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.”

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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

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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.