Taiji is easy to learn for some of us. For others it is difficult and slow going. Everyone must be patient though. This need we all have in common. Won’t learn without patience, without the info, without the teacher. Without one’s self. We all also have perseverance in common. Patience evolves into perseverance. Remember why we took the initiative to give it a try in the first place. Trust ourselves that we made a good choice from which we are already benefitting by virtue of showing up to practice. Beyond that marvelous rewards and discoveries await.
Visualize moving from a specific locus on or in your body. Beginners are probably told to focus on the area just below the navel and inward a little. This is a basic practice. It focuses concentration on a point and helps to quiet the mind. … Which is difficult for many to do at first. Movement and intention activate the body’s healing abilities. The energy is stimulated. You don’t even need to do moves specific to taiji. They are naturally better of course. But taiji improves any kind of movement. Sports, labor, even sitting.
Tai chi is one of those things we encounter in living that is difficult to describe. You know it by doing it. I train learners by creating visualizations to aid them in seeing what taiji is and how to do it with their own particular bodies. Words only point the way. The actual state of being while moving with a taiji mind is barely describable.
Chinese texts are full of metaphors that are difficult to understand. Try reading the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. Whatever translation you have, much of it has little resemblance to anything common to our times. Or the Taijiquan Lun, or the 13 Postures . . . . It is often said of these abstruse descriptions that the authors didn’t want enemies to steal their secrets so they wrote them as lyrically elusive as possible and taught their students the practical meanings in indoor training.
Perhaps, it is also because the ethereal qualities of Taiji and Qigong are understood more by imagination than by language. Visualizations work rather well. Even the most absolute beginner grasps images that the teacher conjures up for their mind’s eyes. The images are more visible for most of us and surprisingly you’re moving mind, energy and body in effortless harmony.
The mental processes taking place in the brain when a person practices tai chi movement are complex, even for the smallest task or movement. Doing taijiquan, you are forging new pathways in the brain that previously were unused or lay dormant for a long time. The subtle elation many feel when that occurs, that release of dopamine, is partly from opening new channels of awareness or consciousness in the brain and the body.
A brain scientist could tell you much more about what is going on in the brain than I can. But I know that the key to the complexity is to do the moves consciously, or to use a popular term of the day, mindfully. But what is that? My answer to that is do tai chi and find out for yourself. Words just get in the way.
This article (link below), another from a long line of reporters writing about tai chi and it’s benefits, reflects the lack of knowledge of many people about tai chi (taijiquan). It certainly can be good for arthritis. I know from my own experience. But I have to say they sort of make tai chi sound like one size fits all. There are all sorts of tai chi styles and methods of practice. Some more internal than others, of course. I have learned the Paul Lam’s watered-down version and even taught it briefly to fill in for a fellow practitioner while on vacation. He’s an MD who has popularized his packaged moves across the country, but anyone who has practice the internal martials arts knows this is just touching the surface at best.
I see tai chi as learning a language, which the practitioner in the article refers to. It is also like learning to play music, too.
When Qi is strong and flowing freely in your body, you are healthy and full of energy. The teachers say that qi is yang energy. What is the corresponding yin energy to qi? Wouldn’t it be another form of qi? I perceive qi as a healing energy as opposed to a martial force. Yin qi creates the intention and affects the potential for yang qi. There is always something guiding qi from a center place of stillness and quietude.
We want to try things out without really committing to them for the long term . . . . before we pay for them with money, time or energy. This dominates our decisionmaking processes. In tai chi, you commit to every move you make with great sincerity. In tai chi, commit to a single move, then the next, fully, completely, with good physical connection, energy flowing, and with spirit. Some people call this spirit, passion. Whatever name, energy flows through and out of you, like sunlight; within you, like an ocean wave; outside of you, like a particle glowing, radiant and alive, with which you connect and experience its motion, even moving objects and others.
In the tai chi quest, the practitioner has passion for the present moment. By being attentive on a single point and simply moving from there, the past and future drop away and the present comes alive. Life regenerates itself by the sheer intent. This kind of commitment is not so rare. When applied to tai chi it takes on a special character.
What I like about tai chi is that it puts you in a position of learning. Learning makes you feel good about yourself. When you feel good, you’re more likely to feel good about other things. It’s like being in love or being loved by someone. It tends to overflow into other things you’re doing.
In my years of practicing and teaching I’ve seen a lack of motivation among many aging baby boomers and post-boomers to do physical activity. One thing that happens is work depletes their energy reserves. They resist exercise, as a result, because a lot of exercise, like the kind you find in gyms, is too strenuous. A lot is repetitious and boring, too. What we need after a tough day on the job, office or field, is to relax, right?
If you’re dealing with a similar issue and feel stuck, you probably haven’t figure out that tai chi can help you replenish. Maybe you have not discovered tai chi at all. Not yet, anyway. From my perspective, after practicing and teaching tai chi for many years, the accepted exercise norms lack the mind-energy-body integration that tai chi offers. The imagination is not stimulated. The excitement of learning is not there. So we don’t “exercise.” We don’t make the effort and if we do, often, we give up trying sooner or later.
This topic was covered recently in a ScienceDaily.com article, “Boomers building muscle at the gym—but where’s the passion” (8/6/2014).
“What stunned me was when we think of boomers — healthy ambulatory individuals who are reasonably robust and who theoretically have more time on their hands — one might imagine they would want to continue having fun and experiencing personal challenge and growth in what they’re doing,” says Prof. James Gavin (Concordia Univ. Dept. of Applied Human Sciences, published study results in the International Journal of Wellbeing). As a contrast, he points to the excitement and spontaneity that young children display in their physical activities.
Gavin says the results of his study propose a challenge for the fitness industry to move away from machine-dominated options toward personally meaningful and socially connected pursuits. He points to activities where passion happens in the sport itself and physical benefits are wonderful secondary outcomes. Team sports and martial arts are clear examples — even though many older adults mistakenly see themselves as “too old” for these activities.
Gavin goes on to talk about finding “passion” and “deep personal meaning in physical activity.” As far as I’m concerned tai chi remedies the problem, which is that too often individuals don’t stick around long enough to learn enough tai chi to get its fullest benefits. If we were just a little more passionate, we might reignite the excitment of youth when learning and physical activity were intertwined harmoniously.
Maybe it’s the charisma of the teacher, maybe the sheer depth and width of the information that we’re exposed to, that stops us. I certainly no longer accept the excuse that we don’t have time. I say make time. Your life is at stake.
Maybe we’re not desperate enough. I was when I began practicing. I was lucky to have a great teacher, who had a great teacher, who introduced me to other great teachers. I share my knowledge with others, because that’s how this kind of knowledge gets disseminated. It’s a word of mouth method. So I say, Learn Tai Chi. It’s easier than you think. I can show you something in less than 10 minutes that you can do with amazing results everyday for the rest of your life. How much trouble can it be to do that?
Tai chi … Spiral versus circles
The (perfect) circle in nature doesn’t exist, I’m told; but the spiral is everywhere. In tai chi if you want to replicate natural movement it makes sense to practice spiraling. Circles are effective, as they are in Chen Style Taijiquan. They are the foundation for spiraling, figure eights and more. Humans discovered or invented the circle. It’s an attempt to give static order to the universe which is in constant and endless flux and more super-organized like a spiral or a figure 8, the infinity symbol shape. Both are more three dimensional in tai chi and more active, with more motion built in. But they are related in the way that moving the hips in figure eights or the dantian in circles transfers energy out towards the extremities in a spiral.
Many times, I’ve seen a lone person across the lake in a Shanghai park, standing beneath huge weeping willows, or eucalyptus trees, at the water’s edge repeating the same movements in a very rhythmic, synchronous manner. In this very tranquil setting in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world, I find solitude in solo practice. It’s the yin to the yang of group practice.
Normally when we move through life, our attention is divided. We seldom give full attention to anything that we happen to be doing in any given moment. We are multi-tasking to the ultimate, rushing around, moving here and there. Our minds are elsewhere, thinking about things beyond what our bodies are doing. This wearies many of us and stress builds. We have difficulty managing emotions, we react to the world in desperation and despair; and over time, our health even wanes.
Take driving an automobile for example. While driving we are doing many things at once. We are steering, operating accelerator and brakes, reading road signs, watching out for other drivers, making sure we stay in our lane, the rearview mirror thing is happening. At the same time, we’re also thinking about what’s for dinner, or what a friend or relative is doing, or what was said earlier, or about work problems … on and on it goes. If this ever wears you down, then welcome to the club.
For respite we turn to diversions, such as movies or television sports, or participate in sports. These help take our minds off our worries. These activities give us a break from the more stressful stuff … until we’re off again multitasking states of being. Often, we end up doing even more stuff to try and relax from the other stuff we are doing that wears us down. It’s a vicious cycle of endless return.
In contrast, the mindful movement practice of tai chi gives us a chance to move with the fullest attention of our whole being to the very act of movement itself. And when we do this, we feel different, refreshed, whole again. Relaxation is letting go, unburdening ourselves of energetic stagnation and energetic weights that are not us.
Tai chi differs from watching a movie of course, since tai chi is movement you do yourself. You are consciously choosing to give your fullest attention to the movement.
For many practitioners tai chi is the ultimate meditative movement, because it involves all levels of our total being. It’s not just physical, which most western-based exercises or therapies are limited by. Tai chi is mental, energetic, even spiritual alignment in the sense of connecting the very same energies in our beings with those that make up the whole universe. You immerse your whole being completely in the moment, and in return it feeds back regenerative power.
If you discover the wonders of tai chi, you probably will consider yourself extremely lucky and your gratitude will be reflected in your practice. How much should you practice? Even the smallest amount of effort can produce big benefits in terms of how you feel.