Ribbons can be arranged into beautiful symmetrical patterns or they can be allowed to follow their own random meanderings. The same is true for bodies in motion. Birds in flight follow relatively random pathways while their wings move in greater symmetry. The movement patterns generated by pairs of wings, arms, legs, etc. can be called lemniscate (lem’ ni skaht), a word meaning “decorated with ribbons” whose sound fails to convey it’s lyricism. Could there be any special advantage in turning these natural movements into deliberate qigong exercises?
Mainly a geometry term, lemniscate is a figure eight which curves back & forth around a central point. It’s what you get when you cut through a torus (doughnut) at the edge of the hole. In three dimensions it becomes an hourglass, and in motion natural paired movements become more complex than these simple shapes. Hard to label or define mathematically, they exist somewhere between regularity and irregularity.
In osteopathy, lemniscate has come to mean a treatment principle for restoring movement symmetry to hips, shoulders and other paired structures. With a little poetic license it can refer to the symmetry between any two bodies in motion such as dancers for example. Some dancers play off each other so well it seems like they don’t even rehearse but just flow spontaneously. When one moves the other reacts in mirror synchrony.
The pelvis and hip bones trace lemniscate patterns while walking. The astute observer will notice, more in women than men, that the hips circle in a complex counter synchrony. These walking patterns have been studied and graphed and published in textbooks.
What we might call compound lemniscate can be seen in the gait of four legged animals like dogs and cats. The front right and rear left legs move together and vice versa. In between, the torso undulates in a left/right waveform. When we primates walk upright our arms swing in the opposite directions of our legs and our torsos rotate left and right, often with a little twist.
As qigong exercise, embodying and accentuating these natural movements is somewhat advanced but not all that difficult. Such exercise takes your body through its wide ranges of motion while generating a spinning self-sustaining momentum.
1. For example the next time you’re on a leisurely walk pretend that your arms have no muscle tone at all and allow them to swing in response to your pace. You can amplify the movement in your shoulders by lengthening your stride and/or by lowering your torso an inch or so toward the ground.
As you increase the movement in your shoulders and scapulae, the muscles, fascia and other tissues become more flexible and pliable, which is very good for them. If you keep your head and neck lightly lifted and your shoulders dropped you will create a little stretching and unraveling action in your trapezii, the neck/shoulder muscles we always complain about.
Take your time with this exercise and feel where your restrictions are. What can you do to unwind them? Are you as relaxed and floppy as possible? Take note of any left/right asymmetries. If and when you decide to add a little muscle effort, what is just the right amount to apply to encourage more space and fluidity?
2. Here’s a second qigong exercise from Ba Gua (a circle walking practice) meant to put the sense of spherical movement into your body. Keeping your palms facing each other rotate them around the surface of an imaginary sphere in mirror sync, e.g. when one moves up the other moves down. Then get the elbows and more importantly the shoulders involved in the rotations. You can make the ball as large or small as your arms will comfortably allow and you can change it’s location. Once you get the feeling of fluid circularity and keep it going for a good while you could try changing directions and speeds. Always maintain a connection between your palms, creating a moving central axis.
I once was shown a variation of this where the hands circled wildly around the body with the focal point being the tan tien or hara. The woman demonstrating it loved the movement without knowing that this point in the lower belly is grand central station for all the energy channels that effect the physical body.
3. A third exercise involves just the pelvis, not that easy for most of us. But an easy place to try it is on a bicycle, outdoors or stationary, or perhaps sitting in a soft chair. This is like the previous exercise but here the outsides of your hips are the surface of the ball. The range will be quite small. Picture an hourglass on it’s side rotating clockwise as seen from the right or counter clockwise from the left (or the reverse if you’re pedaling backwards), again in mirror sync.
You may be able to feel two other dimensions moving: a) a pendular swing in the sacrum and tailbone, b) a rotating wobble as seen from above, below, front or back. This exercise is good for the health of your reproductive and elimination systems as well as the flexibility of your low back.
So where does the random spontaneity come in? It’s anytime you change the ongoing pattern, interrupting the symmetry. In walking it’s anytime you’re not following a straight consistent path. In the Ba Gua ball exercise it’s anytime you change direction, size, location or speed. In Ba Gua proper it’s also anytime you change your walking direction, especially in any of the eight standard complex patterns.
While random & standard may sound like a contradiction it raises an important qigong principle: First you learn the rules and only then do you break them. Really it’s a universal principle: Once you know a discipline very well (or even a segment of it) you are free to bend the rules that got you there.
Again, we’re in an undefinable territory here somewhere between framework and freedom. The advantage of lemniscate exercise is making yourself learn a balanced complex rhythm that borders on unpredictability. Since life is inherently unpredictable, and probably becoming more so, it’s always good to increase your adaptability skills and your ability to be both stable and spontaneous.