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Article: 5 Animals in every Tai Chi move
Dragons in our Tai Chi
OR THE BEST 10 MINUTES YOU'LL SPEND TODAY
Every Tai Chi move is based upon the movements of 5 animals; Dragon, Snake, Tiger, Leopard and Stork. These 5 animals have their very own unique physical structures. These structure dictate their movements or ambulation. Every living thing on Earth moves according to their own natural or unique structures. Studying how they move offers clues as to how we humans may move with more ease, strength and balance. Speaking with a very high level tai chi instructor about his trip to California to see his brother I asked, what he did there. He immediately mentioned the local beach was not in use as currently the Elephant Seals had taken it over. He had gone to see them, from a distance. I jokingly asked what their movements were like. Without any hesitation he mimicked their attack. The table went pretty quiet to hear more of his story. All of us at the table, immediately tried to find a tai chi move where that type of movement appeared.
Humans ambulate as dictated by our bipedal skeletal and muscular structure. But, we have more in common with our fellow Earth dwellers than one would think.
We are more in line with creatures that possess legs connected to skeletal structures, but surprisingly without legs as well. Some creatures vary quite dramatically even if they share similar skeletal structures. Horses have several different gaits; walk, trot, canter and gallop. Humans may amble, walk, speed walk, jog or run. How about the specialized movements of dancing too? Horses utilize different movements of their structure to create these different gaits which produce different speeds. Horses utilize the the movement of their internal organs during their galloping gait. Consider a Silver Back Gorilla ambulating on two legs then four? Quite different. How about the gait of a short legged Dachshund? Snakes, birds, fish, every little being manifests movement that is dictated by their unique structures.
How is it that animals are known to be able to keep moving even with severe pain and various physical restrictions. Creatures under these conditions seem to fair better and far longer during aging or injury than us humans do. Why is that? Probably more reasons than one would initially think. And yes, our minds have an effect on our movements too. Science is now pointing exactly to this. Let's stick with just the physical aspects for now, but ponder how a depressed person walks. There are a few clues there.
How much of human's reduced mobility is a direct result of body deterioration from age? How much is from the pain and resulting inactivity with even more eventual deterioration? Is it a combination of both? I think we already know the answer to this.
Another question for perspective. How much of a lack of mobility is due to a major physical restriction somewhere in our body, joint or wherever, as compared to the body's reaction to the pain in that area? Muscles tighten around injured or compromised joints and areas. The body's way of 'protecting' injured areas by restricting that area's movement to allow for healing or further damage.
How much can we positively effect the areas of difficulty and distress? Gambling isn't so much different in that, if you think of the odds. Think what happens to the whole body once one particular joint starts to give you troubles. Odds are, all the joints and tissues spiralling out from the actual area in question are effected negatively.
What would happen if you looked after the body in reverse? Start from the periphery then inwards towards the actual problem area. What a novel way to think about this! Consider how an elderly person fairs with a broken hip in comparison to how athletes or even the young fair with a broken hip. What exactly makes the difference? The answer is, most everything else in the body and mind but the hip itself.
Consider the circulation of a younger person, never mind an athlete, compared to the elderly. How do the materials for repair get to the affected areas? Circulation! What makes circulation in the body?
I had shattered my arm in a motorcycle accident in 1981. A very good surgeon saved my arm by assembling the largest pieces of shattered bone, attaching muscles and setting them in place to regenerate. I was in a cast for 3 whole months, but it healed! I got to keep my arm.
Right after the operation he came to visit me and pulled up the sheets to expose my feet. He held my big toe. He said people with good circulation healed faster and the pulse in the big toe reflected the health of their circulation. After the cast came off he asked me what I was doing with my time off before returning to work. I said there was a shed to finish erecting. Great he said. Use the arm, bang nails, lift things. He explained every time we use our muscular skeletal structure we put stress on our bones. In layman's terms he said every time we lift something, walk, turn the lid on a jar we use our bones. The bones receive an electrical charge from that stress and that is how calcium is signalled to move to a bone. But inactivity is the body's signal to strip calcium fom our bones to be redistributed throughout our bodies. Just look at astronauts, the invalid or those with unusable limbs. Even a baseball pitcher's throwing arm has twice the density of his catching arm.
Another story. My father's spine seized in his declining years. Complicated but an early exposure to radiation treatment eventually caused it. I had started Tai Chi about that time but had not the understanding I do now. His spine was a writhing serpent fast fossilized inside his body. Coiling this way and that, his body looked like a damaged corkscrew. His doctors had no idea how he managed the pain without pills as the outside edges of many of his vertebrae were actually touching each other. His major organ were affected. Lungs, breathing was shallow. Heart, was always under pressure from the immobility of his calcified rib cage. His chest caved inwards towards all of his internal organs. It didn't expand out nor contract back any more. His movement was extremely restricted and therefore his “circulation” was very restricted from this lack of natural physical movement. So much so that he eventually had to go on oxygen.
Think on this; the body's movement is part of it's overall internal operations, notably its cleansing or detox processes. Our body's need to detox every day and moving is a big piece of how it accomplishes that. Without cleansing we are actually poisoning ourselves down to the cellular level. Lymphatic fluids circulate only by the body's muscular movements. Alternately for our venous system our blood has a pump that circulates our blood throughout our organs and muscles to cleanse and maintain. Our bodies are pumps too, but only when they move. How well are your pumps working?
Notice how aging effects our daily and normal activities like sitting, standing, walking and even breathing, and on and on. Have you ever asked yourself “Am I able to do anything about this natural decline?” How much better would my condition be if all the healthy bits impinged less on the actual problem bits?”
The answer is, you will only find out if you try. Mitigation of the effects of aging is all about moving, and moving with more ease. We all know this but maybe not to what extent.
Caveat: got arthritis? Did your doctor tell you to stay still? Probably not. Their comment was probably something like “Use it or lose it”? Well here is a tai chi term: “Damned if you do and damned if you don't”. Use those bits with some pain or lose the bits entirely. But with Tai Chi the key is to “use it wisely, efficiently and with the least amount of pain”.
I'm not saying Tai Chi is only for the aged. It's just that the young almost always need it less. Therefore, good tai chi happens for those who need it more. Leave it there.
Now for our Tai Chi Dragons!
First animal in Tai Chi, at least in my classes, is the “Dragon”. Yup. Mythical creature but none the less prime suspect in the case of 'The Body Closes Itself Up'. Inactivity from aging is a pandemic. In our classes we start practising the Dragon right away. Why is that?
In Tai Chi the Dragon represents the stretching, or more accurately, the extension of the spine. Guess what we do less of when we age? Even bending comfortably at the knees to pick something up is directly related to the extending of our spines and other joints. As we age we tend more to 'crash' into our seats from a height rather than sit gently down. It's related to our spines. If our spine will not extend, we cannot sit down comfortably i.e. maintain a solid structure throughout the sitting process. Stiff spines directly effect our knees as they must go far more forward than we would like to sit down. Dragon practice starts to change our spines immediately. Tai chi and the standing jong tai chi exercises puts every joint in the body through its designed or functional motion.
Think of it this way. If I constrict all the muscles and tendons around any joint, is it more difficult to move that joint. One restricted joint effects every joint radiating out from it. The condition of our ligaments, tendons and muscles dictate how much our joints can flex. Consider that the spine is all joints and it has the most pliable connective tissue in the whole of our bodies.
Tendons and ligaments are a special group of tissues called connective tissue. Muscles are 30% connective tissues. Without it your muscles would rip. Tighten a muscle and the connective tissue will not extend. Tai Chi works directly on all of the body's connective tissues.
Try some Dragon practice for your health! Look up Canadian Tai Chi Academy classes in your area. https://www.canadiantaichiacademy.org/main_classes.html
If you are one of my students, please practice this as I have taught you individually. And as always, come and see me if you have issues. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1poBrTZzdhY&t=