In my personal practice and with students, we have been pondering the question, “How does it feel to align to my center?”
When we begin standing practice in Tai Chi and Qigong we connect to the earth through our feet and stand shoulder width (wu chi stance) with our knees slightly bent. After that, I have been encouraging students to sway softly side-to-side with their bodies and slowly come to a stop like a pendulum, as we connect with our breath through our lower dantian [buddha belly breathing]. Gently guiding us to feel alignment in our center. And, noticing what that feels like—not thinking about it, but what it feels like … there is a big difference between thinking about having a sip of water, and actually taking one.
Choosing to get out of our head and into our bodies … easier said than done. It takes practice to “feel” aligned, but isn’t it funny how we know exactly how it feels to be “off” our center? [both physically and emotionally]
After we feel some alignment with our bodies, we do a mental body check before we move: first the connection with breath and breathing from the lower dantian; then we feel ourselves connected to the earth through our feet, feeling the three points of contact [big toe, little toe, heel of the foot]; allowing the weight in the body to feel engaged as if we are looking over the Grand Canyon but we do not want to fall in; our knees are softly bent; tailbone dropped [an imaginary third-leg]; feeling the breath rise and fall; softening the chest and opening the heart; dropping the shoulders and allowing the head to feel light […as if connected by a strand of pearls]. In other words, discovering ease in our stance as we gently feel ourselves into alignment with our center.
Each time we begin another exercise, I remind myself and students to align with their center. Reestablishing the wu chi stance and maybe even another few sways of the body. Our center changes doesn’t it? [I remember how my center really changed when I was pregnant.] It can change from week-to-week, day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute and with each breath.
One thing to remember when aligning to our center, our bodies are always present, it is our mind we need to guide back and connect with the body.
I believe the more we can practice the feeling of aligning to our own center, the easier and quicker we will come back to it when we feel off… which takes me to the next phase:
Our Emotional Center
How do we know when we are aligned with our center emotionally?
Since December is a few days away, let’s use the holidays for an example: How many social events do you say yes to, when really you would rather not have something scheduled every night of the week? How does that make you feel? If you can slow down enough to notice, you’ll probably feel that your body is contracted and not relaxed. This is a great time to once again consciously connect to your dantian breathing. Simply take three deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth, you could even add an outward verbal sigh. You will feel the results immediately, and the sighing sound not only forces you to relax your jaw, but helps to release negative emotions.
Our bodies are deeply connected to our emotional wellbeing. I remind myself of taking these deep breaths before I make a social commitment, and see how I feel. I simply say to myself, “Yes, I desire to go to fill-in-the-blank” and then I notice if my body is expanded or contracted. An expansive feeling, is a yes and a contraction is a no. Or, you can notice if you feel relaxed/uptight, joyful/obligated? I invite you to experience this simple breathing technique for yourself throughout this holiday season. Choose from your expanded Self what is best for you, which will be best for everyone. Because you will be present and truly desire to be wherever you are and that’s the best gift you can give anyone, including yourself.
Remember our body knows before our mind … trust it. When we can feel alignment to our center it helps us flow through life with more ease, humor and grace. And, wouldn’t we all like a little more of that?