Last night, my practice consisted of a few Silk-Reeling exercises. I selected four or five that I don't practice as often as I should (including shoulder reeling, ankle and leg reeling and a couple more) and I worked them over and over, trying to feel the connection from the ground through the body. Relax, sink, feel it from the ground, spiraling through, connected and strong.
If you get one Silk-Reeling exercise right, you are doing good Taiji, and good Bagua. The exercises I do were made popular by Chen Xiaowang during the past 20 years or so. The exercises are among the first lessons that my students practice, laying the foundation for all of the body mechanics that are crucial for the internal arts -- Taiji, Bagua, and Xingyi.
Silk-Reeling "Energy" is not really a real type of "energy" in our body. The word "Energy" is often misinterpreted when translated from kung-fu texts. It should be thought of as a "method," a way of moving the body as you deal with an opponent's force.
Silk-Reeling Exercises help you work the spiraling movement through the body that enables you to transmit relaxed power, which travels from the ground through the legs, directed by the Dan T'ien (which also rotates), helped along by opening and closing the Kua, whole-body movement, maintaining peng jin and the ground path as you spiral through the body.
Silk-Reeling Energy is a physical skill, not mystical or metaphysical. You use intent, you use your mind, but you do that in every physical endeavor as you practice to do something by instinct. Even in baseball, you must take batting practice many thousands of times before you can hit a fastball without thinking about it. The same is true for any skill in the internal arts.
In the end, every movement in Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua is a silk-reeling exercise. But if you don't have a lot of room to practice, or just want to put some solid basic exercises into your internal arts workout, I highly recommend just working on the Silk-Reeling Exercises.
They all have self-defense applications, too. And it's a great leg workout. The photos on this post are from my Kindle ebook, showing the small circle reeling exercise.
If Silk-Reeling Exercises are not part of your internal practice, I would urge you to check out my instructional DVD and Kindle ebook to learn the movements and how the body mechanics apply to them. From there, you take that knowledge to your internal forms and self-defense applications, and I guarantee you will see a difference. And you have something challenging to practice when you find a situation where you do not have a lot of room.