NOTE: This post replaces one sent two days ago. The words are the same but some low-budget art has been added which hopefully will help make the words more clear.
OK, folks, here’s a little experiment you can try in the privacy of your computer room.
Stand up, then bend your knees—not very much, not more than 10 percent of what you could do if you were going for the ground.
Now look down.
Are your kneecaps at or beyond the tips of your toes? Hmmm…..
And your hips—are they slightly forward of where they were before? In which case, unless you have hunched over, your head is slightly behind where it was before. Which is to say, bending your knees has caused you to lean backwards.
This is not good.
And yet it is what I and lots of other people do in taiji, qigong and other activities in our lives.
My taiji teacher Joe Pau, who comes to my community center from the Taoist Studies Institute in Seattle, lectures every new class on this matter. He asks us to notice how much strain bending our knees this way creates, and he warns of serious consequences, as in: Do you have an orthopedic surgeon yet?
Then he demonstrates the right way to bend your knees, which is to pretend you’re starting to sit down: You let your butt/bum/derriere/ posterior/anything-but-buttocks (“buttocks” sounds like a cut of meat) move backwards and your head move forward. (No, don’t arch your back.)
You will now be leaning forwards instead of backwards, which might not seem like much of an improvement.
However, check your knees. Can you feel the difference? With butt down and back and head forward, the weight of your body goes straight down your calves to the ground.
I used to figure Joe’s lectures were for the new students. I totally got his point—and I was sure I wasn’t doing what we weren’t supposed to be doing.
But then I began working on the opening move of the Yang-style 108 form, trying to retrain myself to bend my knees as my arms rose instead of when they floated down—and darned if I don’t bend my knees the wrong-and-dangerous way.
I know why I do it that way, and why other people do it that way: It’s because our backs are tight, and it’s easier to keep our lower back muscles scrunched up if we push our hips forward instead of backward.
But I am seriously trying to change—and not just because I’m concerned about my knees.
I’ve also found that when I’m leaning backwards and straining my knees, I don’t feel grounded. When I sit as my knees bend, somehow everything lines up, my sense of weight sinks, and I’m connected to earth.