In Tai Chi, we learn that the joints of the knees and all the supportive connective tissues and fluids can be seen as a contained, pressurized system through which the energies of heaven and earth flow. If there is a ‘leak’ in the system, brought about through acute injury or chronic misalignments, that contained hydraulic system will begin to lose its tone and resiliency, the energies will be blocked from flowing smoothly and the clear communication of Heaven and Earth will be obstructed. The principles of maintaining or regaining health in the knees apply not only to Tai Chi players, but to anyone interested in maintaining their health and joy in life.
We begin every class and every practice session with the radiant awareness described below. This gentle, profound practice helps lift us out of the stresses of life into wholeness and limitless potential and positively supercharges our health, our outlook and every activity in our lives, both on and off the practice court. We recommend incorporating this practice daily, and then notice what changes have taken place over the course of a week, a month, a year!
- Begin by sitting in a chair, feet shoulder width apart and parallel, palms resting on the tops of your thighs, arms relaxed. If your back is strong, sit more forward on the chair, if not, scoot your body to the back of the chair and use the backrest for support. Feel the feet connected to the earth.
- Become aware of the fold in the body where the hip meets the thigh, the inguinal curve, or kwa. Feel the bottom of the torso, the perineum, where it contacts the chair. Gently press the feet into the floor and the perineum into the chair without strain or tension, and lift up through the midriff, allowing the chest and shoulders to remain relaxed and full. This helps to release any strain/compression from the lower spine.
- Allow the crown of your head to gently lift upwards, creating an elongation in the torso. Align the crown of the head over the perineum, and notice the gentle fullness and integrity of the central energy channel in the body. The head is aligned with the centerline of the body. The chin is gently drawn in towards the neck and remains parallel to the floor (not tilted up or down.) The eyes are softly on the horizon. Maintain this gently full, upright posture throughout the practice.
- Now focus on the breath. Gently breathe into the lower abdomen: long, slow, even, smooth and continuous. Notice the diaphragm gently sinks on the inhalation. Then exhale in the same slow, even manner and notice the diaphragm gently rises. Allow your gently-focused mind to follow the breath in and out. You want the belly to rise and fall gently without strain or tension, and you never want to force the breath. This is known as diaphragmatic breathing or natural breathing. (We will cover more on breath in future posts.) Breathe in this manner for several minutes, and build up the time you spend in this gentle breathing practice—the more time you spend in this deep breathing, the better for your body, mind and spirit. This is the way babies breathe! As we age and are exposed to the stresses of life, illness and injury our breath becomes shallower, the respiratory apparatus becomes tense, restricted, and consequently we have less available oxygen. The daily practice of deep, natural breathing has far-reaching benefits for health and peace of mind. Ultimately, your practice will naturally deepen and expand, constrictions and tensions will be released and this will become your way of breathing. “When one gives undivided attention to the (vital) breath, and brings it to the utmost degree of pliancy, he can become as a tender babe.” —Tao De Ching, J. Legge, Trans.
- Now, focus on the heart center and imagine a very bright seed of purest light in the core of the heart center. This seed of light is so bright–as bright as 10,000 suns and moons–this light is divine, luminous joy. (One can liken this joy to the quality we feel when we see a much beloved family member or friend from whom we have been separated for a long time.) Allow this seed of luminous joy to expand in size and spread throughout the heart center. See it. Feel it. Look for a felt-sense experience of the radiance of divine, limitless joy. Then allow the light to move throughout the body, bathing every cell and particle in the body, mind and spirit with luminous joy. Notice that the lips cannot help but turn up in a gentle smile; feel the same gentle smile in the eyes and throughout the body. Gratitude permeates every cell and you have become a beacon of joy. Continue deep, slow, even breathing and rest for as long as you wish in this joyful, limitless awareness.
Begin and end the day with this practice, and call upon it at anytime. The idea is to cultivate this limitless, joyful awareness so that we are never separate from it. This simple, yet profound practice creates a healing atmosphere and inner/outer unity that is filled with divine potential and helps us reconnect with our authentic nature. This practice is known as “The Bright Smile of Spontaneously Present Joy.”
© 2010 Elizabeth Meloney—All rights reserved.