If you've been to any of our Qigong classes*, you will be familiar with the "wu chi" position - a particular stance we adopt before beginning the exercise set.
It's a posture that creates a feeling of balance, stability and relaxed readiness in the body, and - even without studying Qigong - is a wonderful practice to learn in itself.
What does "wu chi" mean?
In researching the meaning of 'wu chi' (woo chee), I found that in Taoist thought it means, "void" or "emptiness", or the state of emptiness which existed before the creation of the universe. (And interestingly, 'Tai Chi' refers to what was set in motion after Wu Chi was separated into Yin and Yang.)
More for our purposes, according to one Tai Chi website: "Wu Chi translates as No action Energy. The “Wu” - No action - refers to the fact that there is no external physical movement while you are standing in Wu Chi. The “Chi” or energy refers to the fact that the energy is activated even though there is no physical movement. Together Wu Chi refers to the idea that the energy is activated and moving even though there is no physical motion."
Oh, those Chinese and their conundrums.
So, while this is a relaxed state of standing - in fact, upon mastering it, one could stand this way for hours, even theoretically falling asleep if, god forbid, it was necessary - there is an element of action to it. It is an intentional starting point for the movements to follow, and a means of alignment that has health benefits all of its own... especially if used in the practice of 'earthing**'.
The practice is deceptively simple. It is, after all, just standing, right? Yet, it could take months to master... primarily due to the challenge of our 'monkey minds', as well as poor posture developed over years of sitting or standing in a misaligned and unconscious way. And we westerners are not known for our ability to stand still.
How to do wu chi.
1) To begin, you need to be conscious of a powerful acupuncture point on the soles of the feet, known as Kidney 1, or "Bubbling Well", or "Gushing Spring". (You can see how these terms allude to an image of a source point). What the Chinese knew and what we are learning now is that this is a well-known point that conductively connects to all of the acupuncture meridians and essentially connects to every nook and cranny of your body.
2) Balance your weight like a tripod. It make take a little shifting of your weight, but ideally, you want to be able to feel equal weight on the heels, the ball of the foot just below the big toe, and the smaller ball under the pinky toe.
3) Relax the knees slightly. Locking out the knees interferes with the ability to feel connection with the ground.
4) Shift the pelvis in order to balance the weight over the Bubbling Well. Imagining your pelvis like a bowl of water balanced on the tripod can be a helpful visual. What you are wanting to feel is sense of comfortable weight down into the feet as well as a relief of tension in lower back. This can make all the difference.
5) Imagine a string pulling your head up from the ceiling. This will give you a more relaxed aligned posture than the usual "Head up! Shoulders back!" approach.
6) Allow your arms to hang gracefully at your sides, hands relaxed, fingers apart.
7) Touch the tongue lightly to the roof of your mouth. This completes an energetic circuit through the cranial/spinal/sacral structure and up the front of the body.
8) Allow your breathing to be gentle, smooth and continuous - flowing in and out through the nose, and filling the belly (to about 70%), rising and falling naturally like a wave.
9) Be mindful of allowing all the joints to be slightly rounded and relaxed. The body should be as free of tension as possible.
10) The more you practice this, try to bring an awareness of being rooted to the ground - the roots going deep as well as wide, with a sense that if a strong wind came, you could bend without being knocked over.
This is a very powerful practice in itself - and you can bring it to many activities and situations: standing in line, cooking, doing dishes.
I also recommend this for times when dealing with difficult situations, like confrontation with people in which we feel tense or reactive. This practice can keep you calm, literally centered, and able to respond from a place of groundedness. Over time, it becomes an internal experience, one which you can bring to your consciousness even before getting out of bed in the morning, or while sitting at your desk. It is an intentional 'state of emptiness' before action.
I also recommend practicing this barefoot on grass or in sand, as per the idea of 'earthing'... especially first thing on the morning, or as a means of relieving fatigue or overwhelm.
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* We hold "drop-in" qigong classes on Saturdays at the LHHC, as well as offer a 10-week course in the "Eight Pieces of Brocade" which includes the theory of qigong from the perspective of bodywork. Join the email list for updates on these classes!
** "Earthing" - A term coined by Clinton Ober, to describe the practice of connecting with the earth by walking barefoot to improve one's health and quality of life. Yes, it is stunning to me too, that this simple piece of common sense warrants not only a book, but a whole world-wide institute, but we humans are funny creatures, aren't we?