The following is an excerpt from my book Sunset Tai Chi: Simplified Tai Chi for Relaxation and Longevity. If you have not read the latest installment in this series, you can do so here.
After doing the hip movements, move up into the spine. As a beginner, rather than trying to pulse and pump each vertebra separately, start by dividing the spine into three major sections.
Create and isolate a pulse and a pump in each one of the three pieces you created. In the beginning, try to feel the pulsing or pumping sensation through the first section you choose to work with, for example, the lumbar area. For better isolation, find different ways to tense and relax muscles around the spine in order to isolate the area that you are trying to pulse, shake, or pump. tensing and relaxing the different muscles can help you learn to isolate the ligaments in desired areas, especially the small areas between the vertebrae.
For example, let go of the abdominal muscles and pump and shake. You should have more control over where you isolate the sensation. Sometimes you can use your hands to hold the abdominal muscles. Now there is some tightness but it is external. Pulse and pump. You may find that you are better able to isolate the desired area.
Here are some more ways to improve your skill of isolating the pulsing, pumping, and shaking: Let the shoulders go forward or backward by letting the ribs open and close, by holding the air in the lungs, and by emptying them out. Next, pulse the thoracic spine (the mid back). Adjust your hips and shoulders until you can isolate that chunk of your spine; then move up to the cervical spine between the shoulders.
You must be extra gentle and careful when pulsing the head. When pulsing the neck area, it is as if the head is connected by a spring to the spine. Pulse it in and out of the shoulders, and up and down, and have the head bob up and down with a gentle left and right, forward and backward movement as well. Shoulders and hips have a larger range of motion than the other joints, which allows for much more movements and sensations.
Do not rush when stretching the neck. It can take weeks of gently stretching to release tension that has built up for months or years.
The Jaw is Also a Joint
As you create the gentle pulse through the face, relax your jaw and let the jaw gently pulse. When you reach the jaw, you can close your eyes. At this point, if you have the tongue at the roof of your mouth, take it down and relax the tongue.
Sometimes, after finishing my three to five minute joint pulsing, I redirect the gentle pulsing into the rest of the soft tissue, especially the muscles and mostly the big groups of muscles: the chest, the abdominal muscles, the thighs. I especially enjoy this exercise because it is not easy to find a better massage than the one created by this meditation and pulsing. The gentle pumping creates a gentle vibration throughout the muscles and I am able to release lots of tension on my own.
Over the years, I have learned to direct this gentle pulse to the skin, into the fascia, into the muscles, and then within the muscle, near the skin, or closer to the bones. As you practice the meditative shaking, you will discover how to isolate the various layers of soft tissue and direct the pulse and the gentle movement to the layer that you desire to massage.
Next week, we will wrap up this series!
Happy stretching, deep breathing, empty your mind, strengthen your energetic system, and evoke your spirit!