In the early 90s I read an excellent book by Robert Fritz called The Path of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life. It had a profound effect on my thinking and many of the insights still obtain for me today. It is particularly applicable to taijiquan practice. One of the hallmarks of mastery in any practice is executing effectively with apparent effortlessness.
One of my takeaways from reading it is that energy follows the path of least resistance, like water or air. In taijiquan terms that means that your internal energy (qi) will flow best when unobstructed by extraneous muscular tension and poor body mechanics. The image of the “nine-channeled pearl” is used to indicate that the qi moves through the joints without hindrance. The rounded shapes of taiji are designed to facilitate this.
Since energy flow is helped or hindered by the structures of the body, we want to establish structures that allow the energy to flow where we want. Regular practice in ‘correct’ gongfu establishes a familiarity that helps you notice when your structure has gone awry.
Most of us don’t recognize that qi is jammed until we experience pain or injury. Better is when you notice the muscular tension where you don’t need it (e.g., tense back, neck, shoulders). After years of practice you may sense an energy backup as a pressure. Some even get to the point where anything less than “feeling fantastic” is cause for immediate intervention. Even if you don’t get to that level of sensitivity, it’s still fun trying.
Structures in our lives can also help or hinder the flow of qi. Feng shui is the art of arranging structures to allow for optimal energy flow in our homes or businesses. This can have a beneficial effect on health, wealth, relationships, etc. The same principle is at work here.
Energy follows the path of least resistance. We want establish structures that permit it to flow where we want. For example, in winter I want to use heat energy to keep my home warm. I keep my windows and doors (structures) closed against the elements to keep the heat where I want it to be (inside). Feng shui uses this principle to direct subtle energies that have a powerful effect on all aspects of our lives.
Your job is a big structure in you life. It occupies many of your waking hours. Does it move your energy where you want? Or does it leave you frustrated and exhausted? Even if you feel you can’t do anything about it right now, it may be helpful to identify the energy blocks. It’s the first step to actually doing something about them.
When I play push hands I am always searching my opponents’ structures to find the path of least resistance. Always looking to use the least amount of effort. I probe with a push to sense their root from one direction, then another, and then “feel” that soft spot between.Against good players you may have to probe for a while before you find an opening. But that’s the fun of it, no?