Open and Commence

Piano Qigong Exercises

The “Open and Commence” movement from the 18 Taiji Qigong Shibashi provides a wonderful way to mindfully reconnect with the sensations in the wrist area, developing supple flexibility.

The 18 Taiji Qigong Shibashi is a modern qigong set created in 1982 in Shanghai, China by Tai Chi Master He Weiqi and Qigong Master Lin Hou Sheng. The routine is often used as a “warm up” by T’ai Chi groups, as it uses many of the stances common to the Yang form, as well as integrating several more traditional breathing and stretching exercises from qigong.

The opening movement of the 18 Taiji Qigong Shibashi is in fact the same as the opening movement from the Yang form of T’ai Chi itself, so will be familiar to those who have trained in T’ai Chi.

This qigong exercise is extremely simple – using the instructions below you should easily be able to learn the movement involved. However, the powerful benefits that are possible come less from the movement itself, and more from the mental focus and breathing aspects.

The Benefits of this exercise

According to qigong theory and TCM, there are many general health benefits from this exercise. It is said to stimulate the whole body and strengthen blood circulation, making it great for the heart, and for those who have poor circulation or arthritis.

Specifically for pianists, meanwhile, one of the basic problems we are prone to is a lack of mindful awareness of the sensations in the wrist. In such cases the wrist can be stressed or “lock”, or in some cases movements of the wrist can become forced or mechanical to comply with external techniques being taught or practised.

  • Using this qigong exercise, this mind-body connection can be reestablished, so that players are more aware of tension and release. The exercise can gently condition the wrists, and lead to more conscious control.
  • “Open and Commence” also coordinates breathing with wrist movement, which proves helpful for breathing coordination when playing the piano.
  • “Open and Commence” stills the mind and relaxes the body, helping to prevent anxiety and relieve muscular tension.

In the past I have experienced considerable pain in my wrists, partly from playing keyboards set at the wrong height when performing in bands, and partly from over-use of the computer mouse when writing my Keyquest books. This pain / injury was cured by acupuncture. The “Open and Commence” movement provides ongoing relief and health to my wrists using the same principals as the acupuncture; both particularly focus on regulating Qi in the Liver channel.

I recommend spending a few moments practising “Open and Commence” before beginning any session of piano playing.

After a few weeks of regular use you may notice significant changes in your flexibility and focus while playing the piano, most especially in terms of the wrists and the breathing.

Demonstration

Before reading the instructions that follow, here’s a short demonstration of “Open and Commence” by my teacher Allan Howlings, used with his kind permission:

Instructions

Be careful to follow the instructions below diligently, particularly regarding physical alignment. Practise Earth Posture before trying this exercise.

Caution: for this exercise and in general – NEVER allow the knee to extend beyond the toes.

To Start:

  • Stand with feet shoulder width apart.
  • Feet should be parallel, and your knees slightly bent.
  • Arms should be relaxed at your side.
  • Palms should face behind you.
  • Keep your fingers slightly apart and gently curved (as when playing the piano).
  • Focus on the wrists and hands, ensuring there is total relaxation.
  • Take a few steady, deep abdominal breaths.

Breathing In:

The following should be simultaneous, as one flowing movement, focus and breath:

  • Allow your tongue to rest on the roof of your mouth behind the front teeth.
  • Raise / Float your arms forward and upward until they are about shoulder height and width.
  • Throughout this stage, hands droop down, fingers pointing to the ground.
  • Notice the complete relaxation of the wrist.
  • Imagine the hands are a bunch of grapes, loose and able to move in sympathy. Bring your full focus into the wrists and finger tips.
  • Straighten the legs, extending to your full height.

Breathing Out:

The following should be simultaneous, as one flowing movement, focus and breath:

  • Focussing on the wrist, raise the hands so that fingers are pointing upwards.
  • Slowly lower the arms back to the start position at your side.
  • Focus on the centre of the palm (the “Laogong” point, Pericardium-8). Gradually push the hands downward.
  • Imagine you are pushing through a viscous substance such as treacle; try to “feel” the resistance as you lower your hands.
  • Allow the knees to gently bend a little as you sink.
  • IMPORTANT: Make sure that knees never extend beyond the toes.
  • Relax the wrist again, allowing the hands to hang free beside the thighs, palms facing backward.

More Practice Tips:

  • All the above should be done with a calm focussed mind, and coordinated in time with steady breathing.
  • Be sure to keep your back straight and relaxed throughout this exercise.
  • Try to keep your shoulders relaxed.
  • Make sure that your elbows remain “unlocked” and slightly bent.
  • This exercise should be repeated 6-12 times.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments below.

It would also be great to hear from those who have tried this exercise for a few days. What did you discover, and how has it benefitted your piano playing? I would love to hear from you!

Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK. He runs a successful independent teaching studio and music education business, Keyquest Music.

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