Most people are familiar with the benefits of basic Tai Chi: relaxation, better balance, relief from stiff joints. As you get more internally connected and learn to listen to the inside of your body as you practice, there are whole other layers of benefits, hidden beneath the surface of the graceful, flowing movements typically associated with Tai Chi.
In this video, Robert Tangora explains one of the more interesting ones, that is rarely taught with the precision he is outlining: how to use specific Tai Chi movements to target and massage individual organs in your body, like your liver, spleen, heart, and lungs.
Now, if you've watched the video and understand some of the basic principles, let's discuss what you need to do to prepare for this level of practice.
First of all, if you think in terms of "stretching" from a Western, muscle-based approach to movement, the whole idea of massaging your internal organs through movement is ridiculous. You can't fit the concept into that paradigm.
Instead, Tai Chi relies on "lengthening" the soft tissues of the body, essentially releasing to create movement. If you adopt this approach, then as the limbs are lengthened away from the body, you actually feel more space being created inside the body.
In Tai Chi, this starts with the principle of "elbows away from the spine," where you sink the elbows down, pulling the tips toward the floor and away from your body simultaneously. It's all done gently, so that the soft tissue of the shoulders and upper back are elongated.
Eventually, this feeling travels through the whole back, connected the arm movements to the hips. Finally, as Robert mentions in the video, you practice with the intent of connecting the entire body to the feet. Every inch of the body is lengthened out, like smoothing out the wrinkles on a bed sheet, and pulled towards the feet, so that the power of the body is unified and grounded at the same time.
Opening and Closing
Another dimension of Tai Chi movement that doesn't square with the typical Western movement paradigm is the method of "opening and closing" the body. Instead of pulleys and levers, Tai Chi treats the body as a series of interconnected fluid pumps. The hydraulic power of these pumps is what creates strength in Tai Chi, but on the outside it looks like relaxation, because everything remains smooth and fluid.
To begin activating these pumps, you learn a basic "bend and stretch" rhythm in your form. Following a simple cadence, you alternately bend all the limbs, and then stretch them back out, working to synchronize their movement as much as possible.
As the rhythm become smoother, you tune into the joints themselves and feel how Tai Chi movements can compress and release all your joints through the alternating bend and stretch. The pumping of the joints lubricates them and leaves your muscles feeling relaxed and loose too.
Refining the opening and closing of the joints also makes you aware of other space inside the body that can open and close as well. Working to unify the shrinking and expanding of every space you can feel inside your body in harmony is a challenging practice, both physically, energetically, and in terms of what you are asking your feeling awareness to do. Training your awareness to move in continuous, circular waves can be as calming for the mind as pumping the joints is for your body.
In the case of organ massage, the first step is to develop the ability to feel your entire abdomen opening and closing in sync with the openings and closings of the rest of the body.
Next, you need to learn to "listen" to the way that different movements work back into your body at different vectors. Every angle of the arms and legs relative to the spine creates different pulls and forces that have the potential to create healthy pressures inside your body. The opposite is to tug and pull in a harmful way through over-extending, which is why you need to develop internal sensitivity.
There are three main ways to develop the right kind of precision with your internal sensitivity. Usually, just repeating your Tai Chi form won't get you there. There are too many changes, too quickly, for you to be able to pay attention the right way.
Instead, you can build precise internal listening through:
- Standing Postures: all you do is focus on the waves of your mind, your energy, and shifting body alignments
- Repetitive Movement Drills: every Tai Chi form has movements that repeat like Brush Knee Twist Step or Parting Wild Horse's Mane, which can be chained together and repeated so that you can tune into their unique patterns
- Two-Person Exercises: Co-operative partner exercises and martial applications teach you about precise alignment and internal connection, because if you're off, they don't work
Whichever method you use, you are learning to dial in deeper and deeper connection, while shedding excessive effort. Over time, small tweaks to your stance, awareness, or energy will reflect through your whole system.
Knitting the Pieces Together
Generating internal organ massage in a sophisticated Tai Chi technique. You should be comfortable performing all three of the skills above before you even attempt it. Honestly, it won't make much sense otherwise and you'll probably trick yourself into thinking that clenching and relaxing your abdomen is organ massage.
But if you do get a sense for the length, pumps, and vectors, this exercise can be incredibly energizing. By releasing the space in your abdomen and smoothly moving pressures through the whole cavity, you free lots of bound energy. You finish your practice feeling relaxed and refreshed on a deep level.