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My China Experience (Part Two)

by Allan Rudolf(more info)

listed in chi energy martial arts, originally published in issue 19 - April 1997

My China story continues (see Positive Health January/ February 1997 for Part One). Let me recap very briefly before continuing. I went to China last year for a month to immerse myself in Taiji. My purpose in going was to learn Taiji in a concentrated way from a genuine master. The reality turned out to be more far-reaching and profound than I expected. The Taiji study has had a pervasive effect on many levels; I feel it is transforming my being. In particular it has changed the way I work with people. I basically still do the same things I previously did with the clients but the way I do it is very different.

In this column I would like to elaborate on how it changed my bodywork practice but before I do that I need to say a little about the philosophy and teaching methods of Taiji according to my teacher, Master Shi Ming.[1]

According to Shi Ming, the least important part of Taiji is the choreography of movements which people so often associate with Taiji. The most important aspect, the foundation of Taiji, consists of two practices, standing meditation and lanhaizhuang (lanhai for short).

Lanhaizhuang consists of continuous undulations of the vertebrae starting from the coccyx and reaching the skull, which open and separate each individual vertebrae from its neighbours. The hips, shoulders and arms are integrated into the spinal movements to create a whole body movement. There are also two more basic exercises as part of the foundation of Taiji; a hip and shoulder exercise.

Standing meditation, according to Shi Ming, gives us uplift; as they say in Taiji "walk like a cat as if on thin ice". Also the standing meditation when done properly concentrates the energy (qi) in the navel area (dantien) and disperses it throughout the body. Finally, standing meditation creates a state which allows stillness even in movement. When I do my daily standing meditation I feel as if there is a deep relaxation in every joint in my body.

The basic idea of Chiropractic is that the spine is the doorway to neural communication throughout the body and thus the health of the spine is of paramount importance to our health. Shi Ming believes his Tanhai spinal exercise even surpasses Chiropractic in its ability to free and balance the spine.

Shi Ming's hip exercise opens the hip joints, removes excess tension and enlivens the pelvic floor. In the cyclic shoulder exercise, the deep relaxation of the standing meditation is connected with the movement of the hips, spine, shoulder, arm and hands.

During my stay in Beijing I learnt the basics of the standing meditation, lanhai the hip exercise, the shoulder movements and finally a section of the Taiji form. The form itself is really an extension of the previous exercises. That is, the principles developed in the basic exercises show up explicitly in the form. It really was very clear to me, not just intellectually, but in my Taiji movements themselves that the foundation of the movements were the basic exercises. At the end of my stay, Shi Ming recommended that I practise what I learnt for about an hour-and-ahalf to two hours each day and the appropriate order and time to be allotted to each of the above.

As I followed the daily regimen set out for me, I noticed a shift in the way I worked which enhanced its quality. My main private practice in London is RolfingĀ® which involves using slow deep pressure on soft tissue. It is physically demanding and thus part of my Rolfing(R) training involved how to use my body properly when doing the work. Also, many years ago, I took numerous workshops with Judith Aston[2] on that subject. I thought after over 20 years of practise I had mastered proper body mechanics; in fact I even taught other body therapists how to use their bodies properly.

Having reached a new level through the Taiji work, I realise I was mistaken and I'm clear there is more improvement to come. Each movement I make with my client now involves a subtle movement of each vertebrae and the opening-up of my shoulder joint and other joints of my body. Previously these joints either did not participate at all or were compressed. There is a new ease which involves less effort and feels far more comfortable to the client. There is a new softness without a loss of depth and with this comes more sensitivity to what is happening in the client's soft tissue. There is also a sense of greater rapport, the image of my mind connecting into and through their body.

The previous sentence is quite important as it touches upon an important area of Shi Ming's Taiji which I neglected to mention. At the higher levels, the Taiji is more mind work than physical work and involves, among other things, being able to move the mind outside the body. This is all beyond my comprehension so I can't write about it. Maybe after a few more years' practise and some more trips to China I'll be capable of understanding this basic part of the work.

So what started off as meditation and a series of exercises consciously applied to the Taiji form has become, through daily practise, part of the way I work. Of course, this inner stillness and new quality of movement pervades my whole life but it is in my work, where I consciously have the "space" to apply the principles, that it is at its strongest. It feels like a seed has been planted and is now growing but I must toil with the seed daily to assure its growth.

One of the things that has become clear to me from my China experience is that mastery of bodywork can't just be learnt by taking courses and workshops on various aspects of bodywork. One needs to balance this with general self-cultivation which will feed into one's work.


(1.) The information about Shi MingTaiji comes from studying with him and an interview he gave in Heaven Earth September 1992, Volume 2, Number 2.

(2.) For information about Judith Aston and her work see the excellent anthology Bone, Breath & Gesture edited by Don Hanlon Johnson, North Atlantic Books, 1995.


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About Allan Rudolf

Allan is a Rolfer and Feldenkrais practitioner and trained with both Dr Rolf and Dr Feldenkrais. He now lives in China and is not contactable.

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