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

Tim_singlewhip_waterfall2w

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.

10 Common Reasons Not To Do Tai Chi

Thinking about doing tai chi?

Tai Chi. The right exercise for the right reasons.

My excitement for practicing tai chi (taijiquan) often isn’t enough to inspire others to take classes or practice it long enough to get the most from it. There are many reasons why, but here are 10 common assumptions and misconceptions about tai chi and a few remarks about each.

  1. You don’t have time.
    My answer: This is so common it’s a cliché. I don’t have time to mow the lawn, but I do it anyway, because it has to be done. No different with tai chi, especially once you accept what this whole-body exercise offers.
  2. You really don’t know what tai chi is so you are reticent to try it, or the “I don’t get it!” syndrome.
    My answer: You can’t really know what anything is without experiencing it first hand. Get the real story yourself if only to make sure you’re not turning down something you really want. When you do “get” it you’ll be elated. I always say get familiar with it first, then comfortable, then refine from there. Every time you begin form, for example, is a new beginning and there is something refreshing about that.
  3. You may injury yourself doing tai chi.
    My answer: Don’t strain or try so hard that you do hurt yourself. You can hurt yourself stepping up stairs if you’re in bad enough shape. Key tai chi concept: know your limits. You are responsible for yourself. My karate instructor warned me I would hurt myself if I started tai chi. I said this after he injured me in a faux attack during our practice. It took years of tai chi to heal from the injury.
  4. Lack of motivation.
    My answer: Do anything, even briefly. Like brushing your teeth and eating. You don’t have to feel as though you have to attain great heights. It’s good to be excited and happy about discoveries and new sensations of well-being that you get in practicing tai chi, but don’t set yourself up for a motivational backslide. New discoveries and elation should be taken as just the push you need to continue on, as an incentive to practice . . . . at home or anywhere.
  1. Mind gets confused trying to focus attention on details.
    My answer: This is one of the deepest areas of challenge and resistance. Simply put, tai chi is a mental exercise as much or more than a physical one. It gives you a chance to utilize your powers of observation, to focus your attention in fresh ways that allow you to free your mind from habitual thoughts and brain chatter. Gaining control over your wayward mind is a major reason to do tai chi in the first place. Allow the body’s senses to register what they are experiencing without the mind’s influence, without interpreting automatically. Suspend judgment. Suspend disbelief. Let yourself feel.
  2. You don’t know if you’re doing it correctly, so you don’t try.
    My answer: Go to class and work on what feels good and what is comfortable. Don’t worry about “correct.” Develop a home practice. Tai chi is not a performance sport, it’s a process of discovery about your self.
  1. Muscle pain after over-straining in practice.
    My answer: This is rare, so, simply, don’t strain or stress. Don’t put off practice, though. Help muscles heal while letting them relax and actually strengthen. Once, I was so sore in the inner thigh muscles that I used it as an excuse to avoid horse stances. Then I got out of shape again. What many don’t know is tai chi is actually a practice of “no muscle” in which you focus on movement of bones, ligaments, tendons and joints (at least early on), and ultimately achieving pure energy flowing in order to move.
  1. I’ll do tai chi when I retire.
    My answer: Yeah, sure you will… If you don’t do it now, you may never. I can have you doing the simplest things that take only a few minutes a day and you’ll be practicing core concepts. It doesn’t take loads of time, only a little effort and commitment: not to “tai chi” but to yourself. We’re all capable of going an extra mile when necessary and we’re glad when we do.
  2. It’s a religion or a cult.
    My answer: No it’s not. It’s an exercise that happens to have its origins in China. If anything, it’s a fighting style that doubles as a fitness routine that truly benefits the whole being: body, mind, energy. Besides, what do you have to fear if you are a strong devotee to your chosen belief system anyway?
  3. It costs too much.
    My answer: So do doctors and hospitals, but you do what they tell you anyway. It can cost if you train as avidly as many practitioners do, but we save money on doctor bills which we avoid because we do tai chi. Thankfully, tai chi is often free and very affordable in many towns. Plus, you benefit greatly from building a preventative healthcare program into your life. Can’t beat that, when you consider you could avoid medical bills in the long run. I really believe this and many people do.
  4. The teacher is not advanced enough.
    My answer: Learning incorrectly often leads to fewer benefits due to lack of teacher training and knowledge. You might say, “It’s the teacher, not the information” that hinders you. One reason why is tai chi is still relatively new in the USA and other countries. However, the skill and knowledge levels are growing steadily. Plus, you can still learn something as long as it’s really tai chi (or qigong for that matter). Tip: Seek a teacher who regularly trains with acknowledged masters. I happen to have trained mostly with Chinese teachers, such as Master Xu Guo Ming (George), and many others in China; but my first teacher, Susan A. Matthews, with whom I still train, is a master in her own right and known for highly specialized skills as a teacher and caregiver. If you can’t find an instructor with proper training then maybe you should train to become one yourself.
  5. It takes too long to learn.
    My answer: It takes years of regular, consistent practice to become a highly evolved tai chi practitioner; about as long as it takes us to learn to walk, to talk, to read and to write. Nothing wrong with that if you consider the benefits. Anyway, as I said before, I can teach you something in three minutes that you can do for three minutes everyday and get some really cool benefits. Like more oxygen into the lungs, increased blood circulation and metabolism, improved posture and balance, even a healthier appetite (for more nutritious food). The list goes on…Of course, you probably won’t want to stop there. I know I didn’t and that was about 17 years ago.

 

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.

Taiji memory accumulates in the body

bicycle-graphicThe effects of taiji practice are cumulative. You might say it’s like riding a bike. The body never forgets. But taiji is much more. The more you practice, the better it gets. Your whole being carries the effects onward even if you don’t practice for a long time. It’s like taking a pill that works on you while you just keep doing whatever you do. Of course, you do have to practice enough initially in order to store enough memory for the cumulative effects to take. But by the time you do, you won’t want to stop practicing. Nice trick, eh?