The Bows And Pumps Of Tai Chi
“Suspend the head, Sifu I don’t get it…. I understand that it’s a line from the classics, but what does it mean?” Ronnie sounded confused.
“Actually,” said Sifu “‘suspend’ is an excellent and accurate term, sometimes it’s translated as ‘raise’ the head, but ‘suspended as if from above’ is the best terminology. The head needs to be in the correct position, with the occipital (base of skull) sitting correctly on the atlas (top of the spine). The head weighs around ten pounds and doubles in weight through the body for every inch it’s off its alignment.
When you raise the head it’s important not to tense any muscles, it’s easy to lift the ribcage and tense the muscles down the front of the body, or the backline and neck, so the sensation of ‘suspend’ describes the feeling you need achieve.
It’s also important that the brain stem flows into the brain unhindered, bearing in mind that the blood and neurological system both feed into the brain at that point.”
“So what do they mean in the classics when they talk about raising the shen to the crown of the head?” asked Ronnie.
“Shen is considered to be spiritual energy,” replied Sifu, “it’s considered to be the lightest of energies in the body and as such, with the right mind ‘floats’ to the crown of the head and lightens it to give the sensation and feel of ‘suspend’.”
“Yeah but what if you don’t believe all that chi and shen stuff?” asked Ronnie..
“Doesn’t matter,” replied Sifu “because the visualisation does it for you, the head suspends without tension – job done!
Also, it corrects most postural misalignments, quite often when you try to correct bad posture you end up simply moving the problem around the body because it’s squashed downwards and when ‘suspended’ properly, all of the problems disappear.
It also ‘lightens’ the body, when the head is suspended and its weight is not misaligning the posture, the body becomes incredibly light and easy to move, this is what gives that lovely ‘floating’ sensation of the internal arts.”
“How does that fit in with ‘sink the chest and raise the back?’” asked Ronnie…
“When the head is suspended” replied Sifu, “if you soften down the core line of the body, the chest naturally sinks with the release, you connect to the feet and the spine releases, when you lightly draw in the pubbocoxygennus (PC muscle) coupled with the sinking of the chest, the spine naturally bows ‘raising the back’, this means that your arms and legs can power of the spine…”
Ronnie then asked “how does that relate to the ‘5 bows’?”
‘Ah….” said Sifu…. “Add in the idea of peng, which is internal ‘expansion’ and it drives up the suspension of the head, helps to root the feet and bows the spine and the 4 limbs in an expanded way to give the 5 bows and ‘frame’ the body in a soft and activated way that makes it very powerful and alive…”
“How does this relate to the 4 pumps then Sifu?” asked Ronnie..
“You are full of questions tonight Ronnie”, stated Sifu. “What’s this all about?”
Ronnie answered, “everyone is always quoting the classics as esoteric and arcane ideas, yet you always talk in such practical terms, we rarely hear you talk about chi or shen, yet you always seem to be able to reference the classics to show how our Tai Chi has all it’s roots and ideas in them, what I’m trying to do today is to put these ideas together to form a whole…
So…….. about the 4 pumps?
“Fit together eh?” repied Sifu…. “Okay, when you have suspension of the head, when you have softened down the core, opened the spine, loosened up through the joints, sunk the chest and raised the back by accessing the rear of the arches of the feet, opened and bowed the lower back, opened between the shoulder blades and opened the point at the occipital and atlas naturally through softening and expansion, you have activated the 4 pumps…. Can you see how it all fits together?
It’s only ‘arcane’ in the sense that it’s a skill set that you have to learn and I guess esoteric in the sense that it will give you a sense of well being and that it’s a road without destination….”
“Surely there’s a destination?” asked Ronnie.
“No,” replied Sifu, “only an unending road of self improvement that goes deeper and deeper, Tai Chi is the ‘grand ultimate’ in the sense that it is infinite. We immerse ourselves into what is often referred to as that great river and we get to experience infinity…. There is no ‘destination’ there… we just smell the roses on the way.”
“Now that’s esoteric!” exclaimed Ronnie.
“No, that’s me explaining the esoteric again” replied Sifu with a smile….