Taiji is about moving differently. To move in a new way requires a fresh perspective. Start with gaining clarity of a habituated movement pattern. Habitual patterns are most difficult to see because they become “transparent” or invisible to us over time. So train your mind’s ability to focus and concentrate on the move. The eventual discovery of a new way to move will come automatically as a result of the effort. Aim to internalize new movement so it becomes integrated into the whole as a beneficial contribution.
“Tai chi significantly reduces depression symptoms in Chinese-Americans”
Published May 25, 2017
The tai chi intervention involved twice weekly sessions for 12 weeks, in which participants were taught and practiced basic traditional tai chi movements. They were asked to practice at home three times a week and to document their practice.
I’ve always believed that journaling one’s tai chi practice helps with the learning and feeding back into the practice. That’s why I blog. Comments are always welcome. Maybe it will be good for you.
The word Qi (pronounced “chee”) in Chinese refers to vital energy and is found everywhere in nature. The Chinese refer to Heaven Qi, Earth Qi, and Human Qi. In learning tai chi, when we talk about Qi, we often talk about Yin and Yang— two opposing, but complementary, forces that are seen in endless variations. Taijiquan and Qigong are activities that you could think of as exercises, or methods, for working towards a balance of yin and yang in the relationship between our minds, qi, and bodies. I lead tai chi practice with these relationships in mind.
According to Chinese thought some of us are too yang, some too yin, generally speaking. The movements introduced in practice can help balance out your Qi whether you are too yin or too yang.
You can be both at the same time, as well. Too yang in some aspects and too yin in others. For example, you may be too yang in your Qi and too yin in your physical body. As Yang, Jwing-Ming writes in The Root of Chinese Qigong, “A person who seems to be externally strong and healthy may be weak internally” (p4).
Either case can result in the whole being being weakened. Most of what I teach focuses on both external and internal exercise with mental concentration, or mind practice. You’ve probably heard of mind-body connection. I try to bridge the mind and body with what is often the missing link in rebalancing one’s being—vital energy. I truly believe that the motivation to learn and practice tai chi comes from feeling the need to rebalance your energetic configuration. It’s marvelous that tai chi movement performed with mind intention can result in profound shifts in mental, energetic, and physical equilibrium.
A Basic Tip
The mind, energy and body interact in a sequence of movement. Your attention travels from mind, to energy, to physical in that order. It works this way: You focus attention on a specific point in the body, which invites the energy to go there. You actually feel it. Then the body is invited to move in the way that you intend. So you allow it to move. Over time, you refine this progression to build inner strength and skill.
How this happens is a kind of mystery to me, but it happens. You may not detect the sequence at first as a beginning practitioner, especially the feeling of energy flowing to a place where you direct your attention. You will with practice, but I think everyone is familiar with it very quickly.
Ling Cong Shen Shi Men of Master Xu
Master George Xu told me that he has developed a system of taijiquan that he described in the following ways: light and agile, empty and indirect, spiritual potential system. This is distinct from theories that he has elucidated over the years. The system, or “men,” contains at least six degrees of understanding which direct the content of his teaching session. He has simplified, even returned to some basic skills, in his approach; but often with more profound meanings. The six states he discusses are:
- Feet must attack straight out to opponent.
- Touch arm touch ground. Body is like conduit through which energy is transmitted to the ground. How to do this? “What you think is what is.” I interpret this to mean that just thinking is not enough to successfully achieve this ability. It is more physical effort that you may think.
- Zhong ding. Shrink and expand. Zhong Ding attacks enemy. Don’t stay on your self. Master Xu shows exercises to develop this skill.
- Dan tian is the most difficult. It must come out first, space to space. Master Xu suggested standing in front of a tree and “play the feeling.”
- Ling Cong is light, empty; but also “moves above, floating.”
- Centrifugal refers to “Shi” (“Si”), which translates as “potential,” but is much more. It is action, too. This is the most phenomenal talent of Master Xu’s that contains great power and intention.
Other more technical directions include include things like, “outer leg muscles carry energy from feet.”
Work on making “dead arms” more than building stability with feet and legs until you get it. “Dead arms, dead body.”
In the workshop setting, Master Xu discusses these things and leads the group in single basic drills designed to help cultivate awareness of these components of his system and build the skills to effectively practice them at will in whatever you do.
Talk to any master practitioners of tai chi and they will tell you that zhong ding and dantian are the two most important concepts in tai chi and Chinese internal martial arts. They are also the most basic. They are the two things you will work on for as long as you do tai chi. Hopefully, that will be a lifetime. It doesn’t take long to understand the concepts, just a lifetime to develop them and enjoy the benefits almost immediately.
On Healing and the Mind, Bill Moyer’s show, Volume 1, The Mystery of Chi, the teacher of my lineage (Grandmaster Ma Yueh Liang) told him that it took him 10 years to understand what Chi is and the rest of his life to learn what to do with it. He was in his eighties at the time. This is how it is with everyone who delves into the vast universe of the supreme ultimate art of movement.
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