Monday, 4 February 2013

Important principles of the internal martial arts and qigong

The term internal martial art can be misleading. With the exception of meditation and standing postures they all involve external movement. It also implies that they don’t require physical effort. Although they appear effortless when performed well, they do in fact require considerable physical effort, particularly from the lower body (mainly the legs, waist and lower back).

Yin and yang
Of course yin generally means negative, internal and passive, while yang means positive external and active. The idea that yin balances yang is central to Taoism and traditional Chinese medicine. How can it be applied to internal martial arts and qigong? Some movements can be classified as yang, especially if they are forward, upward or attacking an opponent and other are more yin i.e. defensive. In any form these two elements should be balanced. Yang will always follow yin and vice versa. Yang movements will occur during exhalations and yin movements during inhalations. If the left hand, foot, arm or leg is yang then and right will be yin.  If your opponent is yang e.g. attacking you must become yin e.g. defend.

Smooth continuous movement
Many external exercises and martial arts are characterized by linear movements with stops and starts. These can create tension and stress. Smooth continuous movements promote relaxation and allow qi (internal energy) to flow.  The whole body should move together in a co-ordinated way. For example a punch shouldn’t just use the arm and shoulder muscles, but should be driven by the movements of the legs, waist and spine, in order to achieve maximum bio-mechanical efficiency.

Body alignments, posture and rooting
Internal martial arts and qigong encourage people to use their bodies the a bio-mechanically efficient way. Ensuring that the foot, knee and hip joints are always correctly aligned dramatically reduces the risk of injuries. Having a straight, balanced spine allows the muscles of the back to relax, as they don’t need to constantly strain to keep the body upright. Poor alignments and posture can mean will create areas of tension, especially in the back and knees. If alignments and posture are good this will enable the body to become rooted to the ground. The weight of the body is transferred evenly down the back, legs and feet into the ground. This will improve balance considerably.

Abdominal breathing
Many people take short, shallow breathes that only utilize the upper part of the lungs. Abdominal breathing involves sinking the ribcage and keeping it relatively still. As the diaphragm moves down during inhalations the abdomen is compressed. During the exhalation it moves up and releases this compression. This creates a constant gentle massage for the liver, spleen, kidneys and intestines. More air goes into the lower part of the lungs making breathing more efficient and slower. 

Weight shifting
During the practice of internal martial arts and some types of qigong the weight is constantly shifting from left to right. If the alignments are correct and the spine is straight this will gently massage the internal organs of the abdomen. It will also promote the movement of qi in the body.

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