi gung practice. Here's Bruce from p.114:
When I first started trying to grasp the term sung, I did not have an easy time. In my early days of training in Taiwan, a very friendly Chinese man who was not my main teacher helped me gain the sense of what sung meant. I knew minimal Chinese, he was the same with English, and our communications resorted to quite a bit of mime.
My body was tense. He looked up the word sung in his dictionary and saw that it was translated as relax. He said in broken English, "You relax no good enough," while mimicking how tensely I was trying to relax my body. I could not let go. Frustrated, he said, "Need sung. Have not enough sung." He proceeded to demonstrate it to me. Using vastly exaggerated motions, he let his joints go completely loose and stood before me with an obvious lack of any kind of physical tension.
I did not get it. He then demonstrated what he meant with two piles of coins. He put the first pile in a paper bag and laid a knife next to it. He said, "You want sung be like money. Make body be like money." Then he took the knife and cut the bag. The coins poured out (letting go of physical tension), fell (releasing the chi downward), separated (loosening the insides of the body), scattered over the floor and soon stopped moving (the body fully sung).
I tried again. He saw that I was just half getting it. So he made fists and raised his hands above his navel and suddenly, with his entire body loosening, opened his hands and let them fall to his sides. He grabbed the second pile of coins and brought them up to the same place above his navel and suddenly let go of them. They fell, separated and scattered on the floor. Then just as suddenly, he again let his body relax as his hands and arms visibly loosened and dropped to his sides just as the coins had to the floor.
I put the two images together in my head and got it.
Next, my new friend asked me to touch his arm and belly. He stood with his hands at his side. After checking that I was focusing, he relaxed and without moving an inch released his body and went sung. I could feel his muscles turning to butter and a distinct wave moving down inside his body.
Good luck sinking! It will completely change the feel of your movement, making it more flowing, more relaxed and more connected. Sounds pretty good to me!