Six Power Stretching Steps

ImageGuest Post by Shifu Susan A. Matthews, MS, ND

Power stretching is part of basic training in the Lan Shou System, an internal style of fighting characterized by its side-power technique. Any practitioner of Chinese Internal Martial Arts who studies consistently for long enough will eventually learn some form of power stretching exercises. Power stretching tones the body and prepares the bones, tendons and ligaments for whole-body connection, one-unit movement. It’s an excellent preparation for applying spiraling biomechanics in Chen Style chan shi chin practice. This is what I have learned from my teachers Lan Shou Masters George Xu (http://www.georgexu.com), Wu Ji and Ye Xiao Long, as well as Wang Ming Bo and Shou Guan Shun. These masters are from Shanghai. All have study several forms of internal arts for many years, and consider power stretching essential.

. . . .  Power stretching works well for creating a strong root, great balance, and formidable power. I describe in detail six steps to powerstretching on my website (http://www.susanamatthews.com). The key is activating the musculoskeletal structure to connect the upper torso to the waist/hips and the waist/hips to the ground. The steps are:

  1. Create Ground Force:Connect the Upper and Lower Body
  2. Stretch the Joint Tendon Ligaments
  3. Straighten the Posture
  4. Practice Energy
  5. Three-Dimensional Expansion/Contraction
Image of wu ji
Master Wu Ji

Key points to consider when power stretching.
References and sources of this information are recorded on many videos found on the website.

Power stretching is initially a physical practice, meaning you focus on what the muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and skeletal structure are doing. Strength is felt in the physical body and testing creates a form of hard power through the bone-tendon-ligament, as opposed to power derived from energetic focus. When practicing on the physical level, forces are set up to oppose and stop rather than to yield and redirect as in taijiquan.

With practice over time power stretching can physically transform you. After reaching this stage, power stretching can still be practiced, except the focus should be on energetic lines of force flowing through the bone-tendon-ligament channels within the body.

Describing it in anatomical terms, power stretching focuses on transforming the body’s connective tissue including tendons, ligaments, fascia, joint capsules, cartilage and bone, as opposed to focusing on muscle-tendon lengthening. The translation, “powerstretching” is somewhat misleading, it is not as one usually thinks about stretching, nor is it like yoga; but it is a form of isometric stretching (muscles stay the same length) combined with using ground forces to actively stretch and manipulate the joints. The joints and attendant stretched connective tissue becomes more hydrated, elastic, and bouncy.

The primary goal is to connect the body into a one-unit snake that makes the body a whip that can transmit spiraling force; alive, vibrating like a well-tuned violin. Force and energy are transmitted fast and easily, just like plucking a string or banging a drum. So after combining power stretching with spiral training the body moves as one unit with suppleness, fluidity, and flexibility, a beautiful and healthy place to be.

Image of Ye Xiao Long
Ye Xiao Long

A body trained like this is great for all martial arts and every other sport or movement art. This training allows the body to transmit qi easily. Energetic meridians, blood vessels and lymphatic vessels run in fascial planes and when the fascia is aligned, stretched and made more elastic, qi energy and fluids flow more openly.

Image of George Xu
Master George Xu powerstretching in Lan Shou Cao Quan form

At the beginning,physical work modifies the tissues and changes the physical structure. At higher levels, the work can become energetic mind work, revealing lines of forces, with the physical body responding to the energetic command. At the simplest level, I describe the specific anatomical manipulations that create basic rooting and the fundamental postural changes, anatomy and biomechanics required in all power stretching. Selected video titles contain a variety of power stretch sets. George Xu presents it almost as a Qigong practice, while Ye Xiao Long demonstrates martial applications and amazing flexibility. Wu Ji has the most beautiful long, full-body stretches. Jin Shin Ba Gu from Shou Guan Shun and Wang Ming Bo also trains for maximum extension.

Note: This Guest post is excerpted from Shifu Matthews’ new educational powerstretching page where she has posted new streaming video links of the mentioned masters and other info useful for powerstretching.

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Tai Chi and High Blood Pressure

When you have HBP it is more difficult to get blood to deliver nutrients and oxygen to the body’s cells, which of course is where life itself is regenerated. Without this process we don’t live. This is a simple statement, but it helps to be reminded, because many of us neglect the fact that the better our body’s function the better we feel. Okay, that’s a simple statement, too. Yet how well do we live by it? Often life is cut short by things that we can change before it’s too late. In taiji it’s quite simple. Just move the body so that the heart opens fully and let (help) the blood flow more completely to the cells. This is easy to do with minimal training.

Plaque builds up cholesterol, another relatively well-known piece of information; an accurate description of what goes on in the blood vessels as a result of eating certain foods over time and doing little to prevent it. It’s also true that, for most of us, our bodies are fully equipped at birth to heal themselves if they have the nutrients necessary to achieve and maintain optimum function. Okay…another simple statement.

What is within your power to make necessary changes? I know one thing to do in addition to eating better, and even though good nutrition eludes you. Stand in wuqi with good intention, take a deep breath, stretch your body, do qigong moves with attention and affection. Open the body so the blood will flow, so oxygen will feed the cells and stimulate the life force, sending signals to your whole being that you are not prepared to die the slow death that HBP delivers, and that you want to live as fully in each moment as possible.

Does the hole you’re in look too deep to get out of?

Does the hole you’re in look too deep to get out of? And so … you might as well stop trying to free yourself? Here’s a little piece of information that will surprise you. There is no hole and you only think you’re in one. Fact is, you’ve been tricked into thinking that you are. It’s not as bad as you think and you can do something about your predicament. Yes, your predicament is real enough. Maybe your health is compromised by being overweight, for example. But you can see a path to freedom. You’ve seen others overcome conditions and circumstances. There is plenty of proof of the probability of success. If we could strip away our pessimism what would the world look like? It would look bountiful, abundant, and some of the bounty is destined for you. If you allowed yourself to believe this, wouldn’t you feel better? If you just spoke these words aloud, what would it feel like? “The world is beautiful, bountiful and abundant, and some of it is destined for me.”

Reading Abundance—the Future is Better Than You Think—by Dr. Peter Diamandis (Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation) and Steven Kotler
Read Abundance

Who does tai chi?

White Crane Spreads Wings tai chi posture
White Crane Spreads Wings in a Tai Chi Class

The impressive resumes of the people who learn tai chi with me makes me grateful that they are part of the effort to bring such an effective exercise system into our community. Their presence in class makes teaching rewarding. Their efforts to learn something new when they are such accomplished experts in their own fields is especially heartening.

They are professionals and students of a wide range of ages, incomes, educational backgrounds and life experiences. I’m especially honored by each one of them. Right now you will find a GIS mapmaker, a physical therapist, an IT systems analyst for a city, a mountaineer and EMT, an animal hospital nurse, a very active retired husband and wife in their mid-seventies, a massage therapist who specializes in Rolfing and who has four kids, an accountant who also owns and manages a popular toy store. They are extremely busy individuals, but they find the 1-3 hours a week to fit tai chi classes into their schedules. Some of them are perfectly healthy, and others who are experiencing health challenges, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia and heart disease, deserve credit for taking bold steps to rebuild their health and hopefully prevent further complications.

In a way it takes a lot of faith to view tai chi as a preventative self-help/healthcare activity, but nowadays plenty of science-based evidence makes that a pretty sure bet. I’ve seen it in my life and in the lives of many others. As they say, “Seeing is believing.” Plus, we in class feel the positive results everytime we practice. We feel better after a practice session. The evening class is special. Exhaustion of the day’s work is gone and we are simultaneously relaxed and re-energized with physical, mental, and emotional renewal.

The fact that these individuals are part of the tai chi community reflects something special about both them and tai chi. They’re not afraid to place themselves in the sometimes awkward position of learning something new, tai chi in this case, because they know and enjoy how it stimulates the brain and the body in positive and constructive ways.

If you do anything related to tai chi, be sure to make attending class a priority. I provide instructional videos for learners, which are very useful for in-home practice in conjunction with group practice; but, regular practice over time with fellow practitioners helps immensely, particularly if you ever need mending from an injury or illness, or simply with aging itself.

Tai chi is preventative and participatory by nature, so take a hint from these wonderful professionals who have made it part of their busy lives as they engage in an activity they can do now to address many issues they may have in the future. Just think. They may very well not have issues just because they are doing tai chi now.