Tai Chi as sitting meditation

Tai chi is often thought of as a moving meditation performed standing and walking, but you can do it sitting, too. By meditation, I mean focusing attention on a specific point and/or activity with single-minded concentration. You’ll be “active” in either case as a result of your brain’s “mental activity”. This is a form of mindfulness practice.

A practitioner can easily sit quietly and “practice” tai chi form by visualizing moving through the postures and transitions. Well, maybe it’s not easy for a beginning practitioner, but it is kind of fun. Plus, it’s good for the brain and probably helps to improve memory, or the activate areas of the brain that affect our ability to remember things during the learning process (cerebral cortex and sub-cortical parts, such as basal ganglia).

As far as the brain is concerned, the results would be much the same as if you were standing and doing the moves. For a long time, studies have continually recorded evidence that the brain registers the mental imagery same as it does the action itself (sample article).

Tai chi and qigong movement are known to improve many physical and mental functions. For example, your bones, joints, ligaments and tendons benefit from their regenerative movement and relaxation. Balance and injurious falls in the elderly have been the most commonly researched topics full of positive findings, although that’s changing fast. Research is spanning out into brain, cardiac, body mechanics, and several other fields of study.

Another common benefit is improved blood circulation which delivers more oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells. Just by breathing deliberately in specific ways, such as abdominal breathing, whole-body breathing or reverse breathing, you can activate energizing results. This is much like mindfulness breathing encountered in Buddhist meditation practice. In the case of tai chi, you’re standing and moving.

Could you produce these effects merely by sitting and visualizing them? Why can’t I produce better circulation if I can imagine it? I’m not a researcher in the formal sense, but I’ve gained insights from direct experience. My body and mental attitude have changed after years of consistent, regular practice of employing conscious use of “mind intention” to move—intending a movement before actually performing it. This is a key to advanced tai chi practice. It’s calms me down, too, in response to hectic living and its resulting stress levels in the body. Anyone and everyone already practices mind intention at some, subconscious level, since it’s a very human ability; but how many of actually deliberately practice it?

Simply visualizing doing tai chi form in your mind’s eye as if you were literally moving through the postures and transitions with your whole body is a practice of mind intention.

The more you do it the more powerful results it can produce. A couple come to mind. Improved memorization of movement and better overall memory function in the brain. Tai chi beginners have to memorize the sequence of postures and transitions of form, mostly from rote practice. But most are not going to stop what they’re doing and practice form, or find a specific time and place to practice during the day.

So, I recommend to learners to “practice” tai chi visualization, wherever they may be (office, driving, cashier line, waiting for movie to start, bored, lying down to sleep). Take a few moments to run through each move of the form in their mind’s eye. So when they do stand up and move through the sequence they’ll guess less, hesitate less, and their movement will be more connected and graceful—not to mention the health benefits they’ll be cultivating.

Another pretty obvious benefit is this kind of mental practice can enhance the brain’s memory functions. Your ability to remember anything is enhanced, which is great for overall mental well-being and overall brain function. I’ve even found it useful to visualize the parts of the brain in order to intend better function, such as memory. Check out the work of Richard Davidson (investigatinghealthyminds.org) and Clifford Saron’s research on the science of contemplation (http://mindbrain.ucdavis.edu/).

Maybe, just maybe, we can improve memory function by tapping into some unknown potential hidden somewhere in our bodies and brains. And maybe the practice of tai chi and mind intention can help to shake loose that potential from its moorings and bring it to where we can harness its power for better well-being overall.

Paul Tim Richard studies, teaches and writes about tai chi. His school’s mission is to make tai chi and qigong accessible and affordable to more people everywhere.

Finding a place to practice tai chi

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I strongly believe that finding the best place to do tai chi for yourself is crucial to learning success. If you search for it you’ll find a place for which you have an affinity. Your body and your personality fits better with that spot in your home or that place in the world. If you are more experienced, then it’s much easier to practice anywhere, wherever you may find yourself. But it remains true that some places hold more of an affinity than others due to your psyche and how a place resonates. Seek those places out and enjoy.

Tai Chi philosophical trekking

You could call what I’m attempting to navigate in this blog a philosophical trek into the fascinating world of tai chi. Through personal insights into my particular experience learning, doing, questioning the art of tai chi and qigong movement. It’s about an exercise in language, as well as an exercise in practice. I exercise with the body and exercise the mind to try and articulate what is going on in both upon the playing field of tai chi and try to figure out where it’s all heading.

What is Your Opponent?

cropped-bigstock-martial-art-21277994.jpgTai chi has always been a “martial art,” but we’re learning that it’s much more. Most practitioners in the US routinely do tai chi as an exercise. Many probably don’t realize that you can apply martial intention in the exercise of tai chi. When practicing tai chi as a martial art you focus on the notion of having an opponent. Even if you don’t actually spar with someone, you visualize you are. You place your attention out into the field around you as though there were an opponent there. And you move with the intention of moving an opponent.

Most don’t fight usually, or even spar, but that idea can still apply in tai chi as exercise.

The question is not who, but what, is your opponent? Chronic pain? Poor balance? Difficulty healing from an injury? Depression? Heart Disease? Fear and anxiety? Fatigue? The list in really long. Make these your opponents and practice tai chi to defeat them all with intention, energy awareness, and physical movement.


Paul Tim Richard, MA, studies and teaches fundamental principles of taijiquan and qigong. He also blogs about the philosophy (sort of) of Chinese internal martial arts, including taijiquan and qigong. He produces instructional videos of master practitioners. He lives in Durango, Colorado and is available for workshops and other taijiquan-related events as videographer and other communication development services.

Iyengar Yoga cannot be defined

This reblog of a post by a yoga practitioners speaks very to issues that apply to tai chi and qigong, at least to the manner in which I approach them. As meditative practices that seek inner awareness and knowledge this approach to yoga and tai chi are related. I hope readers of my tai chi blog agree at least to some degree.

Home Yoga Practice

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BKS Iyengar was often quoted that he did not name his practice “Iyengar Yoga,” but that was a term his followers used to differentiate his style from others. He said at at a Guru Poornima lecture that there are many “write ups” about his teachings and that they are focused on his “physical alignment.” Guruji said that those writers did not have the discernment to tell that physical alignment is only part of the story. They were not able to tell that he was also teaching “prana-shakti” of the muscle movement which leads toward deeper aspects of Yoga. “Can you not do Dhyana (meditation) in poses other than sitting?” he retorically asked.

As a practitioner for a few years in Iyengar’s method, I can appreciate his frustration. Even more nowadays, this style is even described as “less physcial” than others like corporate driven vinyasa. And in silly blurb descriptions, like…

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The mood of tai chi

IMG_0354Tai chi and qigong are moods–somewhat of an ephemeral notion to a novice perhaps, yet real to a long-term practitioner. If you skip practice for a certain amount of time, you begin to miss it. Your body might even crave it and you won’t feel content until you practice. Both tai chi and qigong place you in a feeling of being more fully present in a moment–a mindfulness moment.

Something about that feeds the spirit.

When you do the moves that make up these systems of exercise, you’re tapping into the flow of energy prevalent in the universe. Imagine yourself dipping your toe into a river … the vast energy of life. How long you can go without a feeling of being swept up by the rush of the current, or the wind lifting your spirit?