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Ever since I started doing Tai Chi and Nei Gong, I noticed ways in which parts of my body were farther forward than they probably should be; and this keeps on happening to me! So I figured I’d make a list of parts of my body where this has occurred; partly for my amusement, but maybe other people will find that some of these same things are happening to them.


My head

When teaching us Wu Ji, my Tai Chi teacher told us to raise the crown of our head; and, when doing that, my head would move back as well. So, at least from the point of view of that exercise, my head was normally too far forward. When thinking about that and watching other people, I noticed that, wow, a lot of people, myself included, really do have our heads hunched forward. (While staring at computer screens, while looking down at phones while walking, but also just in general.) And I also saw a few people who seemed to naturally not have their heads so far forward, and whose necks seemed like they were just going up on their own; those people certainly looked more graceful to me, and their head position felt healthier as well.

It took me a while to retrain my head and neck, though. But, once I started doing the Nei Gong version of Wu Ji more (which has a similar instruction around your head positioning), my head positioning did get better: I have a distinct memory of one time when I was working on relaxing my pelvis while sitting into my Kua, and that set up a stretch along my spine that was actually pretty strong in my neck, and all of a sudden my neck got yanked back a bunch. I won’t swear that my head was in an ideal position after that (in fact I’m pretty sure it wasn’t), but it did improve the situation.

(Since it will come up again, and it’s not a term that non-internal-arts folks are necessarily aware of: your Kua is the crease between your hips and your legs. And Tai Chi and Nei Gong both make a point of having you sink into your Kua when lowering your body, instead of directly using on your knees / thighs / buttocks.)

My shoulders

When I was having back issues, I learned about the Gokhale Method, and it helped a bunch. She talks about your head and neck positioning, but she also notes that the hunch of your head extends down into your shoulders as well, so for many of us, our shoulders and arms are too far forward.

She recommends a specific version of shoulder rolls to retrain your shoulders to hang in a better location; and, after trying that for maybe a couple of weeks, my shoulders really did get retrained to sit further back. Which was pretty neat, I’m not used to having such a simple exercise have such a clear effect so quickly. If you want to try this one out yourself, I gave more details in an earlier blog post.

My knees

Sometimes, when doing Tai Chi or Silk Reeling, my knees (especially my right knee) feels uncomfortable. Which is probably in part a sign that my knees aren’t 100% in great shape; they’re not doing horribly or anything, but they’re a little bit vulnerable to being overstressed.

My Tai Chi teacher talks a lot about knees, and how getting your positioning wrong can lead to knee problems. A big part of what he talks about is the direction in which your knees are pointing (they should generally be pointing in the same direction as your feet, even when you’re turning your torso away from your feet); that took me a bit of time to be aware of, but I thought I was getting reasonably good at it.

But, paying more attention to what was associated with my knee pain: when I was sinking down, I was sometimes sinking forward into my knees. For example, the Silk Reeling set we do has a “knee rotation” exercise, and in that one, I was often leaning into my knee when rotating it. And that was making my knee hurt.

So what I should actually do is sink into my Kua during that exercise and similar movements, keeping my weight squarely over my feet instead of sending it forward into my knees. When I started doing that, my knees felt a lot better.

In some ways, that actually made me feel glad that my knees were a little iffy: it’s not bad enough to be disabling in any way, and it helps me by giving me a warning sign for some kinds of posture problems.

My torso

When I saw myself in videos of my Tai Chi class last year, I noticed that I seemed to be standing kind of high. So I decided to work on going lower; it went fine for a while, but then my right knee started to feel pretty uncomfortable.

That might just be a sign that my body isn’t strong enough to go that low; but as noted above, knee pain can be a sign of posture problems. So I thought about my posture more.

And, when I thought about it, I realized that, when sinking down, I was also angling my torso forward. (In retrospect, my teacher had been warning me about this sometimes.) I think what was going on there was a bit of a subconscious interplay of fears and desires: on the one hand, I wasn’t sure that my legs and knees were up for sinking down low, so part of my brain resisted that idea. But also I wanted to go down low, and another part of my brain measured how low I was by how low my head was. So that meant that, when lowering myself, I’d subcounsciously tilt my torso forward: that would get my head low, so I’d feel like I was sinking, but my legs didn’t have to sink as much.

This was, of course, counterproductive: both because I was fooling myself and because, by tilting forward, it would put more pressure on the front of my body, which would in turn make my knees hurt! Once I realized I was doing that, I stopped leaning forward so much and experimented with lowering my legs more using my Kua; and, sure enough, I could go lower without making my knees hurt too much.

Though, even after realizing that, I had to keep on experiment with it. Partly I needed to train myself to be aware of when I was subconsiously leaning forward; but also I needed to be more aware of how the lines of force were transmitting gravity down my legs. It’s a little hard to describe, but it’s possible to move things so those lines of force mostly bypass your knees; when I did that, I could go lower while still feeling stable in my knees.

My eyes

At some point, when meditating, I realized that my eyes were pulled forward: when I relaxed them, they would move physically back in my eye sockets. Not clearly useful behavior even when my eyes are open, though I suspect it affects how my eyes focus. But at any rate it seems pretty pointless when my eyes are closed.

My shoulders, again

A few months back, I went to a Nei Gong workshop, and we spent a significant amount of time on stretching out our arms and shoulders, in a way that focused on the fascia in particular. At the end of that workshop, my shoulders felt more open; and I realized that the natural resting position of my shoulders (at least if I relaxed them) was a bit farther back then it had been! So, while the Gokhale shoulder rolls got my shoulders closer to the right position, there was clearly still room for improvement there.

My head, again

A month or two back, I realized that, if I relax my neck, my head will float up and back and my neck will expand upwards. I like the resulting head positioning, and certainly having an expanded neck is good, so I’m trying to do this whenever I think of it, to retrain my head and neck to the right position.

This raises two questions: how long has it been the case that this will happen if I relax my neck, and (assuming that it hasn’t always been the case), what have I done to cause my neck to react this way? I don’t know what the answer is to the first of those questions; but if it’s a relatively recent development, then maybe the answer to the second is the acupuncture treatments that I’ve been taking (my doctor mentioned my neck as being a problem area when I started acupuncture, and has more recently said that it has loosened up), maybe it’s some of the specific Nei Gong exercises I’ve done over the last few months, maybe it’s both.

Good outcome, at any rate, and one that encourages me to find more ways to relax and open up space in different parts of my body.

My torso, again

I was working recently on getting my liquid center of gravity at the right height while doing the Nei Gong version of Wu Ji. Sometimes it got stuck at around my diaphragm, but I could make it past there by relaxing my muscles. After doing that, it almost made it to the right level, but it usually ended up just a little bit high, more like navel hight rather than Dantian height.

After playing with that a bit, I realized that the very bottom of the front of my torso was tense in a way that seemed related, but it was harder to relax. And, experimenting more, that tenseness came from me leaning slightly too far forward; if I dialed my tilt back, the tenseness went away and the liquid center of gravity went to the right place.

Nice to have that dialed in; I already knew that I wanted to lean forward a little bit to remove tension from my lower back, but I hadn’t previously noticed that subtle tension from leaning forward. The window where I don’t get tension in either direction is actually pretty small, but it’s easy enough to find now that I’m aware of it.

That doesn’t mean that I’ve solved all of the problems I have around tilting in Wu Ji, though: I still have a habit of locking my torso and legs together more than I should, and it also can take me a while to get my weight descending to my Yongquan in a way that feels properly rooted. I can usually get it to feel good eventually, but it takes me a while; maybe I should come back to this post in a couple of months and add a section on my legs…

Final thoughts

Clearly, there’s something going on that makes me stretch my body parts too far forward; and, based on the number of entries here, I expect to continue finding new examples of this over the coming years! I wonder if almost everybody has this problem, or if some people get pulled back too much, or if lots of people are nicely centered.

If I wanted to do armchair psychologizing, I would say something about how this is a sign that I’m not properly rooted in the present, that I spend too much time trying to focus on the future. And maybe that’s even true? I do feel more stable and relaxed when I correct the issues mentioned here; most of that feeling is physical, of course, but I think it has a mental effect as well.

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