I have been working on "zhi tui song yao fa" (straight legs sitting method of loosening the lower back) for more than a year now... I thought it would be quite easy to master this form but to my surprise I am still find it difficult to grab the side of my outstretched feet with my hands. That I still find it difficult means that my lower back is still not fully loosened yet. More work to be done but I will make it... only a question of when.
Working on my lower back brought with it the realization that one also have to "loosen the chest region" in order for both arms to be able to stretch fully and hence ease the difficulty of grabbing the side of the feet. The forms useful for this purpose (loosen the chest region) is "cheng pi" and "cheng qi".
"Cheng pi" is simply an exercise wherein both arms are stretched horizontal with the hands lifted in vertical position. To do cheng pi correctly one has to relax the chest region as well as the shoulder and arms muscles. Once relaxed, push both arms outwards on both sides (body forming a cross), mind gently focussed on the chest region so that when pushing out the feeling of the chest expanding outwards side ways is experienced. I do cheng pi for about 7 minutes each time. Whilst holding the arms in the outstretched position there will be strong sensation of "needles & pins" in the thumb, first, second, and third fingers (the litle finger has least sensation). Noticed a tendency for the second or middle finger of my right arm to arch downward. This I suspect is due an old injury on my right shoulder which is not fully revovered yet.
"Cheng qi" or stretching qi is an exercise wherein the arms are lifted and held at an angle to the body. The hands are kept at about waist level and must be kept at right angle or more to the lower arm. To stretch qi, one simply bring the two shoulder blades inwards and upwards to a point on the spinal column. The mind must be focused on the region where the two shoulder blades are brought together to meet. My own personal experience of the benefit of this form is a loosening of the shoulder muscles and less occurrence of stiff necks.
The peculiar thing about doing these zhineng qigong exercises is that as one works on a particular set of exercises, it will lead to the realization of the need to work on other areas where the meridians need clearing for smooth qi flow. In my experience I started on my lower back and found after some time the need to work on loosening my chest region. After some work on the chest region I felt the need to clear qi blockage in my neck region!
I started concentrating on "He shou long tou" or crane's neck, dragon horn which I instinctively felt will be the solution to clear blockage of the neck region. After some weeks of practice I was rewarded with not only a more relaxed and flexible neck but also felt the sensation of the "throat chakra" ("hou qie" in mandarin I think)opening up. This comes as a sensation of space inside the throat which allows qi from the middle dantian to expand or grow into the neck and merge with the upper dantian.
With the above comes the sensation of even more "oneness" on the body. This feeling of "oneness" is felt very strongly when I do "peng qi guan ding fa". The sensation of qi is so strong that there is no need to use the mind to visualize. I just need to let go and "feel" the qi as I work on peng qi guan ding fa.
Zhineng qi gong is becoming a journey of self discovery... I wonder what lies ahead.