Beginning tai chi when younger may help avoid problems of aging

Doing taijiquan and its complement, qigong, can add great benefits to the lifestyles of younger practitioners, as well as reducing the effects of growing older. Why younger people don’t get into tai chi is asked often and many reasons have been discussed. One is that “tai chi is for old people,” as discussed in this video clip.

For me, there are many more reasons for younger people to do tai chi than not to do it. For one, I’m convinced that as preventative practices, tai chi and qigong both can help reduce healthcare costs related to aging (which comes sooner these days than we think!). We just don’t expect problems while we’re young and our bodies are still new and healthy. Instead of waiting until we’re sick or breaking down we could do something about it.

But often, you could have greater effectiveness by accepting that you’re going to have those problems sooner or later.

Tai chi and qigong are also complementary activities to many exercises you choose to do for staying shape, which often is a lifestyle choice. We look good when we feel good. These can be enhanced by practicing even just a few principles of tai chi. You don’t even have to do it as a martial art, either.

As a tai chi and qigong teacher, I find more and people in their twenties, even teens, interested in trying tai chi. As a multi-level exercise for mind, energy, and body practice, no other exercise does all that tai chi can. It helps to heal injuries, maintain healthy systems functions, such as nervous and lymph systems and blood circulation. It helps to detoxify and cleanse.

It trains memorization skills, too; like a crossword puzzle for the whole body, not just the brain. Whether you’re in school, on a job, or whatever, that’s a good thing.

Even if you’re in the grips of aging, you might find that a steady, long-term tai chi practice will have positive effects on the flexibility of your brain function.

Neuroscientists talk about “neuroplasticity” to refer to the brain’s ability to disrupt our tendency towards inertia and be more easily changeable. As Catherine Kerr, a Harvard Medical School instructor, says, “For anyone who practices tai chi regularly brain plasticity arising from repeated training may be relevant, since we know that brain connections are ‘sculpted’ by daily experience and practice.” Kerr is investigating brain dynamics related to tai chi and mindfulness meditation at Harvard Medical School.

In addition to tapping into the brain’s capacity, it’s a bio-mechanical stretching method that can maintain and improve elasticity of bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles so we may live longer and better.

All of these reasons to start tai chi sooner than later apply to every stage of life, but if you start sooner, you might just be happy you did. Starting tai chi is only a matter of joining a class and making a habit of practicing regularly over time. This is a relatively simple key to success.

If you’re in your twenties and already practicing, feel free to comment about your experience. Maybe we can spread a little enthusiasm for beginning younger in life to others who may be pondering the possibility of giving it a try.





Turning attention inward—and outward—in tai chi practice

Taiji is a meditative practice. We often think that means turning the attention inward. True. It could be a focus on breathing, or silencing the mind of thoughts. You can do that in taiji, but as a moving meditation you also have a task of focusing on the outside of the self. Or more accurately, focusing the self on what is happening outside; for example, to ground one’s self. This is a process of finding a surer footing; to sink in gravity, yet float on water. To move in various directions, shapes and patterns with greater ease and balance.

It’s also a process of sensing your surroundings and how your body is situated in space. You could say that grounding yourself is more than feeling the soles of your feet on the Earth and sensing movement through them. It’s also sensing movement in the near environment. The far environment, too—the sky, the distant view. Your yin and yang can expand and fill in the space while also condensing and rooting in earth and sky.

That’s the focus. So how do you do it? Certainly by feeling with the body. Also by listening to the body with the mind—with inherent powers of observation and honing one’s awareness in on the inner and outer workings of the whole being. How is a move done? What makes the move occur in the first place? Bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, even organs. How does the body change directions? How much force is generated or is any generated at all? What’s moving, what is not? Tension is released in degrees, so what does that feel like? Can you describe it? Give it language?

Parts of us are asleep. Both the mind and body are asleep. Inertia is at work. Tai chi helps to wake them up. But what do you wake up first? How do you wake? To wake the body, move in ways different from your usual way. Wake the mind by looking at the world in different ways, from different angles and with different perspectives. Moving and seeing differently creates new opportunities for discovery and understanding. The whole of doing tai chi is a question of how to move in general, and how to move each part of the body, specifically.

About loosening in tai chi

I don’t really know about what other tai chi teachers do, but I show learners loosening exercises that they can do to achieve a number of results. One result is to improve concentration on repetitive, rhythmic motion for building skill in biomechanical efficiency, balance and even power. Usually, I encompass these kinds of exercises in “single-basic” exercises. On-going students are familiar with these, but beginners stumble over various aspects of practicing them. One of them is speed.

Speed is not always good in loosening exercise. Slowing down allows you to get connected more readily. Staying connected while moving is easier to accomplish if you stop assuming—moving faster while cycling through them more rapidly—is better. Like it’s aerobics or some cardio exercise.

This tai chi is not, and it may be foolish to compare one to the other. They’re different approaches to movement. Do cardio if you want, but don’t think something is missing in tai chi because it’s not going fast enough or hard enough. You won’t get what tai chi has to offer that is as valuable as anything you can get from some kind of aerobic tai chi.

One of those things you get from tai chi is powerful whole-body connectivity. The mental concentration it takes to achieve it leads to a boon in better mind-body connection and better health and longevity

Another tai chi is…

The brain must change how it perceives movement in the the body, and the body needs to move in more beneficial ways. You need to move differently or not move at all in ways that have caused pain, whether from injury or chronic misuse. Weakness and wearing down from lack of use also causes these conditions.

The brain and body would welcome the benefits of ease of motion, improved range and flexibility (without over-extending), equable and balanced alignment and posture; no single part carrying the burden for the rest.

The brain must have an initial idea or concept to go on. It normally doesn’t shift unless it tries. It will tend to do what it always does and revert to views to which it is habituated. The body does also.

How does change occur? By learning a new way of movement and practicing over and over. Sooner or later you will gain insight … fresh insight and renewed feeling.

Tai Chi is . . . .

In case you were wondering …

“Learning tai chi is a process of continual growth in skill and knowledge. It is a matter of sharpening our powers of observation and cultivating greater awareness of the manner in which we move. It also creates opportunities to cultivate insight into one’s self.” PTR

Tai chi and staying alive

For so many of those among us, living is defined by a struggle to stay alive. Things such as illness that we never asked for, or consequences of actions (our own or those of others) that jeopardize our health. Drugs, guns, food, fast cars, whatever. Furthermore, as we age, it seems that’s the definition of life: staying alive.

I began tai chi for the purpose of staying alive. I continue practice for the same reason. It gives me a tool to help get back on track. It’s not a cure all, but it helps when we add to it an effort to figure things out. By figuring out how to do tai chi we are learning how we might figure out how we got where we are in life. And how to break free of the cognitive constraints that hold us back from healing wounds obtained in the process of living.

The process is one in which you travel into deeper realms of awareness of the self, by the very process of intending to be more aware. To use the senses to wake up to what is around you, so to speak. To see more of what your physical is made up of, and the way your energetic structure works, and the presence of the more ethereal realm of the mind and spirit, for which words fail to provide a material nature.

Good at tai chi? How about life itself?

Being good at what you do for a living, or even the best, doesn’t make you good at everything else in life. Too Bad. Would be nice if it did.

New book offers novices and beyond activities, concepts for practicing tai chi

I’ve been immersed in writing a book for a few months this spring, which explains my lack of posting. It’s published now and I hope to renew my blogging.

“At its core tai chi is a practice, a routine activity that you engage in, in order to improve and maintain specific kinds of movement for a multitude of results, such as for overall health and longevity.” This statement in my new book, Practicing Tai Chi: Ways to enrich learning for beginner and intermediate practitioners, offers ways to think about a tai chi practice and to learn a few techniques from tai chi movements.

It’s a brief learning aid that I wrote to instruct and inspire, but also to have as a reference to keep handy for reviewing concepts related to an authentic tai chi practice. It’s really about the process of learning tai chi, or as I say: “learning how to learn” tai chi.

Book on practicing tai chi

A learning aid for new practitioners

I share perspectives on what tai chi is, why do it, how to do it, and ways to integrate it into daily life. Learners who have already begun tai chi and have some knowledge of its basics will get the most out of this book. It is not meant to replace or compete with other books on the commonly addressed subject matter of tai chi. It’s more of a companion to practice.

Amazon has print copies in paperback right now and a Kindle version (lower price) should be available, too. If you read it, your comments here would be welcome or perhaps a review on Amazon.

You can read a free preview by clicking this link.