I live in a narrow valley isolated from neighbors and traffic. Its steep slopes on either side block my view of sunrises and sunsets, but also protect me from unsolicited intrusions. Drought has become common for several years. This land would flourish if it received twice the rain it has had over recent years. But El Nino apparently has brought more precipitation for some months now. Not too much and somewhat regularly. This spring’s rainfall shows it would take little to green the place up with more verdant growth. The rain dances must have worked. I know I’ve been calling the rain in my own way. Tai chi. It’s like a dance. Your partner is nature. Your senses are your instruments. They touch feel hear taste smell and see the wind and light. Shadows and the sun’s glare. The far and the close. Big and small. Hard and soft. Very powerful stuff. I hardly know what to do with all the extra energy. It often arrives in bursts, making it even trickier to steer. My response lately has been to keep moving. Go to the moves for guidance along with an intention of sharpening the senses to discern new insights in practice.
Tai chi is many things and one way to answer the question of what tai chi is to see it as a quest to understand two things. One—that Qi (life force, energy of life) moves. It moves all by itself. “Qi flows through,” the master says. It flows through everything, everywhere. It is life force. If it is not flowing, it’s because something is stopping it. Often it’s an injury, but more often, it’s simple tension in our bodies. Often, we don’t recognize that it’s not flowing; that it’s stuck. It could be from an injury, an acute condition. Or it could be a chronic condition that refuses to go away on its own. If you understand this, you have greater capability to change it for the better. Tai Chi practice is an effort to recognize this. Once you recognize tension you can do something about it.
Two—Qi, once it is freed up and moving, can be directed. You can visualize or intend it to go where you want; for example, to a part of your body that needs healing. As a beginner, this may be better understood by releasing tension in such a way that it flows freely. It will flow on its own without your help. With this you may direct it to wherever you want. So practice is an effort to recognize tension and using your mind intention to release it.
“What is qi?” you may ask. It’s a feeling that changes. That change is yin-yang. It’s separation and movement. What makes the wind blow are changes in air temperature. Hot and cold air masses collide either slowly or quickly and air is compelled to move. Hot rises, cold descends, like the yin-yang symbol (taiji tu). Cold air rushes in and hot makes way. You can do something similarly with your powers of intention and visualization. Put it into practice.
In tai chi practice, we look to the external to show signs of what the internal is doing. The external is an outward expression of the internal. Don’t let that distract you and think that the external is all there is. It is only a tell-tale sign of the source of its movement. If the root of the movement is shallow, then the external expression will be weak and without depth. It will be awkward and hesitant. If the root is deep, then the outward expression will have breadth and depth, grace and eloquence. It will be powerful because of these things, as well, and the whole body—the sum of its parts—will be active and energized
Coordinating inhale and exhale with various arm movements: up-down, front-back, left-right can be a meditation. Maybe you can do it in a qigong or taiji class, but can you be aware of breath and motion while doing everyday things?
Tai chi is simply a way of paying attention to how you move while moving. Developing a daily practice is central to learning, but we usually struggle to remember every time we start to move not to jump ahead and forget the body.
Gardening in SW Colorado is a big activity now, because it’s springtime. How do you maintain awareness of breath while hoeing, shoveling, weeding, raking and watering? What is the priority?
I gardened and practiced taiji much of the morning yesterday. The weather has been nice for three days now—a big shift from April’s unsettled waves of clouds, some rain and snow and few periods of full sun. While working around the garden, I concentrated on paying attention to moving from the center of my body. I moved up-down, forward-backward, and left-right—initiating each move from that center point. Try it. See how long you can go without forgetting to hold the view of moving from the center.