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Silk Reeling Practice in Tai Chi

Taijiquan, or Tai Chi, is the most well-known of the three main Chinese Internal Martial Arts.  There is a rich history in Tai Chi and there are myriad skills that are immensely helpful in all facets of one’s life when one embraces the integration of Tai Chi.

The “Quan” part of Taijiquan means “fist” or “boxing,” denoting that it is a martial art but that is only one facet of the art.  As an Internal Martial Art, it also is good for meditation and Qigong (energy work) as well as for relaxation.  One of the skills that is talked about more in Taiji but shows up in all three of the Internal arts, as well as something that can be developed for overall health, fitness, coordination, and general benefit, is called Silk Reeling.  This is a skill that helps train the body to move in round, fluid, and whole-body coordinated movements that are led from the body’s center, instead of just waving the arms about.

Chen Xiao Wang, current patriarch of Chen Family Taijiquan, called the Silk Reeling practice the Yin side of Taiji, with Fa Jing, or Explosive Energy, being the Yang side. This helps elucidate the ideas that ‘soft’ in Taiji does not mean ‘limp and devoid of intent,’ and also that ‘hard’ in Taiji does not mean ‘tense and hard.’  In Silk Reeling practice, the round and the fluid are exemplified within the scope of being able to coordinate the whole body being used as a singular unit.

Silk Reeling Practice in Tai Chi First and foremost, with Internals, is having the correct breathing and posture.  Internals teach how to hold the body and breathe in a manner that is, physically, the most efficient way a human body can be utilized given the skeletal architecture and musculature.  These postures and breathing methods also help the practitioner to become more attuned to their body as well as helping to move energy, remove blockages, and train in moving meditation.

The spiraling movements inherent in the training help to teach and ingrain in the body a total coordination, as well as initiate the sensation of smooth, rounded, natural body movements that often get shunted aside due to the linear, force-based, gross muscle movements that we’re generally taught to move in.  Also, with one’s weight being correctly distributed through the body and into the ground through the heels, one is able to get practical experience and muscle memory developed through the above utilization of the skeletal and muscular systems – thus saving energy and wear-and-tear throughout the body, especially the joints.  With breathing, fluid movements, efficient bodywork, directed intent, and movement across the central plain of the body, Internal work – and Silk Reeling individually – can help to smooth-out the nervous system, which trains the mind and emotions to be able to remain calm, to gather calmness during stress, and to deal with mental and behavioral health struggles.

Another issue Silk Reeling helps to train is the sensation of one’s hands being like “scales” – meaning when one hand moves, the other hand is also affected.  This goes deeper in terms of the body but it’s easier to illustrate in the hands/arms.  Nothing in Internals is done in an isolated vacuum.  Just looking at the Taiji diagram, at the Yin/Yang symbol, and one can see that when one thing is rising, the other is falling; or when one side is pressing, the other is retracting.  These opposites are contradictory but complementary.  In order for correct Internal work to be realized, this must be done with the mind, body, and energy coordinated and harmonized – and Silk Reeling exercises are a great way to train these elements!

Silk Reeling Practice in Tai Chi Normally, Silk Reeling is just a skill that one would practice while working on the longer form routines.  The Chen family practitioners along with others, have developed some singular exercises that can be found and learned that will enhance not only one’s Taiji practice, but any martial art and even general fitness.  Center-focused breathing and movement along with smooth, spiral, whole-body movements create a variety of benefits for mind, body, and energy that can be integrated into everything that the practitioner does.

Readers have the opportunity to join the author, Sifu John Cosma, for an empowering and energizing two-part workshop on the Tai Chi practice of Silk Reeling, at Stella Luna Counseling & Wellness in our large events space. The dates are Tuesday, April 4th & 11th, from 6 pm to 7 pm. Please visit our Events page for more information and to register. We look forward to seeing you then!