Tai Chi might be boring to some, but it is the art of movement to me

I’ve read more than a few times that globally more people do tai chi than any other exercise. More than yoga even. You can go to parks in any reasonably sized city in the world and find groups of people doing tai chi, as well as qigong. Tai chi is the most popular exercise in the world. I don’t know if that’s so true.

When I started showing others how to do what I had learned after five years of active tai chi study I assumed that just saying I taught tai chi would be enough for many people to join. That’s not the case where I live. Tai chi just doesn’t resonate. I’m not sure why only a few people are interested in learning it. I’m guessing, however, that competition from other activities, such as sports and outdoor recreation are bigger. Yoga is huge. Aerobic exercises with new names (Taebo) that combine dance and martial art moves are popular; as are hard martial arts, such as karate and tae kwon do.

I also think that there is a misconception that tai chi as a slow meditative movement is boring. This is in a town where the median age is 35. At least one time in a class a 30-something person blurted out that what we were doing was boring.

I find, however, that many people actually discover that tai chi is not as easy as they thought. They actually give up trying. That tells me something. You see real tai chi, or Taijiquan, which is its true name, is a real martial art and a very sophisticated one in which every cell of your body and mind is engaged in constant challenge to evolve out of an old self into a new more vibrant, capable being. In more ways than you can count it is deeply mindful movement when done properly. Achieving mindfulness is what the practice of Taijiquan is all about. That is only one thing. It’s all about many other things, as well.

I started a meetup.com group recently and gave it the name of Dragonfly Internal Movement Arts. The dragonfly is a symbol of transformation in many cultures and a favorite being of mine, because they have always appealed to a deep sense of beauty and movement in me. Where I was raised there was a phenomenon called “le dance des cigales,” the dance of dragonflies. Hundreds of dragonflies gathered in a tight formation of frenetic flight above my head, flying endlessly in energized unison. It is a wild and beautiful sight. It was as though they were just enjoying the power of flight, having fun.

The last time I witnessed the dance des cigales was as an adolescent. I think it is rarely seen now. But this summer I witnessed a sort of one for the first time in almost 50 years! Hundreds of dragonflies in a half-acre field flying back and forth feeding voraciously on insects. So I named my new meetup in honor of this wonderful symbol of new hope for doing what I love with like-minded others who also seek some sort of transformation in themselves and the world around them.

Its been a couple of months now. Eleven people have joined to date but only one has attended any meetups. I’ve announced 14 so far. I initially said little about it being related to tai chi. But I’m afraid that the cat is out of the bag. No one seems to want to do tai chi because I fear they assume it’s slow, boring stuff.

They don’t realize that I’m not teaching the tai chi that they think I’m doing. I am actually teaching the art of movement itself. The essence of movement that I have distilled from Chinese internal martial arts; which have thrived for centuries, not just because they were martial arts, but because they are comprised of something mysterious that awakens our human attraction to movement itself—the art of movement itself. It actually is not boring and can be quite a workout as well. You sweat on warm days, your muscles get toned, your heart rate can even increase substantially. The way I do it anyway.

This is what I want to delve into with the Dragonfly meet up group; to immerse in the mystery of moving with new awareness with mindful intention. It’s a powerful path to transforming the self, believe it or not. It’s so much more powerful with others in a group. A group of people can generate a lot of energy working together.

You can do the slow meditative exercise or you can do a “workout” tai chi. It mostly depends on your age and physical ability. I usually set the tone of a practice session depending on who attends. If there is a mix of ages and abilities, I have a plan to make sure everyone gets something to practice and go home happy.

The magic of what we’re doing at Dragonfly applies to any kind of movement you may do: dance, swimming, skiing, running, hiking, walking, skating, even sitting in meditation. That’s what I like about it. I wonder if this appeals to anyone else.

Paul Tim Richard

An Exercise for a Taiji Stroll

Sometimes I feel like I’ve stared at the computer for too long and I need to take a break, maybe go for a walk. Often, when I do, it’s difficult to shift. It’s like I’m still looking at the computer while I’m walking. The eye muscles are stagnated in the position of staring at the computer. This stiffness in the eyes affects the whole body while trying to walk and loosen up. It’s like I’m fighting against myself. When I become aware that this is happening, the question of what to do about it comes up.

My first inclination is to move. Do some sort of exercise. Simply walking is good. Tai chi is good, of course, because you’re exercising your whole body, not just a single part. Tai chi walking is even better.

Here is something you might want to really think about as a practice goal when you’re doing tai chi: “the whole body moves as a single unit.” Part of moving as a “unit” is to coordinate movement with mind focusing on a particular point in the body as part of an initial stimulus to move the rest of the body.

For example, you might be able to move the eyes in circles while circling the body on a horizontal plane. As you move, the eyes are connected with the dantian (center point of body essentially) while turning in that circle pattern and focusing on as much detail in your view as you can. Let the eyes lead the rest of the body.

It may be difficult at first to smoothly coordinate the eye movement with the rest of the body. But with practice the physical—timing and pace—improve.

Along with that, if you have a mind to focus on it, will be an awareness of the energy connecting all those parts together. Even though they’re separate parts, something is connecting them as a single unit and that’s the energy we call “qi.”

Contemplating tai chi and qigong? A few perspectives for potential beginners

Why do Taijiquan and Qigong?

Beyond immediate physical benefits of practice, you can find all sorts of reasons for doing tai chi and qigong, probably one for every person who practices. If you consistently do either tai chi and qigong, or both, you’ll find out, if you haven’t already, that they can enhance other things in life that you enjoy doing, such as skiing, hiking, walking, bicycling, hauling the kids to soccer practice, gardening, riding horses, swimming, meditating … . Why? You learn how to use your body and energy in ways that enhance most everything else you do in life.

I’ve practice regularly over time for health and well-being; to simply feel better and, hopefully, live a longer, more-fulfilling life. I also learn martial applications, which is a whole other level of immersion. Compared to other exercise regimes, tai chi and qigong can be moderate, but you can also get more of a workout than you might expect.

In fact, any of the Chinese internal martial arts can be quite invigorating, whether you do them moderately or intensively. For example, you can incorporate power stretching, fitting it into some part of a training day once you are warmed up. Power stretching from the Lan Shou Quan system produces a lot of deep muscle toning. You can focus on bones, joints, ligaments and tendons, as well as sharpen awareness of your energetic elements.

Since tai chi and qigong are mind-body exercises, you cultivate your natural perceptual abilities to either reteach your body to do things the regime asks of you, or what you want to change. Or you can discover things you didn’t know you could do.

They are healing therapies, too. The moves are performed mindfully—which can be very different from pedaling an exercise bike at the gym, or jogging while listening to your iPod, or maybe reading a magazine, or watching news on television while you “workout.” However, if you like doing these things, tai chi could help get more out of them… whatever it is you’re seeking to achieve. Endurance, improved blood circulation, muscle toning, digestion, better posture and balance, injury healing, reduction in chronic symptoms of aging. The list is long.

Eventually, you cultivate mindful, meditative, thoughtful attention to subtle energies in your total being and get the fullest benefits of tai chi and qigong. I guess the only way to know what this means is to learn a little and practice. Take a class or a private lesson. Even though beginners feel a difference the very first time they do tai chi with a good teacher, it takes time to grasp some of the concepts and principles underlying the moves and postures. I developed the Fundamentals of Taijiquan course to systematically build and show others what I’ve learned from my experience with my teachers. It’s not a fast track, but it’s organized so that one session’s learning builds on previous lessons and opens you up for future training.

Doing taijiquan and qigong is a process of discovery. Discovery is at the core of the moves and postures . . . self-discovery of one’s mind, body, and spirit. Tai chi and qigong are growing in popularity and you can find opportunities to learn almost anywhere. Many students challenge themselves by taking weekend workshops. You could call it a “workout workshop.” You learn endurance, patience, and more about yourself: your body and your ability to focus mentally and physically. If you’re interested in learning more, you can find a number of resources on the Web. In my experience it’s best to find a good teacher and learn through live, face-to-face action. Once you gain some familiarity and comfort, you can get more out of such tools as videos and books. You could be wasting money otherwise. In-person training has more value in the beginning.

It’s all about becoming familiar with some aspects of either in order to become comfortable with the exercises. Once familiar and comfortable, you can refine and improve. Each time you stand in position to begin a practice session is, even if only for a minute or two, a fresh opportunity to learn something new and build on what you have already experienced. This is one of the most exciting things about tai chi and qigong.

There probably is a unique reason for doing tai chi and qigong for every one practicing now. Find out what yours is by giving it a try.

Paul Tim Richard studies, teaches and writes about Chinese internal martial arts, such as taijiquan, and produces instructional videos of master practitioners. He lives in Durango, Colorado.

It’s Tai Chi Time…If I Could Find the Time


Many people would like to do tai chi but they can’t fit it into their busy, demanding lives. Tai chi is the easy part, actually. Time, energy, desire, and volition are more difficult to come by. Ironically, doing tai chi itself is a gateway to getting all that other stuff. Funny, huh?

I do tai chi and qigong everyday, if only for a few minutes. It wasn’t always easy to “find time,” so to speak; which sounds like time is something you find laying around waiting to pick up along the way.

I eventually did “find the time” and it wasn’t as difficult as I thought. I realized that time wasn’t the problem. Volition was. So was lack of creative juggling of not only time, but energy. Effort. Desire. Volition.

The hardest thing to break was the routine. All I really had to do was break the habit of doing what I was used to doing. Easier than I thought.

Taiji is all about control . . . . of body, of mind, of energy, of effort, of timing and pacing. These things apply on a grander scale, the “lifescale.” How to use time efficiently, for example, or energy, in order to achieve what you aim for every day.

So what drives you in whatever direction you seem to be going? If it’s not you, then what?

Paul Tim Richard studies and writes about Chinese internal martial arts and produces instructional videos of acknowledged master practitioners. He also teaches fundamental principles of taijiquan and qigong as learned from members of his lineage and others. He lives in Durango, Colorado and travels often for study and teaching. Learn more at fourcornerstaichi.net.

A simple (sort of) stretch to break ergonomic fatigue

push up sky

Push Up Sky from Eight Pieces of Brocade Qigong

I take walks and do tai chi and qigong to ease the ergonomic strain of sitting at a computer for long periods. One move I do is push up sky, the first posture of Eight Pieces of Brocade Qigong. To do it, the arms are stretched directly above the head, palms facing skyward, and fingers of both hands pointing towards each other. I also vary the posture with movement, spiraling the hands so fingers face out away from each other, then turning them back in towards each other.

This move may initially seem to be turning at the wrist, but I actually aim to move the legs, hips, waist, sacrum and spine by virtue of connectivity of the bones, joints, ligaments and tendons in order to ultimately spiral the wrist, hands and fingers. If you moved this way, you’d be doing what commonly is referred to in internal martial arts as “whole body moves as a single unit.”

Just about anyone who has practiced internal martial arts long enough is familiar with this way of moving and they are constantly working to improve it with more ease, precision and power. Many beginners, however, have difficulty concentrating on moving in such an unaccustomed manner. They may also not be aware that physical movement is only the beginning of what can be learned.

The wonder of tai chi is that it allows you to be aware of your energetic matrix. For example, when you do a simple posture, such as push up sky, it’s possible to see an energetic line from sacrum (or feet) to finger tips linking the physical dimension with a more-ethereal energetic connection. Initiating a movement at the focal point ignites a subtle burst or flashpoint of energy that flows unbroken along that line from initiation to completion. The fingers listen for what’s coming, but they don’t move before the energy reaches them.

Moreover, energy moves, yet is still at the same time, as though it creates its own conduit through which to flow. You could do this from any focal point. Focusing the attention is the key practice.

There are a number of reasons to play with movement this way. One is to cultivate more precise control of the body. Another is to improve ability to concentrate singlemindedly on a simple task. Perhaps above all, it just feels good. These are outcomes as well as reasons, I suppose. Other more-basic outcomes you can expect of course include better posture, circulation, balance and so on.

It’s also a good practice for grasping what tai chi offers that is rarely seen otherwise, which is to become more aware. Whatever your level, practice offers a grand opportunity to see and surpass limitations to new, more-effective habits of posture and movement. The possibilities for health and mindfulness are enormous.


Paul Tim Richard studies and writes about Chinese internal martial arts. He teaches fundamentals of tai chi and qigong, and also produces instructional videos.

ARTICLE: Tai chi could lower risk of dementia

This is an older article but the content is still current. “Adding a little tai chi to your life could help lower your risk for developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.”

Read the whole article at: http://www.prevention.com/health/brain-health/health-benefits-tai-chi

The article provides links to DVDs and websites, but I recommend going straight to the highest (and deepest) level of teaching from the start. Take a look at http://susanamatthews.com for streaming videos and opportunities to learn that incorporate taiji qigong and movement theory. Or http://mastersfromchina.com

Just what I thought, everything is energy

One of the things you’re going to hear and hopefully see for yourself by practicing taiji and qigong is that consistent efforts bridge the body’s physical structure with our energetic essence. I found a very interesting and well-written article about that from the perspective of quantum physics. Science confirms much of what the old Chinese practitioners discovered and acknowledged millennia ago (yogis and Tibetans, too, of course).

Nothing is solid, everything is energy

The body has a mind of its own…the heart

I recently shared a view of how the body has an awareness separate from the brain (The body’s way of knowing) and just now discovered this video that helps to confirm my attempt at voicing the insight. I just barely scraped the surface with that post. So much is explored and understood by so many across the world trying to articulate what appears to be emerging in collective consciousness. Enjoy the video.

Entering tai chi practice is like going into an edifice

Entering practice is like going into an edifice … one of learning. This edifice is active, ever changing, built out of the stuff of life itself. Fresh with every passing moment. To receive understanding, the learner must shift with the constant and endless fluctuations of the edifice’s structure. In this way, you and your practice are like the edifice…energetic, ever-shifting, agile, changeable, free, alive, infinite.

Tai chi and qigong can help break “bad” habits

Note to self.

Note to self. Do tai chi and qigong.

Breaking old, or so-called “bad,” habits is not easy. Though we commonly think of habits as bad, we develop them in the first place because they comfort us. Habits, routines and repetitive behaviors actually have useful purposes. And while they often do turn on us (like smoking, for example), acknowledging the positive aspects of habits might actually help in leaving old habits behind. Unloading the negative attachment is the key. So how do you do it?

More and more people are finding that tai chi and qigong movement offer beneficial ways to help shift from one habit to one that we welcome. Practice evolves positive change to grow something new and fresh, which is invigorating and life-affirming. Repetitive, rhythmic movement powerfully influences our ability to loosen the hold of undesirable habits and open us up to the positive power of routine. It works for me and I know it can work for others.

(While writing this post, I searched for similar writings and discovered this one in the Huffington Post:

“Want to have a perfect posture? Rearrange your habits.”)

I welcome comments on how tai chi and qigong have helped others curb unwanted habits.