Independence of Movement
One of the fundamental principles of T’ai Chi is that all movement must be unified. There is a well-known T’ai-Chi admonition, “When one part moves, all parts move,” which means that when one part moves, there is a corresponding movement of every other part of the body through a kind of hydraulic pressure that permeates the entire body. That is, no body part moves on its own—rather, the movement of each and every body part occurs through activation of all body parts. From a health standpoint, unification of body parts promotes the flow of ch’i, makes the body less susceptible to injury, and causes less wear and tear. From a martial standpoint, a unified body is stronger (the whole body is much stronger than any of its parts), and when unified movement occurs, less information is visible to an opponent because each part only does a tiny fraction of the movement. So independent motion is antithetical to the basic principles of T’ai Chi.
Nevertheless, doing independent movement as an exercise is of value in cultivating the unified movement of T’ai Chi. Those who teach T’ai Chi know that many beginners have little awareness of their own bodies and readily move one part thinking they are moving a totally different part. For example, even after watching and being corrected, when told to lift their arms, some students will lift only their forearms by bending at the elbows or lift their shoulders as they lift their arms. This problem often does not stem from a semantic difficulty—rather it stems from perceiving that one thing is happening when something different is happening.
To learn unified movement, it is necessary to feel all parts of your body unified as a whole. If you do not know the extent to which each part of your body is involved in a movement—or whether or not it is at rest or moving— it is very hard to manifest unified movement. Thus, learning unified movement is facilitated by first learning independent movement.
In another article, I have interpreted ch’i as interconnected with nerve impulses to cells below the threshold of external action. I theorize that such neurological activity promotes cellular movement, thereby facilitating the absorption of oxygen and nutrients and the release of waste products. Moving a particlular part of the body independently requires sending nerve impulses to the muscle cells associated with that movement. Thus, it follows that the more able you are to consciously move a particular part of the body independently, the more successful you will be in sending ch’i to that area for healing an injury.
Another health aspect is that we all to some degree sympathetically tense certain muscles when using other muscles, or we unnecessarily tense certain muscles habitually as part of our “emotional armor” or as what we feel is our body identity. Either way, what I call “driving with one foot on the gas and the other foot on the brakes” is very hard to discover because the tension involved are very familiar to us. In fact, releasing these unnecessary tensions can make us feel vulnerable. It is possible to do T’ai Chi for quite a few years before shedding these unnecessary tensions, but, by learning to move independently, we can become highly sensitized to the involved muscle groups, which provides a tool for directly working on releasing such tensions.
©Copyright 2009 by Robert Chuckrow
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