The Vastus Medialis and Inner Thigh

Monday, March 29, 2010

The inner thigh muscles are the key to elevating the Chi energy flow, which is involved in all internal and external bodys actions and in our daily activities. It is beyond the scope of this article to review the specific physiology of each of the leg muscles. It is my understanding as a long-term Tai Chi Chuan practitioner that the inner thigh muscles play a crucial role in making my movements effortless with the Chi energy flow while enhancing the relaxation of my body for yielding, pushing, punches and kicks. It also promotes my mental, physical and spiritual well-being.

The mechanics of the human body can be compared to the mechanics of an automobile. The inner thigh muscles of the legs are the engine, the vastus medialis is the ignition, the big toe is the key and the fingers are the wheels that move as a consequence of the working engine. The Chi (the breath) is the gasoline.

We should fill the gas tank before we turn on the engine. The gas tank in Tai Chi Chuan refers to Tan Tien 丹田 which is just below the navel in the lower abdomen. When the key (the big toe) spins inward toward to center of the body that turns on the ignition (the medialis), which ignites the engine (the inner thigh muscles) and it runs the wheels (our fingers). The fingers move the palms to form the Tai Chi posture.

The primary muscle we focused on is the vastus medialis, which is one of the strongest and most active muscles. It dominates and executes other inner thigh muscles and plays an important role in running, jumping, golfing, punching or kicking and beyond; it works closely with the adductor muscles along with other leg muscles. The movements of Tai Chi Chuan begin with the release of the medialis muscle to setup the inner thigh muscles to loosen and be free.

These are some Muscles: Vastus Medialis Adductor brevis Adductor longus Adductor magnus

The medialis muscle is one of the quadriceps muscles that is located in the inner part of the thigh and extends to above the knee. The muscle has approximately 70% of the contractile fibers attached directly to a common extensor tendon, which enables it to achieve its maximum contraction and to stabilize the knee joint. This muscle plays the dominant role in the inner bodys actions.

Before any action, one must release the medialis muscle and then contract the muscle to initiates the action. The muscle must be completely released to fully or effectively contract it. Tai Chi players in China apply Sung Kwa 鬆胯, relaxing the crotch, as they practice the entire form, which frees the inner thigh muscles. The muscles are then able to go from the negative Yin releasing to the positive Yang contracting and vice versa. Focus on the medialis muscle (the ignition of the engine) is essential to every action

Contracting the muscle elevates the Chi flow as the mind directs the energy into the fingers to form the palms, which results in the arms and body forming a posture of Tai Chi Chuan. This generates the inner Chi flow that increases blood circulation and oxygenation, and removes the toxic waste build-up from the organ tissues. Increased internal compression allows the energy flow to surge rapidly through the body thus enabling one to deliver a quick punch or kick as well as absorb incoming force.

The outside part of the thigh muscles is like the frame of a building. It remains unchanged, staying the same height, while the interior of the structure is built. Similarly, the stances in Tai Chi maintain the same height and do not move higher or lower. As in the construction of a building, we need to ensure that the interior structure of the Chi flow in the posture is kept in excellent shape while keeping the framework structure unchanged. Therefore, the Tai Chi stance remains at same level throughout all the movements.

Before we run we must release the muscles, flex the hips, tilt the torso forward, and bend the knees to sink the Chi into the Tan Tien 丹田 and connects the whole body with the ground. The contracted leg muscle propels the other leg forward for running. The same action occurs in jumping. Releasing the medialis muscles of both legs and then contracting them allows the legs to push off from the ground to jump. We can see this type of action when a cat gets ready to jump or when a bird prepares to fly.

To jump higher additional muscular force and contraction are needed. We require more flexing at the hip joints, more tilting of the torso, and more bending at the knees and ankles. To prevent injury we should not exceed a 30-degree flex of our hips or a bend of 60 degrees at the knees and 25 degrees at the ankles.

The alternating state of energy in each legs medialis muscles promotes the continuous energy flow in the undertaken actions. While one muscle is contracted, the other one is released. The interchange of releasing and contracting the muscles enables runners to run and boxers to punch continuously. We contract both muscles simultaneously for jumping or for heavy resistance.

Moderate contraction of the medialis muscles creates a gentle energy flow that results in the slow motion seen in Tai Chi moves. Rapid contraction of the muscles boosts the energy flow creating the explosive power needed for high-speed actions.

Practical fighting situations require explosive compression of Chi to generate quick speed. The Chi energy in the fingers and foot energizes to the level required by the strikes. The body provides the adequate compression of the energy to meet the impact.

In competition, professional martial artists or athletes need more compression of the Chi. this requires stronger muscles to deal with powerful impacts. To create the powerful compression of the Chi additional conditioning or training, such as lifting weights, push-ups, running, punching heavy bags and using advanced equipment may all be needed.

The medialis muscles are released in the course of all of our normal physical activities and before we jump. The muscles are released when we turn a key to open the door or when we swing a golf club or tennis racket to strike a ball. Tai Chi practitioners release their muscles when they prepare to form a posture.

Most Tai Chi Chuan beginners are focused on imitating their teachers physical movements. When they mature beyond imitation, the physical tension will be discharged allowing the body and mind to fall into a state of relaxation. As the flow of Chi begins to generate within the body it pressurizes outward. This Chi flow represents the genuine internal system of Tai Chi Chuan postures.

As the practitioner continues his or her Tai Chi movements, the fingers and palms move with the energy flow and become filled with a marvelously warm and dense tingly feeling. The flow of internal energy promotes the peaceful thoughts and effortless movements which the Tai Chi practitioner wants to continue indefinitely, just as a joyful bird would rather remain flying and floating in the beautiful sky than land. Most Tai Chi practitioners would rather practice the form for an hour than for ten or fifteen minutes.

The compressed Chi flow in the body generates the movements and shapes the form of the postures. We must decompress the Chi before compressing it. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The contracted medialis muscles compress the Chi flow for an action while released muscles allow the Chi to begin the next action. This is the Tao of Tai Chi Chuan. The energies of Yin and Yang arise from daily practice.

The Chinese philosophy of Tai Chi Yin and Yang begins with Yin and is followed by Yang. All actions are preceded by preparation. Yin is preparation and Yang is action. To reach a state of preparation we must de-contract the medialis muscle to loosen the inner thigh muscles and releases the ribcage, flex the hip joints, bends the knees and sink the Chi.

The state of preparation is followed by the contraction of the muscles for action. It is a natural way to get ready for an action. This is seen when the tennis player waits for the ball and the basketball player prepares to leap. Releasing the medialis muscle prepares us for the next action.

There are many different moves and postures in Tai Chi Chuan. Every move is an action. Each action stems from a different preparation and results in a different posture. When the action is going up the preparation goes down. When the action is to spin to the right the preparation is turning to the left. When the action is to spin to the left, then the preparation is turning to the right. This represents the natural opposite actions of the (Tai Chi) body mechanics of Yin and Yang.

We enter a state of preparation before we contract the medialis muscle to form the Tai Chi posture. After the posture is completed, we must release the muscles to dissolve the posture and to begin the next posture. This is the same as a piece of rope that has been knotted: we must untie the knot before we can reknot it. Releasing the medialis muscles dissolves the previous posture so that we can start the next posture. This is essential to our daily practice of Tai Chi Chuan.

Along with the inner thigh muscles and Chi flow there are factors such as the minds awareness and breathing involved in the practice of Tai Chi. As the inner thigh muscles are released the minds awareness decreases while the breath is exhaled. The opposite action occurs when the muscles are energized: the minds awareness increases while the breath is inhaled. These factors interact and are almost indistinguishable. It is difficult to feel which comes first, like the chicken and the egg.

The slow movements of Tai Chi Chuan are linked with the breathing and the minds awareness. During moderate inhalation oxygen goes into the lungs and moves to the brain. Awareness gradually increases in the mind, and Chi flow moves the palms to a Tai Chi posture. The slow motion of the move occurs at the same pace as the inhalation and the increasing awareness.

Exhalation reduces the Chi flow and decreases the minds awareness. The fingers are de-energized as the palms fall backward and downward. At the end of an exhalation, the mind has fallen asleep, the posture is dissolved and the inner thigh muscles are released.

Normal breathing is adequate for ordinary slow activities as the diaphragm is limited to upward and downward movement but more breath is wanted for dynamic activities. The body requires the fullest possible exchange of the oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs. Consequently, we all need supplementary exercises like Tai Chi Chuan or other physical fitness regimens to keep our bodies healthy and in good shape.

The slow contraction of the medialis muscles assists our natural diaphragmatic breathing. During Tai Chi practice the muscles release, the hips sag, the torso leans forward, and the knees bend. These actions accentuate the exhalation-related activities of the lungs and diaphragm that help to fully expel the carbon dioxide from the lungs and increase the space for incoming air.

When the medialis muscles are contracted, which pulls the diaphragm downward as the torso straightens which helps draw air into the lungs. This maximizes the exchange of carbon dioxide and fresh air in the lungs. The greater the amount of fresh air in the lungs the more oxygen we receive with each breath.

More oxygen in our body allows us to produce the energy for an optimal metabolism and eliminate the accumulation of toxic wastes in our tissues. This keeps our interior organs clean and healthy and helps our productivity in daily activities and work.

There are many ways to release and contract the medialis muscles. Exhalation will release the muscles and allow one to be loose; inhalation will contract the muscles and make ones body firm. If the mind is very relaxed as it falls asleep and the muscles are released then when mind is awakened these muscles will contract.

If we say No to ourselves the inner thigh muscles release. When we say Yes to ourselves the muscles become firm. When we activate the pinky fingers outwards or inwards the armpits gently open and the muscles release. If the index fingers energize and move, the muscles become firm again. When our feet are flat on the ground our muscles are released. If our big toe or toes press down into the ground the muscles become firm.

When we prepare to jump, the inner thigh muscles are released. If we decide not to jump and stand up instead the inner thigh muscles become firm. When we sit down halfway on a chair our muscles release. Then if we decide not to sit and stand instead the muscles become firm. Regardless which actions we choose to do we must first release our muscles sufficiently enough before the action can occur naturally.

This is our bodys intuitive way of releasing and contracting the medialis muscles. We remain in a relaxed state and keep counter-intuitive ideas from disrupting the bodys natural rhythm. The slow speed of the movements regulate the nervous system, which relaxes the body and allows all the motions to go with the energy flow.

A faithful Tai Chi practitioner will engage in slow motion practice on a daily basis. It raises self-esteem, boosts the immune system, and elevates ones mental, spiritual and physical well-being. It also enhances the sport competitors performance, as well as helping the martial artist gain a higher level in the art of self defense.

The human body is a well designed and sophisticated machine. Although it has been studied for hundreds of years there are many questions that remain unanswered. This is particularly applied to the role played by the Chi, our breathing, mind and bodys reactions as we practice the movements of Tai Chi Chuan.

Since Tai Chi Chuan is an internal art the focus is on the inner Chi energy flow with the external body following the internal movements. As the Chi inflates within the body an outward compression occurs while the body expands to create the shape of a Tai Chi posture. Therefore, we dont say that we do the Tai Chi form: rather, the Chi does the form. 太極拳不動手 動手非大極拳

I begin Tai Chi movements in the traditional Chinese Tai Chi way of Sung Kwa 鬆胯, relaxing the crotch, which helps to release my medialis muscles and sets up my inner thigh muscles to be free. The torso tilts, the hips sag, and the knees bend. I unlock the Chi passage by releasing my ribcage which keeps my armpits lightly open allowing the free flow of Chi from my inner body into the fingers, and back to the body throughout the entire form. When my diaphragm floats upward it pushes the air out from my lungs while my minds awareness fades as I fall asleep. As the Chi in the body declines, the fingers become de-energized.

After the full exhalation is completed, I gently contract my medialis muscles and my diaphragm pulls downward. That draws the incoming air into my lungs and to my brain. The awareness gradually increases and the Chi is raised. The hips and torso are straightened upward.

The energized fingers and palms move and form the posture. A wonderful sensation rises from the flow of the Chi and blood and the fullness of breath from the oxygen. All the motion of the movements is synchronized with my slow natural breathing. The palms and fists become graceful as they follow the Chi flow. My mind and body are in harmony and I feel very peaceful and stress free. END

This article, The Vastus Medialis and Inner Thigh arose from my concept of the Three Nails from several decades ago. It would be impossible to recognize the role of the medialis muscles without the concept of the Thee Nails. The medialis muscles cannot function without the big toes activation.

Article originally published in T'AI CHI Magazine, Vol. 35, No. 1 Spring 2011     

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