Stillness in Movement

Stillness in Movement

Postby Audi » Sat Aug 11, 2007 9:45 pm

Greetings to all,

Some time ago, we took up the topic of Motion in Stillness". My understanding has changed somewhat from then, but I am curious as to what others might say. What if anything do you specifically do to incorporate "stillness in movement" into your practice?

Take care,
Audi

[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 08-11-2007).]
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sun Aug 12, 2007 8:26 pm

Greetings Audi,

For me, seeking stillness in motion has a great deal to do with equilibrium, and hence with optimizing alignment and postural stability. If you read Yang Chengfu’s instructions for the beginning form in _Taijiquan tiyong quanshu_, he makes a very clear case for using the beginning posture of “standing in stillness” to take stock of the essential postural requirements before proceeding to the moving form. He suggests that attending to one’s core of stillness and stability is the key to managing the movement of an opponent—a point he also made in his tenth essential. Regarding the beginning form, Yang Chengfu said, “People all too easily neglect this posture, and really do no know the method of its practice or its application.” In like manner, after explaining the requirements of the beginning posture, Fu Zhongwen wrote in his book that “The greater part of the important points for the preparatory posture apply to the movements of the entire form. That being the case, this posture is the foundation for all of the movements that follow.”

That being said, the admonition to seek stillness in motion always suggests me to the converse: seek motion in stillness. I think one can not honestly take stock of “standing still” without recognizing the movements that are taking place—however slight they may be. Equilibrium is a process, not a state. I recently read some interesting material in a book on kinesiology regarding “postural stability”:

Hellebrandt (1940) was one of the first to demonstrate that even the erect standing posture is not literally static. “Standing,” she concluded, “is, in reality, movement upon a stationary base.” Her experiments using scales and a reaction board revealed that the center of gravity did not remain motionless above the base of support, no matter how still the subject attempted to stand, but moved forward, backward, and sideward. This motion indicated that the subjects were constantly swaying. When the swaying was prevented by artificial means, there was a tendency to faint. Thus the involuntary swaying was seen to serve the purpose of a pump, aiding the venous return and ensuring the brain of adequate circulation for retaining consciousness.
--Nancy Hamilton, et al., Kinesiology: Scientific Basis of Human Motion, 8e, (2008, McGraw-Hill), p. 394

In the same book, the author reviews analysis of muscular activity in “erect standing” or “normal standing,” which resembles the beginning taiji posture (legs shoulder-width apart, arms at sides). Beginning with the muscles of the foot: “None of the intrinsic musculature is active during normal standing but become active in the push-off for walking or rising on the toes.” The legs: “The posterior calf muscles are more active than the anterior ones. Any swaying forward or backward produces compensatory muscle action to bring the body back to the vertical balance position.” The thigh and hip: “Very little activity occurs in the thigh muscles during relaxed standing. Swaying produces alternating burst of activity in the gluteus medius and tensor fasciae latae. . . .The iliopsoas is constantly active, apparently to prevent hyperextension at the hip joint.” The spine: “There is very slight activity in the sacrospinalis or abdominal muscles, depending on the relation of the line of gravity to the spinal column. Activity is exhibited in one or the other of the two sets of muscles. Slight to moderate back muscle activity is more likely than abdominal muscle activity.” And upper extremities: “The integrity of the joints in the passively hanging extremity is assisted by low-grade activity in a number of muscles. The serratus anterior and the fibers of the trapezius support the shoulder girdle, and the supraspinatus resists the downward dislocation of the humerus. There appears to be no activity in the muscles crossing the elbow or wrist joints when the arm hangs passively.” (ibid., p. 393)

I find these to be useful checklist items for taking stock of muscle movement in standing posture. I would only note that the taiji beginning posture is qualitatively different than what is described in kinesiology as “normal standing,” and should be considered a highly trained or cultivated instance of standing posture. For instance, in the beginning posture, the arms do not “hang passively,” but are effectively charged by the action of the fingers slightly pointing forward with the seating of the wrists. Also, although there is discussion of the important role of the neck proprioceptors in maintaining stable posture elsewhere in the kinesiology text, it does not seem to figure into the above checklist. The traditional taijiquan injunction regarding the “intangible and lively energy” at the crown of the head specifically addresses a way to optimize the proprioceptive response in the neck in order to maximize postural stability.

Take care,
Louis


[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 08-12-2007).]
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Mon Aug 13, 2007 1:53 pm

Wow...
And here I was thinking that "motion in stillness" referred to the constant channeling/sinking of chi to the dantien, the process of drawing in and expelling air through abdominal breathing, the minor corrections that my body requires to stay in the proper position, and the mental activities of "thinking" while observing my surroundings/opponent.
Conversly I've always viewed stillness in motion as meaning to remain calm and not make any extraneous/unnecessary/chaotic movment that would disrupt my balance or give my opponent any stiffness, either mental or physical, to exploit.

Silly me. ;-)

Bob
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Postby shugdenla » Mon Aug 13, 2007 2:47 pm

Excellent point Louis!
I tend to follow that path, where by being still, we build coherence into taijiaquan beginning with muscles and their correpsonding, origin, insertion and stretching and flexibility, where through gong (with zhanzhuang practice) we make more efficient the processes associated with taijiquan. We do not even have to lay emphasis on form! That is why Yiquan is efficient!
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Postby Louis Swaim » Tue Aug 14, 2007 4:11 pm

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Bob Ashmore:
<B>Wow...
And here I was thinking that "motion in stillness" referred to the constant channeling/sinking of chi to the dantien, the process of drawing in and expelling air through abdominal breathing, the minor corrections that my body requires to stay in the proper position, and the mental activities of "thinking" while observing my surroundings/opponent.
Conversly I've always viewed stillness in motion as meaning to remain calm and not make any extraneous/unnecessary/chaotic movment that would disrupt my balance or give my opponent any stiffness, either mental or physical, to exploit.

Silly me. ;-)

Bob</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Greetings Bob,

Yes, I agree with your observations. Regarding "remaining calm," I've always considered that an important aspect of "equilibrium."

For those wanting to review, we had some provocative discussion of the motion/stillness trope years back in the Questions for Yang Family forum, in a thread titled “flowing like a river.”

http://www.yangfamilytaichi.com/ubb/Forum9/HTML/000025.html

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Audi » Sun Sep 02, 2007 5:28 pm

Greetings all,

Thanks for your responses.

I have always found the concept of movement in stillness much easier than stillness in movement, and so I consciously try to separate the two.

In reading your posts, I was inspired to try something somewhat new in my form practice. Rather than concentrating on the movements, I concentrated on whatever muscles or joints that were still. I had a tremendous experience. Basically, this type of focus made clearer for me another relationship between stillness and movement.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sun Sep 02, 2007 7:20 pm

Greetings Audi,

Please share more. This sounds like a good direction.

Thanks,
Louis
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Postby Audi » Mon Sep 03, 2007 2:03 pm

Hi Louis,

For quite some time, I have used more or less an unchanging image in trying to apply “seeking for stillness in movement” from a practical viewpoint. Basically, I want my form to look as if it is always clear where I am going, but also as if I never need to get anywhere. The moment it looks as if I must move, I feel I have violated the principle.

The idea of never having to move has worked well, not only in the form, but also in push hands. In push hands, I also add ideas of always feeling as if I have occupied the perfect place, such that my opponent must move around me or at least travel a further distance to make any headway.

The idea behind my post was to seek the thoughts of others, find out if there was something in the literature that I had missed, and to try to take what I do to another level. With most of the other Ten Essentials, my ideas and understanding have continued to evolve, but the idea of “seeking stillness in movement” did not seem to evolve at the same pace.

In reading the posts in answer to my question, I had two reactions. One was to confirm that for me “stillness in movement” and “movement in stillness” were different problems. I have lots of precedents for the latter in my daily life and in my understanding of modern physics, but few precedents for the former. My other reaction was to wonder whether I had missed something in considering the muscular exertion necessary to maintain skeletal alignment.

I decided to do the form while shifting my attention away from the movement and towards whatever joints or muscular groups felt “still.” As I felt my neck and back vertebrae, my ribcage, my non-stepping leg and hip, etc., I was quite surprised by fluctuations in the level of activity that I had not been fully aware of. There was quite a bit that I realized had not been fully under control. I also felt more deeply that the limb movement required many adjustments to maintain the “same” stillness.

Another interesting feeling that emerged was that I became more aware of the difference between “absolute” and “relative” motion. In other words, motion relative to your body is not the same as motion relative to the floor. Sometimes one is more “relevant” than the other. Either seemed to qualify as “still,” depending upon the situation and the intent. Let me give a more concrete example.

In Deflect Downward Parry and Punch, before the final weight shift, the left arm has stretched so that the palm is over the left foot. I used to think that I then brought the arm back in toward my body. I now realize that I only bend it in to the right as my body catches up to it. Most of the movement is actually in my torso rather than in my palm. What is still then and what is in motion?

A last discovery I had was that I had not been fully aware of the alternation between stillness and movement. It is easy to become of aware of something entering into motion, but not so easy to become aware of it entering into stillness. Take as an example the supporting leg during steps. There are two modes: contracting/expanding and being still. I am not sure that I was fully aware of what it takes to keep the supporting knee and hip joint “still.”

To sum up, let me try to describe some feelings I played with in the beginning of the form. First, there is much activity in “activating” the Ten Essentials, going “Song,” and becoming aware of the various muscular equilibriums. Here there is no physical motion. Perhaps there is motion in the stillness, but I still cannot find stillness in the lack of motion, beside what is obvious.

As you raise the arms, this can set off a cascade of change in the back muscles, the vertebrae, the ribs, etc., as the body is forced to modify the equilibrium. Even the gaze enters into a new change as there is now something to look at, or perhaps not to look at. There is now a choice that for me, sharpens my gaze in order to prevent it becoming dull.

As you lower your arms, the changes reverse, but only partially. The arms are in a new shape, which requires different maintenance in the shoulder and back muscles. As you pivot on the right heel and shift weight, everything is in absolute motion, except the sole of the left foot. Even though the left foot is still, the muscles in the sole must change to accommodate the change in energy. I try to keep my spine still, but in fact it must stretch and tilt slightly to the right to support the weight shift.

As I then bend my right knee and change my gaze to the front, I find that the gaze is no longer as still as before. My body must shift more to the right and my spine must readjust to vertical, which changes the angle of the “unmoving” gaze. The changes in the spine and ribs are also clear. Now the right foot is still and the ankle, knee, and hip joints must finish their contractions and catch up to the stillness of the foot. While my left foot reaches out and my arms circle, my right foot, ankle, knee, hip, pelvis, lumbar spine, mid spine, neck, and gaze form a unit of stillness for a few moments.

Or do they? I want my waist to lead my right arm out, but also be in position later to lead my left arm into the ward off. For me, this requires at least two waist rotations and some movement during the “stillness.” That little movement affects everything else in absolute terms, although maybe not so much in relative terms. But then again, the gaze changes in relative terms, but not in absolute terms.

All in all, I found that you can benefit from looking for the still parts within the moving parts and seeing how one affects (or perhaps even effects) the other. Perhaps one of the reasons for creating this principle was simply to address the fact that we are hard-wired to pay attention to motion and so do not pay enough attention to stillness and its requirements.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby redtwister » Fri Sep 07, 2007 4:43 am

What has been described here by both of you is similar to what I have been paying more attention to as well. I find that when i hit a state of deeper concentration when i am doing the beginning posture, either statically as a taiji horse stance, or moving as a constant repetition of the raise arms part (including rising and sinking the whole body), there are simply muscles that move of their own accord.

Some of it is certainly increasingly relaxing muscles and joints, creating motion in the stillness, but also when I do raise arms, I maintain root and find that there must be a series of stable points if the posture is to be performed correctly, that is, for each moving part, somewhere there must be a stable, unmoving part. So to raise up, I must not tip forward or backward either on my feet or with my torso. I have found that I nonetheless have become more attentive to what is engaged in maintaining stillness in these parts where I have motion elsewhere.

Cheers,
Chris
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Fri Sep 07, 2007 8:25 pm

Audi,
It will take me time and experimentation to see if I can feel the same, or similar, things to what you describe here.
One aspect of your posting though made immediate sense to me, due to some experimentation I've been doing lately that has paid off pretty big for me.
When you said, "I am not sure that I was fully aware of what it takes to keep the supporting knee and hip joint “still.” I immediately said, "Yep. I sure understand that."
My understaning of center driven movement, commanded by the waist, has lead me to a whole new feeling in my hips. This feeling is very much like a drive shaft, turning with the energy of my waist (tantien rotation?) and driving my whole bodies movement in a very co-ordinated manner.
This has lead me to finally begin to use my center as the axis for all movement in a meaningful fashion. In other words, like you I now find that I don't extend or retract my arm in a movement, I use my center, my waist, to turn and the arms and legs come along with it.
This allows me to connect my arms to my spine and lets them move by following my core rather than leading.
I'm certainly not 100% there yet, there is still some external arm movement, but I'm working on that and I find less and less of it as time goes on.

Each step I take down this path to center co-ordinated, waist commanded, hip driven (as in drive shaft transmission of energy, not actual movement with the hip which I now realise is not anatomically possible) movement brings me closer to a state of relaxation while I move that has been quite startling to me.
I thought that I was doing these things all along, but I can now see that I was going through the motions without a very clear understanding.
I'm just beginning to see that there is much, much more to this aspect of Tai Chi Chuan, and that it is all linked together in cause and effect.
Relaxation leads to core driven movement, core driven movment leads to more relaxation. Each step you take down the path leads to a greater understanding.

The more you know, the more you know you don't know.
But...
The good news is, the more you know, the faster you will learn.
I hope I can learn more quickly now!

Thank you for, as always, a wonderful post. It helped me clear up some things that I was a tad fuzzy on, and has given me more questions to ask myself during my practice.

Bob
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sat Sep 08, 2007 5:14 pm

Greetings Audi,

Thank you for sharing your experiences on this. I particularly like your thoughts on “relative motion.” I think there are countless instances of this in the form. For example, in Step Back Dispatch Monkey, the striking palm remains still in relationship to the ground as your center of gravity shifts back. The arm is extending, but the palm is a relatively fixed point in space.

Other aspects of stillness I key in on include the pivot point of the vertical axis as the torso turns left or right. Again, this has a relative aspect. In Cloud Hands, for example, the pivot is still with reference to the rotating torso, but it is moving with reference to ground as the weight shifts from one leg to the other. Besides the vertical pivot of the torso, there are many instances of still fulcrum points in the midst of movement. For example, the right elbow serves as a point of rotation as one casts out the right back-fist in Turn Body and Strike. For part of the movement, the elbow is fairly fixed in space. I think consciousness of that stillness adds to the sense of “threading from joint to joint” that lends power to the back-fist.

I also like your remarks about the changes you notice in raising and lowering the arms in the commencement of the form: “As you raise the arms, this can set off a cascade of change in the back muscles, the vertebrae, the ribs, etc., as the body is forced to modify the equilibrium.” This is where I like to apply the kinesthetic term, “muscle loading profile.” As the shape and orientation of the body and limbs change, the loading profiles of the muscles change. I find it very helpful to key in on these changes in the legs and torso throughout the form. This is another take on "distinguishing empty and full."

Your opening two paragraphs remind me of a line in the Song of the Thirteen Postures, which I translate as, “In the midst of stillness one comes in contact with movement, moving as though remaining still.”

Take care,
Louis


[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 09-08-2007).]
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Postby Steveg219 » Sun Sep 09, 2007 1:10 am

There are so many great ideas shared here it is hard to respond selectively. I am truly please see you all of your posts and very excited by the level of practise, attention and discourse that is going on here!

I would like to share a concept and practise which is very relaevant to this discussion and may be useful as a way to discuss the application of some of these great ideas and observations.

When analyzing movement my teacher would break up the tai chi posture/movements into static and dynamic elements. These things are hard to talk about and easy to show, but in short you look at how much of a hand or arm movement is actually accomplished by the body when it really appears to be a hand movement.

It is a very simple idea with endless applications and it shows you how often we use extra energy and movement that is actually not necessary in tai chi. Think of the principle "no excess and no deficiency" here. If you are for example turning your body and warding off, the static movement of the arm is simply to raise up, it is the body that gives it a turn and a forward element.

Is this is a good example? Can you see where this is going? It very related to the idea presented of looking for movement in stillness, that is, be a still as possible and find what is the minimum movement to accomplish the technique posture.....
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sun Sep 09, 2007 4:15 pm

Greetings Steve,

Yes, I do think that the kind of analysis you describe can be very productive. It is important to know what is moving, and what is not (and in relation to what). In taiji, it is also important to understand progressions and hierarchies of movement. Yang Zhenji had a favorite saying that serves as a simple reminder. He said that when you are practicing, "the movement of the hands should be a bit less; the movement of the waist a bit more."

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Steveg219 » Mon Sep 10, 2007 1:03 am

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Louis Swaim:
.....Yes, I do think that the kind of analysis you describe can be very productive.....Yang Zhenji had a favorite saying....."the movement of the hands should be a bit less; the movement of the waist a bit more."</font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Thanks Louis. There was a great comment eariler by Audi about muscle activation and the sensation of movement and gaze stimulating a series of internal activities. When you isolate the motions as per my last post you can also start to find the root of the initiation of movement. As usual for Tai Chi, we find that we are doing way too much and using excess energy and muscle action. For example, the lift of the arms, as in ward off, properly comes from the back, not the arms!.

When you are in formal tai chi posture (and in ballet positions for that matter!) the initiation and strength for raising the arm stems from the back. The typical firings of muscle in the shoulders and upper arm that we are used too is all excess and unnecessary work!
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Postby Kalamondin » Tue Sep 18, 2007 6:07 am

Hi Audi,

Stillness in Movement, in my current understanding, is a state of being much like the deep stillness and calm that stationary meditation practitioners report. I think it's akin "empty mind," and may be compared with being in "the zone" where action is effortless.

Structural alignment, balance, and equilibrium are part of it--but are a result of the stillness, which is a unified state of being, a quality of experience, wherein the whole world feels still and you occupy the center of it.

I've only had it happen once in push hands. I was doing moving step push hands with Master Yang Jun and making quite a hash of it. I don't practice moving step very often, and he was putting me through the paces--every single arm circle combination combined with footwork that changed direction constantly. I wasn't sticking terribly well, and I was thrown off balance by the heaviness of his arms (tai chi heavy, related to adhering energy--my practice partners did not have this quality then).

Then he said to me, "You have to be more still." And then I was. All of a sudden, the noise and the classroom itself faded from prominence (although I was still aware). My focus was limited to the sticking points between us--only it wasn't just forearms, or tracking which way he was going to turn next--there was only one sticking point, and it was the still center which encompassed both of us, and everything else radiated outward. I could tell that my arms were moving very quickly in my peripheral vision. His arms no longer felt heavy. My footwork was utterly rooted and balanced. There was no sense of tracking where he was going and making adjustments--we were simply going there together, at exactly the same time, in total concert.

That's my experience of what motion in stillness is. The whole world is very quiet, and yet everything is moving. There is a deep calm and nothing to be attached to. All those arms whirling about are quite insignificant, and the feeling of peacefulness is all there is.

I don't know how long that lasted--there is no time in stillness--but I came out of it because I was marveling at the experience and broke into excited laughter which immediately broke the moment and brought me back to regular time.

I think this is one of those instances where having a teacher who knows the terrain is essential for providing a road map.

Best,
Serena
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