Many intellectualize taiji rather than actually doing taiji. Nothing bad about that except it’s a different knowing than if they had acquired their knowledge by doing taiji. This is a challenge for the mind that wishes to be mindful. Whole body moves as a single unit is one of the first objectives of the practitioner. This is only the beginning step and much more awaits to be discovered. The fun thing is that with consistency different practitioners often arrive at the same understandings through separate paths. And sharing our findings in daily practice is rewarding. With the guidance of a good teacher you move more quickly along your path. But importantly…do taiji with your whole being.
Observe watch listen “ting jing” for where you are not moving everything must move imagine what that means visualize the next move where how how much when to start when to end when to transition into another direction to speed up or slow down to become large or to shrink to dissolve to consolidate to be there to not be there to laugh to be stern forceful and powerful.
They say that age-related conditions such as arthritis have genetic origins. This is only partly true. How you use your body throughout your life is just as, or more, important. Genetics matter less when the body is damaged by improper use. Most people drive their bodies too hard (like an animal of burden), wearing themselves down. As we age and injuries add up, we end up with chronic pain. So many of us waste away into decrepitude because we are at a loss of what to do. Eventually, I believe, we literally die from fatigue, fighting against ourselves.
Often, if we are more observant with our bodies, we will move the body in different ways in order to alleviate the pain. Tai chi is an excellent practice to learn to help alleviate, manage, even keep away pain by learning to move in new ways. Actually, they are not as new as they are forgotten, because as infants we all moved naturally, which is what tai chi offers us…natural movement that produces less stress to the body.
For a taiji practitioner adjusting the body to alleviate and even eradicate some arthritic pain is a matter of alignment. The Chinese taiji masters use the term “zhong ding” to refer to the concept of alignment. More than mechanical or biomechanical, alignment can also be related to qi or intrinsic energy. It is “equilibrium,” which is more three-dimensional rather than linear in concept. It is active movement that is effortless. As my teacher Master George Xu says, you aim for maximum movement with minimum effort in your tai chi practice.
Energy flows and motion occurs where the attention is placed as we observe the results of motion through our bodies and beyond in evermore new ways and places and configurations.
What is you goal for exercise? I reach for the benefits of longevity and quality of life. We experience the world with the body. Out senses are conduits of the experience.
Take a tai chi class and ask the instructor about “Zhong Ding” or central equilibrium. Listen to the answer and how you can incorporate it in your practice.
Mind does it, but what is it the mind is doing? Visualizing. Imagining.
What is the heart doing? Feeling. Guided by the mind, it moves in various shapes and patterns, speeds, directions (liu he),… The mind is doing it and the heart is doing it and the body is following.
In order to stay balanced something has to give way and open up. Oftentimes it’s the hips. To open the hips you must first figure out what is meant by open. The physical explanation is the femur and hip socket mildly separate from each other. If you apply the liu he (more on this later) visualization to it, you will coax the hip joint to open up/down, left/right, front/back and from in to out. The open-close principle of in to out, or expanding outwardly in all directions from a center, to grow from a point to a sphere and back to a point describes the actual activity.
Hip gong or qua gong….imagine the hip is the foot … the hip touches the ground in the way the feet do (which we are accustomed to thinking). The qi travels through the leg bones through the bubbling well and into the earth. It can travel through the space between the legs or even all around outside the body.
Envisioning and practicing the more linear aspect of zhong ding entails recognizing an “opposing force” of up/down, left-right, front-back in the movements. Once you familiarize yourself with that concept you can practice it and refine it over time. Single basic moves is the path towards command of the concept.