Over the last few weeks, I have run into quite a few people who have been having trouble with their knees. Anyone who has ever suffered a knee injury knows just how devastating that injury can be both to their Tai Chi practice and to their general enjoyment of life. The good news is: injury and discomfort can become a path to new understanding, growth and freedom.
In the study of Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong, 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, chronic misalignments or aging, that contained hydraulic system will begin to lose pressure, tone and resiliency, and 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.
There is much that can be said about maintaining and regaining health in the knees, and in the joints throughout the body. In this post we will address a few key alignments and internal awarenesses–as well as a healing practice–to maintain/restore tone and resiliency in your beautiful knees:
- As a general practice, we want to stand and walk with the feet parallel to one another. Notice if your feet want to angle outwards or in, and gently correct back to the parallel position. Mindfully standing and walking in this manner balances the physical and energetic aspects of the legs, harmonizing Yin and Yang. This may feel very odd at first as the body has adapted itself to the old, albeit less healthy structure and method, but with time and practice a new habit will be established.
- When standing, bring the feet shoulder-width apart and parallel, and allow the knees to soften (they should never be locked). Bring the focus to the backs of the knees and gently lift, creating more space at the back of the knee joint. Bring this gently-lifted awareness into all your activities, whether on the Tai Chi court, standing in line, walking or doing the dishes. This awareness helps to counter the effects of gravity, and maintains a gently pressurized state in the joints as you stand and move about.
- Maintain the center of the knee over the centerline of the foot in space and time while walking, and while playing Tai Chi. Notice if the center of the knee joint does not move along the centerline of the foot and gently correct the alignment. The gentle, flowing movements of Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong are very healing to the knees, and to the joints in general. Moving back and forth through the centerline is like being in the groove, and being in the groove will over time create stability, resiliency and pressurization throughout the structure of the joint.
- In stance work, do not allow the knee to extend beyond the toes. In movements and transitional postures, be aware of the placement of your body in space and time, and make any necessary micro movements to be certain the knee maintains alignment with the centerline of the foot.
Practice: Borrowing the Healing Energy from the Earth
- Begin by sitting in a chair, feet shoulder width apart, palms resting on the tops of your thighs. If your back is strong, sit more forward on the chair and if not, scoot your body to the back of the chair and use the backrest for support. Feel the feet in contact with the earth and gently, uniformly press the feet down.
- Bring your awareness to the crown of your head and to your perineum at the base of your torso. Allow the crown of your head to gently lift upwards and the perineum to press against the seat of the chair, creating an elongation in the torso, and a gentle lifting in the inguinal curve at the hip or kwa. Align the crown of the head over the perineum, and notice the fullness and integrity of the central energy channel in the body. The chin is gently drawn in towards the neck and remains parallel to the floor (not tilted up, down or sideways.) Notice the connection between the soles of the feet, the perineum and the crown. Notice the downward flow of heaven energy as it moves like a wave through the crown and sinks down through the entire body and out the feet. This aspect of downward moving energy is very important. Maintain your gently full, upright and integrated posture as well as the downward flow of energy throughout the practice.
- Now focus on the breath. Gently breathe into the lower abdomen, into the area just below your navel: long, deep, even and smooth. Then gently exhale. Allow your mind to follow the breath in and out and let the breath be continuous–the inhalation flows into the exhalation and the exhalation flows into the inhalation, without pause or gap. Do not strain, push or hold the breath. The belly will naturally rise and fall. This is known as diaphragmatic breathing. Breathe in this manner for at least a few 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.
- 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. Allow this seed of luminous joy to increase in size and spread throughout the heart center. See and feel the radiance of divine joy. Then allow the light to move throughout the body, bathing every cell and the spaces between every cell with this luminous joy. Rest in this awareness, becoming one with it, and continue deep breathing. This practice is known as “The Bright Smile of Spontaneously Present Joy.” This practice creates a joyful, healing atmosphere and unity within and without that is filled with limitless potential.
- Now, we are ready to move into the practice known as “Borrowing the Healing Energy from the Earth.” Sense the bottoms of your feet and become aware that there are energetic roots spreading down into the earth from the soles of your feet. These roots spread deep and wide. Continue the deep, gentle breathing as above.
- Now, call upon the limitless, pristine healing qualities of the earth and begin to draw those qualities up through your roots just as a mighty tree would absorb only the most pristine nutrients from the soil. These healing qualities are limitless, divine, infinite, and they travel up through the roots and bathe your feet with healing essence. Allow this pristine healing energy to remain in the feet, and then send your awareness back down through your roots and into the earth. Call on more limitless healing energy. Gently allow the energy to rise up through your roots and into your feet three times. Then, return your awareness to the earth and gently allow the energy to rise up through the feet into the ankles, bathing every cell, particle and space of the feet and ankles. Do this three times. Then allow the energy to rise up and bathe the feet ankles, lower legs and knees. Do this three times as well. Then allow the energy to rise up in the same manner to the hips. Do this three times as well. Have confidence that the healing energies you are calling upon are effecting transformation in every moment of this healing practice. If you have pain, injury, or discomfort in the torso, arms, neck or head, you can continue allowing the pristine healing energy to rise up in the above manner all the way to the crown of the head.
- The key to this practice rests in the focus of the “Intention-driven-action.” It is important to understand before you begin the practice exactly what you wish to accomplish, i.e. healing of the knees, for instance. So, you want to call upon only those energies that are pure, pristine, divine healing qualities. In qigong, you literally become what you cultivate. If you cultivate by focusing on the pain, you will cultivate more pain. If you focus on divine healing being accomplished with every breath, divine healing is what you will receive. Have faith that with each breath it is being accomplished, and that your cells, your very DNA, are resonant with the most pristine healing essences.
- Begin with just three repetitions for each area (as above), and build up slowly over the course of a few weeks to nine repetitions and eventually to 36. Remember, a little qigong everyday is very effective, and you want to build up your ability to carry chi over a long period of time. In the practice and doing of Qigong, you are essentially re-wiring your system to carry more and more potent healing energy and it takes time to build this new electrical system. Be patient with yourself, and smile inwardly with great gratitude. You can do this practice standing also, but in the beginning it is better to sit.
- If at any time you feel dizzy or nauseous, don’t worry—you have come up against a blockage in the chi and it is beginning to dissolve and open up. It will clear very soon and you will feel much better afterwards. Take a moment to mindfully suspend the practice and continue the deep, relaxed belly breathing and think about allowing any excess energy to sink down and into the earth. Everything in the practice is gentle, gentle, gentle. There is no force, no pushing, no trying, and always remember the 70% Rule. (This is a vital element of moderation in the practice of Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong. The 70% Rule states that you should only do a Tai Chi movement, or any internal arts practice, at 70 percent of capacity, be it number of repetitions, flexibility, length of time in practice, breathing, etc. You can do the practice at 70% of your physical, mental or energetic capacity, and you can bring 100% of your engagement and spirit into it. In this way, you can safely build up your capacity over time. Build up slowly, steadily and surely. Do not be in a hurry–hurry and force are counter-productive to energy cultivation and may make you prone to injury.) This practice will bring not only healing, but a great sense of peace and joy as well.
- Remember, you are looking to feel what is happening inside your body, not merely visualize it. Sense and feel the healing, bubbling, joyful energy move up through the roots and through your body, and be confident that even if this is brand new to you, healing is taking place in this very moment.
- Conclude the practice by allowing the hands to move to the sides of the body and gently scoop up the healing qualities of earth, environment and heaven, circling the arms up to the crown of the head and then wash the energies down through the body, like rain on the inside of the body, clearing any tension, any discomfort, any injury or illness and allowing any pain to wash out the bottoms of the feet, and leaving within the resonant, healing energy. Repeat this washing three times and then gather the chi once more and bring the palms, left over right, to the area of the Lower Tantian and store the chi. The Lower Tantian is also known as the Sea of Chi, located approximately two inches below the navel and two inches inside the body along the central energy channel. The Lower Tantian is the hub and reservoir of our physical life-force energies, and by storing the limitless healing energy you have cultivated through your practice in the Lower Tantian, you add to your storehouse of healing energy. You store the energy in this way through the pure intention of doing it.
May you be happy, healthy and fulfilled!
Please note: Any physical and/or energetic exercise can carry risks. The teachings and practices in this article are not intended as a substitute for medical or psychological counseling with a licensed physician or healthcare provider. Do not attempt these exercises if you have any physical, emotional or mental conditions that may make you susceptible to injury.
© 2010 Elizabeth Meloney—All rights reserved.