Let’s talk about intimacy and boundaries. Some people do not like the intimacy of push hands, feeling that it is an intrusive exercise and thus not a happy activity.
When you are truly present, (in the present moment) and engaged (recognizing the presence of another being in the game) then you enter a level of intimacy beyond that of your normal state. This is true not only in push hands practice, but in life as well.
If your essence is strong and you are at peace with yourself, then it is not a problem. Exposing your existence is merely the starting point in whatever game you agree to play.
If you are doubtful of your own existence, or at odds with yourself, then it may bring on fear of the other. You do not want to expose any vulnerability if you are in fear. You do not want to show yourself if you feel inadequate or somehow lacking in skill, stuck in some earlier hurtful memory, or any of the many reasons that one would want to hide one’s beingness.
Therefore boundaries enter the picture. Let’s look at boundaries from two different angles.
First there are the boundaries that prohibit play. Many people grow up thinking that it is socially impolite or incorrect to touch another person. This can rule out push hands right at the start, because the exercise does involve touching another person. People afraid of germs from contact with others are also stopped right here. There are boundaries coming from social convention or conditioning.
Some examples are: If I push someone off balance, I would be considered a bully, it’s not ladylike, or I can’t let anybody push me around or they will walk all over me, or I must win at any cost. Beliefs like these will certainly color one’s push hands practice, and prohibit true play. They would also affect one’s life in general.
Second, there are the boundaries of the agreed upon game. There are rules of the game in push hands tournaments – what is allowed, not acceptable, etc.
In a class, the parameters of the game are set up by the instructor and may vary with each exercise. But even beyond these structural boundaries, there are personal boundaries that we establish ourselves. I am willing to go so far and no further. I can play with him but not with that other guy, etc.
So what can practicing push hands do with all this?
It can be a safe way to practice the intimacy of human contact within established boundaries. (If you can be present and engaged with another who is merely softly pushing your shoulder, then perhaps you can also be present and engaged when you are buying coffee from a stranger.)
It can be a way to get past one’s fear of being vulnerable by recognizing one’s own strength of being. We have noticed time and again in class that being open to another leads to strength rather than weakness. (Literally)
In life, we are constantly in one game or another. It is liberating to recognize what game is being played, to determine what the rules of the game are, and to engage freely in the activity trusting in our essential strength and ability to deal with whatever comes along. Conversely, if we don’t know what game we are playing, or have imposed unnecessary boundaries on ourselves, it’s a lot less fun to play. (or we end up playing hide and don’t seek)
In our culture, we often contact other beings only in the social persona that we feel is acceptable given the situation. I guess for me, push hands is an opportunity to drop the social masks, face a person simply as myself, willing to play. This then gives me the courage to do the same in life.
This article is part 3 of a 5-part series on Push Hands from a female perspective. Read the rest: