Mindful techniques for performing basic tai chi exercises

A major goal for doing tai chi is relaxation: fang song. So, practice is a two-fold process of becoming aware of tension and releasing it. A single basic movement is a path to awareness and release. One technique to discern tight spots in the body is to focus on the movement of one part of the body at a time. Get a feeling for that. Shoulder rolls (kao) are good for working one leg and hip assembly at a time. I do this Wu style practice with beginners.

To make it less difficult to do at first, break down the move into its components. It takes more concentration than you might think. You can continually break it down like you would peel an artichoke or remove the layers of an onion. There is just so much more to know. Do the move and seek rhythmicity, flow, and precision in the alignment of the bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons. Seek alignment in gravity and how you’re centered in gravity, weighted while remaining agile. Agile means that your root is there but it’s not defined by how stuck you feel to the ground. Root is defined by how energetically you’re connected and how your body goes with the flow in weightedness as opposed to holding on to any particular tension anywhere.

Pace yourself. Timing is really important. When exactly do you roll the shoulder over, then pull the shoulder back, roll the shoulder, pull the shoulder, roll the shoulder. Is it the shoulder that you should focus on or the hips? At what point in the circle do you shift or transition over? Where in the circle do you initiate the move, complete it?

Every move has a physical and an energetic element. So, you can achieve both a physical and energetic relaxation. The energetic element gives the physical motion a quality that it won’t have unless it is intended. Some refer to being mindful. The move has to be conscious and deliberate in order to realize what is meant by “energy.” Also, energy is one thing and mental intention is another. Too many presume what they’re thinking is actually what’s happening, but too often thought is burdened by assumption; which is not an accurate reflection of reality. So, we don’t see the results of our intentions in the physical, material world. We are bewildered and confused as to why we don’t see happening what we want to see. We’re holding everything that happens in our heads. In tai chi we become aware that something is happening outside of our heads and we practice that.

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