Check out the latest info and research from Coach Chris' explorations in the Subject of Internal Power.
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome for the beginner of internal training is their ability to relax. Often they will be unable to even lift their arm without building isolation tension in the shoulder, and no matter how hard they ‘try’ they simply don’t have the control to relax specific muscles or areas of tension. In these cases a coach or teacher will often instruct the pupil to use their exhalation as a tool to guide the relaxation of the body.
As we take our ‘in’ breath the inflation of the lungs causes a change in body cavity pressure. Then as we release the breath, the internal system relaxes and is once again in a state of softness.
Now I must highlight that this process of 'pressurising' on the in breath is not an un-natural one, our body has evolved to use this increase and decrease in pressure. The increase in pressure is often used for structural support when lifting large weights or the body is under load. But this process of tensioning via pressurization is one that feeds an entire series of consequences that we can utilize if we want to relax.
If we think of the web of fascia spanning the body, that we have discussed in earlier posts, as being directly linked to this constant change in pressure it becomes clear that the breath will touch everywhere. As we breathe in, the resulting pressure change in the torso and pull on tissues linked to the ribs and diaphragm will, for want of a better term, tension the web. Internal arts adepts can feel this effect, even in their fingers. The body feels like, as the breath flows in, it is being threaded together, pulled or linked. Then as the breath flows out, the body cavity de-pressurises and tensions release.
It is this natural physiological release that we can use too guide the relaxation of tight muscles or areas of tension. Instead of the release being ‘subconcious’ we put our awareness into it and catch the wave of relaxation as it flows through the body.
Once we are able to feel this ebb and flow, through our connected structure via the breath, we are able to direct our attention to specific sticking points or knots in the web where we may be holding tensions and release them. Further still, as we get more advanced in our abilities, we can get to a point of releasing or opening the specific junction points of the web, the myofascial meridians, and actively work on their relaxation or opening to increase overall health and wellness.
There are many very specific breathing methods that are used to increase or focus the feeling of release or connection via abdominal pressure.
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.
The breath is intimately linked with Internal Practices. Almost all of the internal practies i have researched or encountered have a very close relationship with the breathing system.
Obviously without breath we would not be around to practice, but why is this part of the body process so deeply focused on in the internal arts? Over the next few posts we will be examining a small section of this very large topic!
But firstly and practically, we can say that the breath is a very useful tool to lead relaxation and to remove unwanted tension. When we ask someone to relax, one of their natural responces (if they are not thinking too hard) is to let out their breath. This is the natural way for us to release tension.
Many of the mechanics of the internal arts are predicated on our ability to release or address tension. As we have discussed in previous articles on speed, connection, and heaviness, without the correct levels of relaxation, much of what makes these efficient will not be there. The tense practitioner will constantly be ‘breaking’ their expression of power as it travels through sports of tension or tight tissue.
Low energy levels is a common issue we see in individuals inquiring into internal training. People may be systemically tired or feeling weak regardless of apparent physical exertion. Perhaps the most common (but least recognized in the individual) impact on a persons energy level can be tensions and misalignment causing inefficient body usage and excessive physical expenditure.
If we examine the actual load forces and mechanical effort that a given action takes for a relaxed and aligned person vs a tense and misaligned person we may see a multiple time increase in the forces required for the given action. This shouldn’t be too surprising to any mechanical engineers out there considering the ‘lever’ natural of many of our articulations.
In the internal arts one of the main focus’ of training is to obtain a type of equilibrium. Indeed, in previous posts I have discussed the utilization of opposites in the body to ensure that, even during motion, this equilibrium and balance is maintained. But in this post I would like to look at a specific method that falls outside of the equilibrium idea. It is the idea of using postures with a bias in a certain direction, or a seemingly un-even position in order to heal or ‘equalize’ a practitioner. I call this process, utilizing postural bias.
We have seen in previous posts how the use of equal and opposite action within the body can be used in the process I call ‘pairing’. But why then, even in my own system, do we sometimes see postures where there is a clear bias in a certain direction and what does the term ‘Postural Bias’ actually mean?
One defining attribute of almost all high level martial artists is their ability to feel ‘Heavy’. Certainly, if you have ever interacted with high level grapplers you will have felt this attribute and boxers will often talk about a fighter ‘heavy hands’. But far from being a natural gift, this quality of ‘weight’ is a skill that can be trained and has implications for both the practitioners health as well as their combative potential.
In this article, we will explore some of the ways in which Internal Arts practitioners can create what I call the ‘Heavy Body’ attribute and how this translates into martial practices and health.
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