Tai Chi Training with Lee Burkins, Installment #1
Reporting in after two outstanding days of Tai Chi and Qigong training with Energy Arts Senior Instructor Lee Burkins. And what a teacher Lee is! In a manner reflecting his deep experience as a practitioner and teacher, Lee introduced key principals, developed them with exercises, then wove each principal into the Tai Chi form and Qigong sets we worked on. Lots to practice and share in the months ahead.
This report will be the first of three, each focusing on one of the key principals Lee taught. Here is what I call them:
#1 Put The Spine in The Feet
#2 The In and The Out
#3 The Down and The Up
First, a little about Lee.
Lee Burkins. A battle-seasoned combat veteran, a practicing martial artist for over 40 years, a Tai Chi, Bagau and Qigong adept, Lee lives and teaches in Montrose, CO, where he designed and built a wonderful training facility, the “Bagua Barn.” At the Barn, you can practice Tai Chi, Qigong, and other arts under Lee’s guidance, all with a view of the Montrose Valley and Rocky Mountains beyond.
An Army paratrooper and Green Beret, Lee saw extensive combat against the North Vietnamese, then returned to battle with PTSD. In gripping detail, Lee describes some of his wartime and postwar experiences in his book, Soldier’s Heart, a book I highly recommend. Lee credits his practice of internal martial arts, meditation, and the teachings of Bruce Frantzis for literally saving his life and helping him recover from the debilitating effects of PTSD.
Beyond that, Lee’s 30+ years practicing Tai Chi, Bagua, and Qigong have resulted in a quiet mind and an extraordinarily flexible body, together capable of generating both stunningly fluid movement and bone-shattering power. Not what we usually expect from a trim, unassuming, silver-haired “retiree.” For more about Lee, browse his website Colorado Internal Arts.
An Energy Arts Senior Instructor, Lee has been studying with Bruce Frantzis for over 30 years, is certified to teach Tai Chi, Bagua, and several Qigong sets at advanced levels, and is authorized to recertify Energy Arts instructors.
In short, for a Tai Chi, Bagua, or Qigong practitioner, training with Lee presents a unique opportunity to advance your practice, and is well worth the trip to Montrose!
Now to bring one of Lee’s lessons back home to Chicago. . .
Put the Spine in the Feet
At Enso Tai Chi, we regularly practice the Neutral Posture, establishing our alignments, exploring our “internal landscape”, feeling for tension or blockages, releasing what we can, sinking our energy toward the ground. This practice aims to create a relaxed, springy internal structure from which we begin our Tai Chi form.
Lee’s first lesson was using the Neutral Posture to Put the Spine in the Feet. This involves, in part, small adjustments to the lower spine, pelvis, sacrum, and coccyx (tailbone) until you perceive the tailbone solidly connecting through the legs to the heels. Part of connecting the tailbone to the heels involves relaxing the lower back and releasing the tailbone down. But that’s not all.
Relax the chest to release the back. As Lee explained, a key to greater release of the tailbone is relaxing and releasing the chest. As the chest releases, sinks, and rounds inward, the upper back expands and rounds outward, helping release the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, the sacrum, and the tailbone. All of this helps make a solid connection into the heel.
From heel to ball and back. With the Spine-Heel connection made, a slight tilt of the pelvis moves the connection from the heel to the ball of the foot. Once you feel the connection, you can play with moving it from the heel to the ball and back. Keep in mind that pressure on the ball of the foot tends to make your energy rise, and pressure on the heel tends to make your energy sink.
The shovel and the stone. To help reinforce the lesson, Lee used a great analogy – the shovel and the stone. Think of using a shovel to pry up a stone partly buried in the ground. The handle of the shovel is your spine, the blade of the shovel is your sacrum (which is shaped like a shovel blade), and the tip of the shovel is your coccyx. Connecting the spine to the heel is like sticking the shovel firmly into the ground next to the stone. Then connecting the spine to the ball of the foot is like angling the shovel blade slightly to get underneath the stone.
From concept to practice. First, we experimented with the Spine – Foot connection in the Neutral Posture, getting a concrete sense of how the connection felt and how to make it. Then, as we worked through Qigong sets and the Wu Style Short Form, Lee returned to the concept repeatedly, reinforcing how a solid Spine – Foot connection helps stabilize each move and posture, providing a more solid connection to the ground, and establishing a clearer path for energy to flow between the legs and waist and the torso, arms, and head.
Give it a try! Two very cool points about Lee’s Put the Spine in the Foot Lesson.
First, you can practice it virtually anywhere. Standing in line? Connect your spine to your foot. No special equipment necessary!
Second, as you work the lesson into your Tai Chi form, you will likely feel a notable increase in stability and whole-body connection. Just remember: relax and sink the chest and expand the upper back. This helps release the tailbone and make the Spine-Foot connection.
I encourage you to play around with Putting your Spine in your Foot. Let me know how it goes!
That’s all for Lesson #1 from Lee Burkins. Back soon with #2, The In and The Out.