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Super Joints Performed as a Form of Chi Kung

July 7, 2003 04:23 PM

At the same time that released Pavel's Super Joints book and video, I also happened to pick up a videotape on Kundalini Yoga by a popular Hollywood "guru to the stars". I watched the two videos back to back and was struck by how much they had in common, although I preferred Pavel's practical approach. In fact, I posted a note on the forum asking him if he needed to drink extra vodka to handle all the prana a "Super Joints" routine generated, and he smilingly replied "Comrade Lemon, vodka IS prana."

I'd like to propose that the exercises in "Super Joints", also can be practiced as a form of chi kung. Rather than just mechanically cranking out repetitions, a practitioner can engage in a kind of moving meditation and enjoy many of the same benefits of "chi" enhancement and health. It's easier than you think if you aren't intimidated by the flowery language of the traditional methods and keep a few simple concepts in mind. The most lucid discussion of these concepts comes from Koichi Tohei, a modern day master of Aikido, who breaks them down into four ideas:

1) "Sung" (Relax). This one is obvious. Keep the movement light and easy, with no more muscular force or tension than needed. At the same time, don't sag or be a rag doll - be focused and nimble and vibrant in the movement.

2) "Extend" - As your limbs move away from the center in a movement, keep your 'intent' moving out beyond your hands and feet, as if your limbs were fire hoses splashing water against the far walls. As your limbs move back to the middle, suck energy in through your pores and into your center. It helps to extend your thumb and fingers slightly out of their sockets while doing this - this triggers a reflex in the body, which helps 'unjam' the
rest of you. In many of the movements you can also cultivate the feeling of 'coiling and uncoiling' as your limbs extend out and return to the center.

3) "Root" - This can be thought of as "keeping your weight on the underside" of your limbs and feet and torso. If you are the imaginative type, you can imagine that you are dropping your weight into the center of the earth, or that you are up to your waist in mud. It also helps to practice barefoot, and with 'active extension' of the feet against the ground. This makes also helps your balance.

4) "Center" - Chinese Traditional Medicine refers to a 'center' ("tan tien") a couple inches below and behind the naval. In Asian martial arts traditions, moving from this center encourages the martial artist to move his body as a unit, not a collection of parts. This is the Asian way of saying "You can't fire a cannon from a canoe." You don't have to fuss too much about it; just cultivate your awareness of the area, breathe into it and use Party principles to reinforce your movements with the muscles of your core.

These four principles reinforce each other ? if you do one of them well, the other three will tend to happen automatically. Each of these principles also implies that you should match and synchronize the breath with the force when possible ? this dovetails nicely with the Party principle of using your breath to improve your performance.

For example, Pavel demonstrates several varieties of hip circles in Super Joints. You can apply the principles of 'Root' to this exercise by imagining your weight sinking into the earth below you while you consciously activate the arches in your feet and feel "as if" you are pressing the earth away from you. If you do this correctly, you will feel your weight 'rebound' from the ground, making your body feel light and energized, while at the same time your balance improves.

You can apply the principle of 'Relax' to a variety of shoulder circles. Many people hate doing shoulder rotations and tire quickly while performing them. The trick is relax, and to make the movement as light and vibrant as possible. Don't exert muscular force to make the rotations ? instead, try to feel as if someone has your arm and is doing the circles for you. Done this way, the movement becomes energizing instead of fatiguing.

Even a fairly demanding exercise like Cossack Squats can be done using these
principles ? in fact, one of the traditional movements in Tai Chi strongly resembles a Cossack squat. If you relax and put your weight on the 'underside' and root into the ground, the movement becomes considerably easier and your legs will seemingly support you with no muscular effort.

There are numerous of other tricks a person can use to enliven their movement practice ? one of my favorites is to 'feel' as if the body is immersed in a sea of air turned liquid. Another is to pay attention to the sensation of the air on the skin ? after a few minutes, you may feel your body's own heat and magnetic fields being reflected back from the air onto your skin.

For other ideas and further discussion of the four principles, please see KI In Daily Life by Kochi Tohei, or KI: A Practical Guide For Westerners by his student William Reed.

Keep your practice fresh; stay excited about your practice; keep looking to improve on the execution of the basics in your practice. In return your practice will repay your efforts many times over.