Peng Jin (掤) is another of the most important concepts in Taiji, but it is notoriously difficult to explain. Many others have done a better job than I could. If you’d like my brief version, though, I’d say it is akin to being an inflated balloon. There is no slack in the body, but neither is it tense or overly stretched. No resistance is offered, but a full structure is in place to take in and support whatever comes in the most efficient way possible. You might think of trying to “defeat” a balloon by pushing it. The whole balloon moves right out of the way! Punching it won’t do you much good either.
Anyway, if that doesn’t make much sense or sounds like too much theory, you may be comforted to know that I rarely use such thoughts when I’m practicing. They only appear when I try to explain the feeling of Peng with words. As much as possible, I’d like you to be able to feel these concepts without the use of words, so here’s how to start feeling this balloon in your own body.
Peng is felt internally, but it is most notable when an outside force interacts with it, so to begin with I’d suggest asking a friend to give you a hand. To start, stand in the most stable but relaxed way that you can. If those sounds like opposite ideas, just find some middle ground, the rest of your stance will become more apparent during the exercise. Extend both of your arms a bit forward as though reaching out to wrap someone in a hug or like being handed a large bowl of water. Now have your friend gently push on one or both of your arms, seeking to collapse your hug. This is where the feeling begins.
There are three possible reactions to your friend’s push: first, you may collapse, allowing your arms to move in and eventually being knocked over by the incoming force; second you may resist, pitting the strength of your body (particularly the arms) against your friend’s strength; the third option is to manifest Peng. Do not push the force away, but rather feel a little expansion all the way out to your fingertips that is unaffected by the push. As the force comes in, link your joints up in such a way as to transfer that force not just to your elbow, arm, or shoulder, but all the way to your backbone (or maybe even to your legs, but that’s many more joints to go through). This way when your friend pushes your arm, they are actually pushing your backbone as well. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, relax your arms as much as possible while doing this.
If that sounds like a challenge, you’re probably right. Feeling a collapse or a resistance is much easier, but eventually you’ll start to find some middle ground and your arms will be connected to your body. Once that happens, maybe you can try feeling that same expansive and connected quality in other parts of your body. This is Peng in its most basic form. There’s a lot more to feel, but if you can get to this point, you’re on the right path.