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How to Do Tai Chi and Qigong in a Chair

In my last post about how to keep practicing Tai Chi and Qigong when you feel you can't go on or you don't even want to start, I mentioned that one thing you can do is practice while seated in a chair. I thought I would go into a bit more detail about how to do this.

Just to be clear, I'm working with some core practice ideas that may or may not have been suggested to you by your instructor. If you practice Tai Chi or Qigong but these notions seem foreign to you, then you may have to consult your own instructor or figure out your own way of working in a chair. These core practice ideas are:

Tai Chi and Qigong movements are whole body movements. You are never just waving your arms around independent of the rest of the body. Whatever arm or leg movements you perform are the result of whole-body expansions and contractions.

The whole body movements of Tai Chi and Qigong are initiated by pushing from the feet. The movements are performed by channeling the force of the push from the feet throughout the body in various ways. The low spine / tailbone is a key player here because it both grounds the movements by sinking and turns to channel the movements into cool hand-turny motions.

The movements are performed in a totally relaxed manner. To hammer home the point, in order to perform movements without adding strain, pulling, clenching, or other unwanted tension, you need to initiate from the floor. It is the only part of you that has contact with a solid surface. This is basic physics. (When you're in the chair, your tush will obviously also have contact with a solid surface, but you still need to push from your feet. Pushing from your bottom will not get you places. Not in this context, anyway.)

Okay, now that we're all informed and agreed:

HOW TO PRACTICE IN A CHAIR

The chair in question must be a hard-backed chair, like a dining room chair. No, you don't want to do this from your squishy sofa. You're going to place your bottom as close to the edge of the chair as you can get without falling off.

Make sure your feet can reach the floor. Like I said, you're going to be moving by pushing one or both feet into the floor - just like you do when you're standing. So both feet have to be flat on the floor when you're sitting in the chair. If you can't reach, get some yoga blocks or a tower of books to place under each foot.

Sit with your spine straight. You'll be able to straighten it better if you feel as if you're leaning forward slightly from the hips.

Practice pushing the feet into the floor. This is really the key to the whole thing. From your sitting position, push the feet down into the floor as if you are trying to use your legs to stand up. If you feel up to it, do stand up and sit down again a few times. You want to use this move to train your legs. Pushing the feet into the floor to stand up from a seated position is excellent exercise for the legs.

Try not to cheat. If you are trying the standing-up-sitting-down exercise, cheating means that you pull yourself forward into a lean before you push the feet down to help you stand up. Whatever amount you lean forward, that's work you're taking away from your legs. You might be thinking, "Good! My legs are doing a lot of work as it is!" No, cheater! The whole point of this is to strengthen your legs. Once you're a quivering bowl of jello, it's time to sit down in the chair for some Tai Chi or Qigong.

Now push the feet into the floor as if you're going to stand up, but remain seated, and instead allow that push to travel up through the spinal column, expanding it. The idea is to feel as if you are increasing the spaces between each vertebrae. At first, it may be difficult to feel this because of tension in the back muscles. Just allow those to stretch. When you've maxed out the stretch, relax your legs and contract your spinal column back into the chair. Don't hunch, just relax to your original position.

Try using the push from the feet to move the hands.  Try Two Hands Support Sky - a good one to choose for a first go at chair work because you push equally from both feet to accomplish the movement. As you expand, drive the feet into the floor to get the hands to go up above the head. As the hands come down, contract / relax the legs / sink into the chair.

For movements where you'd push from one foot, then the other, do so while sitting in the chair as well. Turning motions are accomplished usually by actively pushing from one foot while receiving / grounding through the other foot. You can do this in a chair as well. The turning motion is going to be more internal through the spine, because the low spine is held in place.

Bonus factor:  The grounded quality of chair practice gives you an idea of how the movements should feel even when standing. A common beginner challenge is keeping the low spine dropped and grounded as you do your movements. Especially in cases where the low back and hips have been compromised by too much sitting / desk work / sedentary habits, it can be difficult to properly ground through the low spine while standing. Most people go years before they feel that their movements are travelling internally as well as moving the body externally. Chair practice is a way to immobilize the large external movements and experience the force travelling through the inside of the body.

Bonus bonus: It is ideal in a situation where you can't stand due to an injury to the lower body, where it would benefit you to exercise the area but it won't bear weight. 

Bonus bonus bonus: Chair practice done correctly is just as challenging as standing practice.

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