A tai chi tip: Doing tai chi anywhere, anytime

Tai chi doesn’t have to be something you schedule to do. With a little knowledge you can practice a simple technique anywhere, anytime. Here’s one idea.

Standing in Wuji . . . . or Being Like a Mountain

One way to begin tai chi is simply by standing. For example, Wuji is the first posture in a tai chi form. You return to Wuji when you finish form. It basically means to stand quietly but alive and agile. It’s sometimes called “standing like a mountain”; silent, expansive and powerful. “Empty” is another term used to describe the state of being in Wuji. Quiet, without thought, without tension, even without mind.

The Classics say that Taiji was born out of Wuji and from Taiji came Yin-Yang, or the separation and movement of things in the world. So when you stand in Wuji then move, you are expressing a universal principle of Taiji, the supreme ultimate expression of movement.

Here is a little pointer on beginning form by standing in Wuji. Stand facing forward, arms at sides, feet parallel and shoulder width, a straight line from ear lobes to ankles, chin downward, not up. Abdomen loose, shoulders relaxed and “sitting on the hips.”

Breath should be natural, even and full, but not strained. Place your attention on your feet. Feel the surface of whatever you are standing on with the soles of your feet. Feel the muscles. Feel the weight. Feel warmth or coolness. Shift your weight slightly to one side then the other. Feel how your body as a whole responds and adjusts to the shifting.

Visualize something like water or a breeze flowing into the ground through the point behind the ball of the foot. See how far you can project the flow into the earth. Now, visualize the flow rising from the earth through that point all the way to the top of your head and back down. Feel how the rising force causes your body to rise with it.

That’s it, that’s all you have to do. Just standing in Wuji and visualizing a flow is good practice any time you like.

Tai chi is like sweeping a dusty floor

Doing tai chi is like sweeping a dusty floor. You don’t want to miss any spots.

A note on “change” in tai chi


In taiji (tai chi) practice, I’ve heard people say: “change the mind, change the body” which has a catchy sound. Sometimes, I’ve heard the opposite: “change the body, change the mind.” I don’t think it’s one or the other, rather both have relevance at different times. Sometimes it’s one and sometimes it’s the other. Knowing when may help in your taiji practice.

You can approach taiji practice by changing your mind first or by changing your body first. What does change mean? In taiji movement it means changing from one state of being to another. From stillness to movement, movement to stillness, or being quite when moving and being active when still (think about that for a while). It can be changing from one direction to another, from a posture to a transition to stepping forward or backward. Or it can be changing from one stance to another. Many types of changes are available to the practitioner. Movement and change make up the core of taiji.

The beginner usually, by force of habit, emphasizes physical aspects of movement. Specifically, we move by flexing muscle. Mental focus is always a key part, of course, but mostly not the main intent. The mind is only a tool for directing muscle movement. It may not be so obvious at first, but with practice and patience mind intention becomes the main focus of your taiji activity.

Most of the time when I shift my mind’s eye to move in a manner specific to taiji—a sequence or a pattern—the body responds easily. This relates to the progression of mind-energy-body, or “yi-qi-sing li,” as I’ve heard my teacher, George Xu, say. In yi-qi-li progression, mind creates intention, energy flows, and the body follows. In more practical terms, you focus your attention on a locus in the body and the qi flows there on its own, then the body moves effortlessly with intention thus set.

This may not be the case in a beginner’s taiji practice. We may have tension in our bodies that we’re not aware we have. We unconsciously clench and hold back, which hinders free-flowing movement. Taiji practice is partly a process of discovering these tight spots and changing that state of being. Move deliberately, without deliberation; with continuity, not hesitation; with smooth, rounded movement, not sharp, sudden changes. Achieving these is the activity of learning taiji.

We often are not sure of ourselves at first, so taiji is a practice in learning to feel familiar and comfortable with the movements. At first, it’s often rote memorization. Your muscles, bones, joints, ligaments and tendons are introduced to new movements. Later, maybe not very long, you discover that your body remembers differently from how your brain remembers. I wouldn’t call it “muscle memory” exactly. You might even relate it to the saying that “you never forget how to ride a bike.” In the case with taiji, your body is the bike and it retains the memory of taiji movement. It’s cumulative over time.

At more-seasoned levels, I would say that it’s a change in feelings and awareness. Obvious, right? Maybe. Maybe not. At first, the effort to merely memorize moves and sequences makes eloquent movement elusive. Free flowing, graceful movement imbued with intention is the supreme ultimate expression of movement. Only through regular, consistent practice will you achieve it. More for some, less for others, but required of all.

When I feel good physically, I usually also feel good mentally. When I feel bad mentally, my physical body is fatigued—weary, shut down. Opening the chest, for example, takes immense effort because my emotions are squeezing the ribs and fascia shut. When this happens I really have to try hard to open the body up, but when I do my mind opens with it.

Changing the mind is very much an exercise in sharpening your awareness. We all developed habits of movement through life. Those habits become invisible to us. We have “internalized” that habit. Ironically, in taiji we seek to internalize new movement, which produces great benefits. New movement has healing power. It generates healing energy, or qi, that flows though the body and even beyond it like a cleansing force, like running water through a cup or vessel to wash out the dirt.

Next time you practice taiji you might like to try these concepts: change the body, change the mind, or change the mind, change the body.

Editorial Specialist, Paul Tim Richard, MA, studies, teaches and blogs about fundamental principles of taijiquan and qigong as he understands them. He also produces and edits instructional videos of master practitioners.

Tai Chi concept of zhong ding demonstrated by Wang Hao Da

This video clip of Wu Style Grandmaster Wang Hao Da demonstrating his form shows his unique style. I’ve seen only one or two others who move like him and no one pinged opponents like he did. He was a student/disciple of the Ma Yueh Liang.

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

Zhong Ding: A Fundamental Part of Tai Chi Practice

I recently saw a post on linkedin.com by Violet Li who writes about tai chi subjects at examiner.com. She often refers to Chen family masters but this time she interviewed a Wu Style practitioner and presents useful information about the lineage  of Wu Jianquan (Chien  Chuan) which is the Wu style I have studied. Good information, but although she titles the article “Zhong Ding at Every Second,” it only begins to touch on the subject of zhong ding.

Zhong ding translates as central equilibrium. It is a key concept of tai chi and internal martial arts that I believe you rarely hear about. If you want to learn tai chi, you should know about zhong ding. It’s just about the first thing I teach beginning tai chi learners. I particularly like introducing the concept of zhong ding into practice for the goal of improving posture and stability, but also to apply movement with more powerful results. I emphasize health and well being, but martial application is well-within that range for me.

Increasingly, scientific researchers report that tai chi and qigong help reduce symptoms of many common ailments. In one National Institutes of Health-funded report, researchers found that more patients spent money on treating lower back pain than some 14 other conditions examined in the study. I began doing tai chi 16 years ago due to back and neck injuries. Even though research reports often say that studies so far have been small and inconclusive, my case surely is conclusive. I’ll do tai chi and qigong as long as I can move.

Another study in Australia reports that tai chi is good for improving posture and alignment. It states that, “Practicing Tai Chi may therefore reduce the practitioner’s back pain through application.” This speaks directly to the concept of zhong ding in tai chi practice.

Zhong ding work, or “gong,” (along with its complement, “dantian” work) is necessary to truly understand and enhance your practice of tai chi and qigong. Whether you practice for martial arts or longevity exercises, both are essential to make practice most effective. I suppose I could talk about it, explain it, define it and try to make sense of it in a post, but it is always better to just do it and learn through doing.

Zhong ding is especially important for me as a method to emphasize the internal focus of martial arts more than actual fighting technique. I employ zhong ding, as well as dantian, to evolve greater ability and clarity in my practice. Both have application in everyday life itself. The ability to move itself is magical and how we move has potential to change us. Many people are suffering needlessly, in my view, when all they have to do is learn to move differently, with intention and clarity.

Writer and Editor, Paul Tim Richard, MA, writes about Chinese internal martial arts and produces instructional videos of master practitioners. He also studies and teaches fundamental principles of taijiquan and qigong at Durango Tai Chi Instruction.


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.