by Jim Mann
We have often heard
that T'ai Chi Chuan treats the body as a "hydraulic" system.
I have also often wondered what, exactly, did that mean. Certainly
there is a feeling when practicing of being a fluid-filled balloon
with internal valves and pathways to direct force. We are aware
that our bodies are principally made of water. We also know
that chi follows the blood
When I took a one-week
course in lymph drainage, a technique I am finding to be extremely
beneficial to health, I learned more about this "hydraulic system."
Lymph, by volume, is the most liquid part of our anatomies.
Ubiquitous, it exists everywhere but in bone marrow and cartilage.
It is most concentrated in two areas - just below the skin and
deep in our core.
At its most basic,
lymph is one and the same with all the fluids that exist outside
the cells themselves. In the circulatory system it is known
as blood plasma; in the ventricles and the spine, it is cerebrospinal
fluid, and between the cells it is interstitial fluid. Deep
in our chests and our abdomens and just under the skin all over
our bodies, there is a system that collects all this fluid and
takes it back to the heart for recycling. This is the lymph
system. Here, the same fluid that was once everywhere is now
called lymph, and here it passes through a series of filters
called lymph nodes that remove toxins and kill pathogens, preparing
it for reuse.
During the course,
I found myself thinking extensively about T'ai Chi and such
issues as "sticky hands," whole body movement, and jing. When
I began learning T'ai Chi, Sifu Mancuso tried to discourage
my tendency to grab partners by showing me that a soft, open
hand could create enough friction on exposed skin to be far
superior to any action of fingers and thumb. When he illustrated
on my arm, I felt as if I had been snagged by flypaper on a
fast conveyor belt.
My own attempts did
not meet with the same success, to say the least. Once I had
begun to develop the required softness, I gradually discovered
that it worked better in some areas than in others. These are:
on the sides of the chest below the armpits, anywhere on the
sides and front of the neck, inside the elbows, and inside the
wrists. As I learned in the class, the gua would also be a perfect
target if exposed, because that area, like those listed, has
a large concentration of lymph nodes. It has been my observation
that there is a direct ratio here: the more lymph nodes, the
stickier the skin. Also, these areas are stickiest when force
is applied against the flow of lymph; i.e., down the arms or
wrists towards the hands, and up the neck towards the jaw.
Now, what about "whole
body movement"? Here T'ai Chi came to my rescue. In the class
on lymph drainage, much emphasis was placed on using "total
body movement." Lymph vessels are notoriously thin and fragile.
Most of them are no more than hair-thin tubes of one cell in
thickness. Effective lymphatic drainage requires the practitioner
to stimulate those vessels without collapsing them. The total
body movement they were talking about in class is the same as
the wave-like motion of T'ai Chi. Using it not only helps keep
the therapist in tune with the client's lymphatic pulse, but
more importantly aids tremendously the softness of the hands
so that they evenly spread the force, just as it aids the T'ai
Chi player in adhering to his or her partner.
I also thought a great
deal about jing. While there are numerous types of jing, they
all have one thing in common; the player controls the depth
to which it penetrates through the application of An, or suppressing
energy. With very light An, you have surface jing. It is effective
precisely because the surface is where most of our lymph fluid
collects - the player is in contact with the partner's outer,
most voluminous fluid body. However, little damage is done with
a surface jing. It is mostly used to stun or distract as preparation
for the deep jing. In the chest, this depth is achieved entirely
through An. In the abdomen, a fluttering movement of the hand
is also used, like a quarter sinking in water, the same motion
we used in lymphatic drainage to make contact with a second,
deeper fluid layer, the visceral lymph system. In T'ai Chi,
if the jing is applied slowly, the feeling is like pressing
on a water-filled ball of resilient material that then rebounds
away from you, often for a considerable distance. If this same
force instead is applied with alacrity, the fluid does not have
time to distort and rebound; rather it seems that the force
sets up a hydrostatic shock wave that expends all the energy
that would have gone into flying on hammering the internal organs
instead. The result is very painful and can be injurious as
well. At an extreme, it can rupture major blood vessels or organs.
But as in all things
T'ai Chi, that which can kill can also heal. Lymphatic massage