Scanner Darkly



Every morning now, when I wake up, during the “hypnapompic” ( from sleep) state, my body telegraphs to me certain sensations. There is either a general sense of heaviness, from the previous day’s exertions ( my Mac wrote Pervious, which seems like a moral judgement) or there is a combination of heaviness with what I can only call “muscular static”, in the sense of an awareness of my legs, in particular, having fired and continuing to fire, especially my calves ( the last thing to relax in tai chi apparently) and an “electric” feeling of disturbance hovering over my whole body, and preventing me from relaxing to a deep level. This is caused by the previous day’s teaching-usually too much- and my muscles haven’t had time to recover. Usually, I go to bed too late, and wake up too early, and as I require beauty sleep, I need to doze more, but I cannot when my muscles are firing constantly. This is when I scan. My intention goes to my thighs, and I start to “listen” with my mind, visualizing at the same time a circular scan starting to descend slowly from the pelvis down to the knees. With practice and time, I can now feel the attachments of my hamstrings, and I quickly become aware of “static” in my legs; in other words, an urgency of tension starts to make itself present to my awareness, and as the scan starts to descend, the “holding” becomes more and more apparent to my mind until a point is reached when the feeling of “holding” is intolerable to itself and it “lets go”, and I feel the muscles drop and relax. The “buzz” in my legs has dropped somewhat.

This probably sounds insane. I couldn’t feel anything when I was 32. My legs were tighter than a log of Persian Ironwood, from cycling for years. I remember well wanting to have them massaged-for the first time- and I went to a small Catalan woman who had claws for hands, and, under my insistent cries of agony, she proceeded to leave lines of yellow bruises in my quads, as she gleefully cleaved into the dense forest of packed muscle. Over the years, as I became more sensitive to my legs, the “ noise” started to make itself felt. So it has reached its current state of sensitivity, such that I can now extend the scanning everywhere else. But back to my legs. As I approach my calves, it’s almost as if the “holding tension” starts to panic slightly at the approaching “awareness” and begins to drop away like refugees fleeing an army. My calves hum brightly with tension, and as I scan very slowly down, I throw into the mix sometimes a visualization of acid dissolving the tightnesss, and I can feel the successive layers start to let go. When the whole releases, I can feel the leg actually drop and become heavier.

It’s a delicious feeling of satisfaction. I often have to go back over the calf from the top, as the onion layers are peeled back. I “know” when I have made it relax because I don’t feel the “noise” or twitching anymore, and the party has moved on down to the feet. As I near the feet, hysteria grips my nerves. Slowly spiraling up the foot from the heel like the Americans taking Italy, the toes start to fire wildly and thrash and jerk as they release tension, almost like an orgasm. It is a crazy feeling, but after the scanning, my entire leg feels utterly delicious, heavy and relaxed, and I often fall back asleep there and then, but I usually continue to do the other leg, and then my arms. I find tension in the forearms all the time, as they are not relaxed yet totally.

I also find tension in my eyes, mouth, deep hip muscles, and very often in my neck. The whole edifice often drops several times, as the “guilty” feeling lets go. This is without doubt the greatest way I know to relax at a deep level. It has radically changed the way I relate to myself. But what does it have to do with tai chi or qi gong?


If you can’t feel your body, you won’t know how tight or tense you are. You may suffer from Restless Legs syndrome, as I used to, and I now believe it was caused by excessive tension making the legs feel “light”. Recall that my legs felt incredibly heavy when I released the tension and sleep was almost immediate. In tai chi and qi gong, the goal is to make your body full of energy through breathing combined with a range of motion for the joints that is close to optimum so that your fascia, tendons, ligaments and muscle tissue can remain at levels of maximal strength. When you are moving, or staying still, knowing where you are in space, what tension you are holding at any given time during any given situation means you can control and change your posture, breathing, and movements even as they occur. Self-correction of the body means that you can attain levels of smoothness and control that might otherwise only occur through mindless repetition like a gymnast or ballerina, whose movements, while seemingly perfect and smooth, actually mask a deep tension. The fact that their careers end early seems to bear this out, while I am actually improving as I age, and Master Ma ( 63) and Chris (53) are also getting better. I don’t know if Master Ma does scanning, but he has the requisite control and softness. It may not have been on the original curriculum, but 19th century Chinese no doubt had greater body awareness than 20th century Irishmen. I was always aware of my power growing up, and my strength, but it was the kind of gross awareness of the results of my strength. . Actually feeling my body was on a dim level.

And what about mental, psychic and emotional relaxation? Can deep physical relaxation lead to their diminution and  relaxation?

I’ll let you work that one out…I’m going for a pint.

This entry was posted in Tai Chi. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.