As I wrote in my last post on form practicing speed, I promised to write more about “natural movements” and Prenatal Principle in Tai Chi (Taijiquan). To quote myself: you should “let your body do some of the work by itself, learn how your body wants to move without forcing it.” There are many good reasons to why you need to learn how to listen on your body, and slow form practice is an excellent tool for this purpose.
First, stop your intellectual process and just feel your movements
I found a great quote in this blog:
“When we learn to love our bodies for exactly as they are, we learn to cherish and adore them, listen to them, give them what they need and move them how they wish to be moved.”
It says a lot about what great Tai Chi practice is all about. And it says a lot about natural movements. Or at least it’s a key to access your natural movements and to start developing your Prenatal Qi.
If you read the books of Sun Lutang, he use the term “Prenatal Qi” a lot. He says that when you move, you should use prenatal qi and not postnatal qi. But what the heck does this mean? What does it mean in a most practical manner? And how do you actually do it?
First you should know that chinese thought can be expressed in a very abstract way and it can be hard to understand if you don’t have a practical approach. But here Tai Chi is a wonderful art. It lets you study Chinese Philosophy practically without ever being theoretical or ever understand it intellectual. It’s all about the experience of the practice, feeling what the body doeas and let your body experience the changes that occur through the practice. So let’s get ride of theory and stop your intellectual process and let’s get started!
But then, how do you do it?
In a most practical way of explaining something which is mostly covered with symbolics and abstraction: When you practice Tai Chi, you should be calm, relaxed and if you have a comfortable and natural smile on your face, it’s even better. Just move, be balanced and move with alignment. You can start practicing “raise hands” a few times, playing freely with moves and circles, or you can work with your form.
Just feel your body. First examine your body as it moves, be sure that you are comfortable and move relaxed. Now amongst things, you should try to feel:
- what the transmission of balance and weight do to your arms.
- how the gravity affects your movements.
- how your breath affects your movements
- and how chest and spine movements affect the rest of the body.
You should try to have a rounded and quite strict alignment when practicing form and drills. Try to not move an arm by itself, but let the movements of weight transmission and open/close movements (=of the chest) control your arm movement.
After some time of practice, you will experience how small shifts of your stance, waist movement, movements using spine, scapula and elbows, will affect the arms to move more or less by themselves. Yes, sometimes, you will feel that sometimes your arm wants to move by itself. This feeling might be a slight feeling and the movements might be very small, so in the beginning, you need to move very careful and be sensative to what happens inside of your body. In Tai Chi this is what we call “Natural Movements” and this is also what is called “Prenatal” movements. The explanation on why the arms wants to move by themselves and what trigger your body’s movement is what Sun Lutang refers to “Prenatal Qi”. If we speak with terms from traditional Daoist medicine, this practice is from Nei Dan and is about restoring and develop the Original Qi that you were born with. This is about restoring the natural body movements you had when you were a child, but replaced with a taught way of using your body. One of my teachers was very sincere that if you practice Tai Chi this way, you will discover the key to why Tai Chi is considered a way to a healthy long life.
With some practice, your sensations of your natural, or “Prenatal” movements will become stronger. By just small adjustments of stance, waist, spine and kai/he (=chest expansion) movements when you practice your form, you will be able to control the movements of your limbs, letting your arms move more or less by themselves. You might feel a bit puzzled if you haven’t experienced it by yourself. But it’s really nothing strange or mystical. And you don’t need to worry, your body won’t move totally free from your will. You have just found a more natural way to move and you will understand how to utilize your body better.