Reclaiming Lost Territory is a set of exercises I have been developing over the past 25 years to get the qi moving, repair deteriorating joints, and train efficient movement. I came up with the idea as a way of healing my own body from various injuries, and then it became the default warm-up set for my classes. It is evolving to meet the needs of my students…and me.
Those of us fortunate to have survived past the age of thirty gradually become aware that we have to do some maintenance and repair if we wish to remain healthy and active. This is not a huge revelation, but I somehow missed the memo when I was on the south side of thirty. I’m guessing that maybe some others did too.
“Three score and ten” is just a few months away for me now, and since I plan to be playing tennis into my nineties, keeping my body healthy and pain-free is a priority. (Any day I wake up with no pain is a good day!) The twisting and spiraling of baguazhang and the directional Five Elements training of xingyiquan complement my taijiquan nicely. Each has their own mysteries to investigate, and my curiosity is unquenched.
But pain has a way of dulling our enthusiasm for movement. It is the body’s way of saying, “This might not be the best way to do this, Rick.” The message many of us take from pain is to restrict movement, and that might be the best course to take when healing from an injury. For example, I am currently resting my knees from tennis for a few weeks after a vigorous summer schedule caused some meniscus pain.
But even though I’m not playing for hours on hard courts for a few weeks, that doesn’t mean I’m not moving. I daily try to expand my comfort zone and my range of motion by conscious, careful exercise. Bringing awareness to the feedback from my preconscious awareness allows me to differentiate between the pain of injury and the discomfort of overcoming stuck patterns.
The body-mind develops “work-arounds” to keep on going after injuries, and often it continues with that pattern long after the injury has healed, often resulting in further injury. Sometimes misalignment comes from something subtle, a rotated vertebra or shoulder tension perhaps, and movement becomes inefficient or strained as a result.
Reclaiming Lost Territory targets familiar trouble spots: back, neck, shoulders, hips, and knees. Body mechanics are guided by coherence, tensegrity, song, and whole-body energetic connection.
You are not just mindlessly doing reps while watching CNN or listening to podcasts; you are bringing consciousness to each movement. You are not just overriding existing preconscious habits with new preconscious habits, you are mindfully interacting with your somatic awareness in a way that allows for harmonious reprogramming at a deep level. You shift to a superconscious state: body-mind-spirit integration.
Some of the body mechanics being addressed have been with you your whole life, and the body-mind will need some time and practice to bring about a fundamental shift. There will be resistance to altering “the devil I know.” These exercises will assist that process by gradually building confidence in their effectiveness. If you approach them with curiosity and attention to detail, they will reward you almost immediately.
Here are some of the highlights of the RLT exercises:
As bipedal hominids, our relationship to the earth is about as fundamental as it gets, at least on a physical level. We have been at this standing/walking/running thing a long time, and some of us have gotten pretty good at it. Most of us, however, are still operating on the same unconscious patterns that we learned at age one…and our bodies have changed quite a bit since then.
In Reclaiming Lost Territory, we do a slow motion deep dive into song kua. Song is releasing extraneous muscular tension and relaxing into the intrinsic support of the body. Kua is the hip area. It connects the legs to the torso and freeing it up is essential to ease of movement and internal power. Ball-Knee-Kua builds a powerful, stable foundation from the ground up by first establishing contact with the ground through the ball of the foot, then setting the knee, then releasing the kua…in that order. (See four-part series on “Setting the Knee”)
Neck tension is a major block on your qi flow, and is a source for many physical ailments as well. This poster on my chiropractor’s wall tells the tale of the effects of “Forward Head Posture.”
Too often we do ourselves no favors by jutting chin forward, rounding the back, and kinking the hose at the base of the skull. Many headaches can be traced to this. Qi is blocked into the brain and the free flow of cerebrospinal fluid is restricted.
The Jade Pillow Gate lies at the base of the skull and is a major energy gate. Opening it and releasing neck tension does wonders, not just for health and well-being, but for internal power as well. I activates jingshen, “spirit of vitality.” (AKA: “The Mouth of God,” “the Seat of the Soul”; See three-part series “Opening the Jade Pillow Gate”)
A strong, supple spine is very important for maintaining youthful vitality well into old age. It is also the axis around which taiji movements revolve. Any expression of internal power depends on the spine. Most of us lose some spinal flexibility as we age, which further exacerbates reduced movement elsewhere in the body. Even when we are not in pain, the memory of past back trouble acts as a governor on our idea of what we can and can’t do. These exercises gently raise spine awareness and increase support and flexibility.
Shoulder tension, poor body mechanics, and collapsed posture lead to chronic shoulder problems. Shoulder tension blocks qi flow and makes even the prettiest taiji impotent in practice. Activating zhou, the “Elbow Gate,” releases shoulder tension and integrates the whole body in a shockingly powerful way. And you guessed it! There is another three-part series on “Unlocking the Elbow Gate.”
There are a lot of hidden gems in Reclaiming Lost Territory and I’m happy to answer any questions. The best thing to do is try it daily for a couple weeks and see if you don’t feel some improvement in your range of motion, your vitality, and your gongfu.
Here’s a video to help you in your practice. It’s designed to help you follow along with me. I hope you enjoy.