The Internal Power Training Blog

Check out the latest info and research from Coach Chris' explorations in the Subject of Internal Power.

Of extension and Contraction Bookmark

Methods which utilize extension permeate the internal arts. The idea of extension is different to idea of ‘stretching’ however the two are often confused. When extension is used we actually lead entire chains of tissue out from the body in order to create an elastic like tautness, in stretching we are more focused on elongating a specific muscle or limited muscle group.

Extension plays several roles in internal work. Firstly it is a great way to identify what are often called, blockages or bindings in the body. We may extend our arms out to the side and notice an ache in the elbow or the upper back and this is indicative of the tissue in these areas 'resisting' the extension.

Secondly it acts to create a mental and physical connection of different tissue types in alignment with the skeleton. By this i mean that extension will allow us to clearly feel the entire lines we are to utilise later. In the ‘axis back bow’ for instance, we not only feel the musculature and associated fascia stretching but also all of the connections of this tissue to the skeleton. With this distinct feeling of all things acting together we can zoom in on one aspect and increase the extension where it may be lacking.


Thirdly extension allows the breath to be physically utilised within the postures to increase conditioning. As discussed in a previous post, the extended posture means that the natural passing of breath cycle will actually create micro-pulls within the system.


There is a saying in some internal styles that talks of going from 'large circles to small circles.' This is the idea of training extension being the first stage of training.


Contraction within extension.


In the internal arts there is often a focus on extension. We see this in the large initial postures trained in many stye and with good reason. Most practitioners when they first arrive at these arts have some sort of entrained disfunction or tension in their body and through these large postures we can strengthen the tissues while releasing and re-aligning them.


But after some time training these long elongated postures, we begin to become aware of an emergent quality to them which can seem slightly counter intuitive.  This is the quality of contraction actually within the external extension.


We begin to feel that as we extend the arm, out for instance, the tissues exhibit a counter pull as their elasticity comes into play. It is like stretching an elastic band in that, although the visible motion is the tips of the band moving away from one another, the forces within the band mean that it is contracting in cross section and there is an opposing force building in opposition to that motion.


This contraction inside of our extension is a very important part of building our awareness of body connection. Bringing our awareness to this simultaneous opposite pull can be used to help us refine our practice, for instance as we start to recognise this force we notice where, for instance, elasticity may be limited and where, therefore, we need to focus some of our efforts.


Secondly, we can look to enhance this and actually pull in as our frame extends out. Think of the bones of the arms for instance extending out. As they do so we create a soft counteraction to that extension in the tissues connected to them. Not enough to halt the extension but just enough to slow it. This soft contraction as the frame extends is a very useful method for conditioning the tissues during slow movement practice.


Lastly, in 'winding' training the process of extension while twisting creates a compression at 90degrees to the extension. This is also a contraction or compression within an extension, This will be further expanded upon in another post on Winding the tissues, but it is another interesting vector to consider.


Much like the yin inside yang or yang inside yin, we can find an opposite to our action in many movements and methods. This interplay of opposites is a truly foundational principle of internal work.


"First seek extension then contraction.”


So we have talked a little of extension and of contraction inside extension, but what else can the idea of contracting represent? The idea of contraction can, in addition to the previous ideas, represents the idea of making the circles, movements, bodywork and methods smaller and more concentrated.


In taiji this work is often referred to as going from large frame to small frame. We have worked on extension and opening the body, now we make the work tighter and smaller. The really important point here is that there is absolutely no loss in the open and conditioned quality of the body as the frame gets smaller. Each motion retains the same power and potential as it did when long and extended, this is why I like the terms contract or condense to describe the change. 


It should be that as the postures get smaller the perceived potential quality actually increases, we contract the overall size of the frame inwards while the full expression of the qualities remain. Much like squeezing a vessels will increase its internal pressure, as the posture squeezes inwards, perceived internal power increases. 


I say perceived, as the power is identical, but much like squeezing a vessel the 'pressure' goes up as the space gets smaller.


Being able to do the same activation as in the larger frame, when hardly moving or moving very slightly, is one of the skills many of the internal arts adepts I have met process.

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