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Boost Your Practice

I recently received a two posts from Toward Harmony Tai Chi & Qigong that I thought were worth passing on.

In they first they wrote the following:

"Spring Stretch Method

A few weeks ago we suggested that when spring begins to stir, that's a good time to begin to stretch out a bit in your exercise practice. 

As spring advances, it's good to go for more and more gentle stretching. 

Spring is the best time of the year to establish a stretching program. If you wish to "grow" your body, then you want to get that growth started well in the spring, just like you would if you were trying to grow food or flowers. This is because the energies of your body move in harmony with the seasonal energies of nature. In nature, the energies of spring spur growth, whether in plants or in your ability to stretch. 

Whatever effort you put into your stretching now will determine how well you'll be able to grow your body through the rest of the year. 

A good way to approach this is to every day do some focused training with one part of your exercise set, in addition to doing the set as a whole. 

Pick an exercise or movement that you wish to explore. Proceed slowly and carefully through the exercise. Stop in different positions and feel whether you could stretch out a little further along different parts of your body. 

Start with your upper body extremities (hands and head) and work back through your body parts toward your spine, gently testing and stretching each part to see if you could get a little more give from it. 

Then do the same with your lower body, exploring from your feet up to your hips and lower back. 

As you explore, follow the 70 percent principle. Notice how far you can stretch and just begin to strain, and then only stretch to 70 percent of that. 

But remember that at this time of year your 70 percent in any one place can easily grow larger than you anticipate, with no strain. The way to test your 70 percent in an area is to stretch it out to where you think your 70 percent may be. Then hang out at that place and let your feeling awareness and the energies of spring in your body "soak" into the area of the stretch. Then let go and notice whether the area can stretch further than before and still with no strain. Remember: relax into the stretch.

When you've explored all of the parts of your body, then try a unified whole body stretch. Identify the least stretched part of your body and then stretch all other parts only as far as that least stretched part will go. This is the principle of working from your weakest point. 

When you arrange your body around your weakest point, you achieve balanced energy flow through your whole body. If you don't, then the places you stretch too far will pull energy from your weakest point and further weaken it. 

When you do the whole of your set, continue to stretch out, but follow the weakest point principle as well as you can. 

See if you can get some nice spring growth going. If you can, who knows what kind of harvest you might have by the fall." 

Following the first in the second post they wrote:

"The 3 External Combinations

When you practice, you may find it very useful to keep in mind an important concept - the three external combinations. In China the "liu he" or six combinations are a major subject in qigong and tai chi, with three external and three internal combinations.

The three external combinations are the hands and feet, elbows and knees, and shoulders and hips. The parts of each pair are energetically and to some degree physically "combined" or linked to one another. Therefore when you influence or affect one part, you automatically affect the other part, and vice versa. 

There are many ways that you can use awareness and understanding of these linkages to help boost your practice. Two of the simplest ways are to inform how you stretch and to help you maintain balance. 

If you approach stretching with these combinations in mind, then when you decide to stretch one part of a pair, you also pay attention to the other part. 

For example, when you are trying to stretch/release around your shoulders, be sure to check out what's happening at the same time with your hips. If you have locked your hips, are holding them very tensely, or have collapsed them, then you'll likely have little success with your shoulders. Conversely, if you hold enormous tension in your shoulders, you probably will not be able to stretch your hips.

As always, to feel and let go of two or three or more places in your body simultaneously, relax and open your mind to let them all in. 

You can also use awareness of the three combinations to gain better balance. 

For this, your elbow and knee positions will be particularly important. 

As you move through your exercises, in every position gently extend/stretch each of your elbows away from your shoulders and spine so that there is no slack in the soft tissues of your upper arms or shoulders. Nor should there be any tension, so don't stretch too far. Also gently maintain a light lift of your head and neck. 

Now as you move, maintain these feelings and explore how you can use your elbows to balance one another, to keep you from pulling or leaning too far to the right or left. Regardless of what positions you move your elbows through, continuously and subtly adjust these positions to help keep you optimally balanced. 

As you play with your elbows, also play with how they link to your knees. Explore how you can further better your balance by "connecting" your right elbow to your right knee and your left elbow to your left knee. Then play with connecting opposite sides - right elbow to left knee and vice versa. 

Try similar practices with your hands and feet and hips and shoulders. 

Feel free to explore other ways that awareness of the three external combinations can help your practice."

I hope you find their suggestions helpful.

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