It is springtime and people are getting out into their gardens, preparing soil, digging, planting, weeding, mowing, and all sort of other activities. After winter inactivity some of us just might ache after a day’s work outside. Especially some of us older folks. As one person I know said once after a morning of moving and lifting stone, “I moved muscles I didn’t know I had.”
After day of laboring in the garden, most will tend to lean back into the sofa or easy chair and relax those sore muscles. The thing about that is when you get back up and walk you are even stiffer and sorer more than when you were working. The trick is to stay active until you have loosened up enough to prevent the stiffness from setting in.
You probably wouldn’t feel like going to the gym after all that lawn labor. More power to you if you do. Aerobic probably wouldn’t help nor would lifting weights. Some stretching exercises certainly could. So could doing some tai chi. I can tell you why; because tai chi moves muscle that we don’t usually use in day to day activities. Muscles that we need to activate just as much as any other muscles; tendons and ligaments for that matter. In fact that soreness we feel could be as much or more in our connective tissues than only muscles.
The trick to helping to alleviate the stiffness and soreness is to loosen and stretch gently. This is what tai chi movements provide. They release tension in overly tired regions of the body. When you lift and haul and bend over and such, you are tensing muscles and tendons and joints and ligaments and so on. In tai chi you’re spiraling, loosening, stretching, coaxing things to let go where they are stuck. You’re allowing the blood to flow through and the muscles et. al to release tension. You’re not forcing them or overworking them. Plus you’re moving parts that aren’t included in your daily routine. Those parts that you do happen to use in gardening and other yard work. So if you have sore muscles that you didn’t know you had try a little tai chi to bring them back in alignment. It will get you back in shape for the next time you’re in the garden.
(This post was first published June 2017 and has been revised and republished)
A journey of learning entails the step-wise progression of putting pieces of information together and building a body of knowledge. It’s a body of simple, personal observations filed away for later use—not assumptions, or guesses, based on conventionalized thought. It is not one thing or another to be argued, right or wrong. Learning is based on your own discoveries. It is experience and the memories of experience.
People ask about getting tai chi right. “What’s the right way?” they ask. Or “What am I doing wrong?” they wander. If you ask me, I think they are a little hard on themselves thinking they are not doing good enough. I tell them not to think of it as either right or wrong, just that you’re refining from where you are in your efforts to learn tai chi. Today’s practice builds on the practice before. It’s cumulative. This thinking helps to dispel the idea that you have to do it according to a predetermined rule before you can claim you are doing tai chi at all. The only way to know tai chi is to do it at the level you are at. Only the individual practitioner sees the way. It’s personal. No one else can see it for you.
The simplest activity can be a practice of tai chi—even a single basic repetition. Even sitting for 60 seconds and breathing mindfully is doing qigong. Anyone can do that anytime and, every time you do, you’re building upon the practice before. You will see results if you do it regularly.
Learning the simplest things in tai chi can be a challenge, not because they are difficult; but, because we’re unfamiliar with them at first. It requires practice. Tai chi is like that. Life is like that. For example, sometimes new learners grasp the details of simple cloud hands only with considerable effort. It seems so easy on one hand, but there is so much more. You feel something missing. Or remembering to maintain a proper stance while moving the upper body takes reminding ourselves over and over. With practice though, we gradually build familiarity with the moves, then we become more comfortable, then we can refine what we’ve learned. Every successive practice is a refinement of the previous one. Over time we improve at the learning process itself. We become better learners. We are able to sustain concentration longer and with more depth. We look forward to new information so that we can practice learning skills that the moves themselves teach us.
(Updated, revised and republished from a 2015 post)
I’ve read that globally more people do tai chi than any other exercise. More than yoga even. You can go to parks in any town or city and find groups of people doing both tai chi and qigong. My experience has been somewhat different. When I started showing others how to do what I had learned from studying tai chi I learned that tai chi just doesn’t automatically resonate. Competition with other activities, such as sports and outdoor recreation, is big. Yoga is huge. Aerobic exercises with new names (Taebo) that combine dance and martial art moves are popular; as are hard martial arts, such as karate and tae kwon do.
Tai chi might be too slow and boring for many, but they may also discover that it’s not as easy as it may seem. The moves seem easy, but the practice is more involved. Many actually give up trying. Conversely, many take a practice as a challenge and become hooked on it, so to speak. They become strong advocates for tai chi. This in part is because real taijiquan is a very sophisticated movement art. Every cell of your body and mind is engaged in constant effort to evolve out of an old self into a new, more-vibrant, capable being. In more ways than you can count, it is a deeply mindful movement, especially when practicedenough. Achieving mindfulness in the moment is what the practice is all about. You immerse in the mystery of moving, seeking new awareness about your body and even about awareness itself.
Taijiquan and other Chinese martial arts have thrived for centuries, not just as fighting arts, but because they are comprised of something that attracts us to movement itself. It’s really a “whole being” stimulation of mind and body—not just mind, not just body. Physically, tai chi can be quite a workout. It requires endurance and dedication. You sweat on warm days, your muscles get toned, your heart rate can even increase beneficially. It’s so powerful with others in a group, as well. A group of people can generate a lot of energy working together. The magic of tai chi is that it can apply to any kind of movement you may do: dance, swim, ski, run, hike, walk, skate, think even, and even sit in meditation. It’s fundamental to movement in general. All this makes me think that tai chi could be the most popular exercise in the world if it’s not already.
Tai chi offers an opportunity to look beyond the surface. To see not only what a practitioner is doing on the outside but deeper on the inside. Not usually an immediately obvious for a beginner. You have to develop skill to look within the other and yourself. It takes practice to see the depth of a practice. From where does movement originate? What is the underlying intention? What is nature and quality of the Qi (energy)?
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