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.

 

 

 

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Adapt to change with tai chi

Tai chi is a tool for adapting to changing conditions. Change prevails wherever you look. The weather changes. The wind blows, doesn’t blow, blows hard, then is a breeze. The temperature is hot, cool, cold. It’s raining or it’s dry. Grass is green and moist, or brown and maybe tinder dry. A tree never stops growing. It’s always at some point of changing from a sprout to a tree. Even a desert plant that seems never to grow is active in its own way. Water flows in a stream or river. It is never the same river, they say. People change. We flow, or stumble, through emotions all day and even through our dreams at night. Change prevails. Tai chi is a method of adapting to change by focusing on the act of change itself.

It seems human beings are the only ones who want things to stay the same. Sometimes we call it the “status quo,” sometimes simply inertia. Not that it’s a bad thing—it’s serves its purpose. But some things we hold onto no longer have purchase in a ever-shifting world. They are not serving other than to hold us back from evolving. Staying the same will not always protect us from the onslaught of the constant flux that surrounds us. The whole universe is in constant flux. Time itself seems constant, yet it is nothing if not constantly changing, moving ever out of the moment into another. The present is not the same now as before.

We can change what and how we think and we do it all the time. Rather than thinking you want things to stay the same, you can want them to find equilibrium—balance. That balance is what taijiquan attends to.

Tai chi still requires adapting and shifting with the tides, but it gives you a way to do that.

Many beginners who give up before reaching a threshold of practice view tai chi as too much to learn. You tell yourself that you’ll never be able to learn all that. As a teacher, I have had many difficult moments trying not to blame myself for that thinking. I want to make tai chi available to as many people as I possibly can, but they quit before they learn enough to see what it offers them. I know now that tai chi hasn’t failed them, nor have I, rather they have failed to see the potential for themselves, electing to go the same route that has led them away from a personal evolution.

I don’t blame them, even though change is easier than they think. The key is to approach it with a mind of taking small steps and learning a little at a time and building a bunch of little pieces of knowledge and ability upon previous learning. One day you’ll look back and see a massive body of knowledge buoying you up.

It’s not a matter of overcoming inertia as much as acting in spite of it. Inertia seems much more overwhelming than possible to overcome. Too great of a mass of resistance. And yet, often the simple act of standing in Wuji, the first posture of tai chi, is enough to set you off on a new path of awakening.

 

Learn more at DurangoTaiChi.com

Tai Chi Prompt: Know you central equilibrium

Know where your central equilibrium is. Move around it, up and down its length. Forward and back. Straight, strong, alive, flexible, always regenerating.

Tai chi and getting some energy back

It is said that we are born with a finite amount of energy and that is all we have to make it through life. As life progresses that supply of energy is depleted through living: events, act, thoughts, points of view. It takes energy to live. Less of our original life force becomes available to us as we age. It becomes stuck, tucked away, or wasted upon others. We can get much of it back, however. If you knew this were possible, would you consider doing what it would take to get it back?

Integrating new movement to internalize it

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 as a strategy to relax

One of the first things you’re asked to do in tai chi is to relax. Not easy for many beginners, who seldom can relax on command. Actually, most of us forgot how, or even define what relaxing is for ourselves. Life is like that.

Tai chi offers a strategy for relaxing. My own approach is two-fold: mind intention and physical activity, both based on tai chi principles with which I have become familiar over time. It takes time, but more importantly, effort. You don’t have to work hard, rather calmly, regularly, consistently.

Breathing meditation, single-basics, stretching, moving meditation and taijiquan forms all combine to form a pretty sophisticated strategy for relaxing using these two core principles. Of course, if you develop a practice using these methods, you’ll not only cultivate relaxation, you’ll also evolve a more energetic, lively composure that will probably amaze you.

Tai chi and alpine climbing similiarites

I was talking with an alpine climber friend the other day. He spent some time in Switzerland as a guide and teacher. Mountain climbing, at least the way he describes it, sounds very familiar to tai chi. He was describing to me some of the things he would say when interacting with clients or students. One of the things he said that resonated with me was that a big key to alpine style rock climbing is the need to save energy. A big part of tai chi is to save energy, because we only have so much given to us to work with throughout our lives. We don’t make new energy, technically. We re-access what is stuck and we save what we have.

I think many people think of exercise as giving them energy, or perhaps, by rearranging energy by loosening bound up Qi and redistributing it to fill weak empty places in our being. But saving energy shouldn’t be overlooked. I mean, what do you do with the energy we do release and make newly available? I try not o spend it on unnecessary activities. I’d rather save it for when it comes in handy.

My friend brought other similarities tai chi and mountain climbing have in common. I particularly liked the idea of grabbing the cliff edge with the center of your body and mindfully attacking the rock. Look at it, connect with it from the center of your body, then carefully place your feet and hands in strategic points. This resembles using the dantian to move and connect internally and externally.

A conversation between teacher and learner

Here is a brief exchange over email between a DTC member and myself that reveals our thinking about a subject central to learning tai chi. I welcome questions and comments because it stimulates concrete conversation which serves as a knowledge-building activity.

Background: I returned after 10 days training retreat and exposed practice partners to using different muscles to feel more connectivity. I had usually been focusing on using mind to move, but also on changing the body in subtle ways of movement. Afterwards, B wrote:

“I have to say I am a little sore from the workout yesterday. … How in the world do you do it for 6 hours a day?”

Me: “You got me to thinking, or remembering, that we were using muscles that we don’t normally use. If you used them more you wouldn’t get sore. It’s just like the muscles you use everyday, say for walking, don’t get sore when you use them for longer periods of time. Same principle applies to using martial art/tai chi muscles. Make sense?”

B: “Yes. Makes sense. However if we are not supposed to use muscle what do we need tai chi muscles for? …

Me: Good question. Helps me to clarify. We rely on muscle tension to move out of sheer habit, practically unaware of other possibilities of movement and for focusing our attention. As we age we reduce usage of everything: muscle, tendon, ligament, bone and joint. In effect, we run out of energy to move, so we simply reduce the range of motion to accommodate our needs. Human beings are very efficient creatures. We do the least possible work to meet our needs. This is not bad, because it saves energy; but we cultivate a habit of not using our bodies and minds to their fullest potential and we begin rather early in life to atrophy or decline in ability.

Not to “use” muscle is not really the instruction. More like, free muscle up of its dominance and release tension (qi) that we have been carrying for a long time without realizing we have been. It also is to focus attention on moving different muscles as an exercise in changing the focus. It’s not just an exercise in muscle-moving activity. It’s one of reducing the dominance of muscle over the rest of the body and making more energy available to us that is stuck in muscle. We “wear” our tension in muscle for the most part, I think. Of course, it can be produced anywhere in the body. Changing the way we become aware of tension in the body and learn to release it is really the point. I just decided to focus on muscle. Has it made a difference in your connectivity and how you move?

The other point I would make is that at the beginning stages of practice the novice needs to have something somewhat concrete to focus on in order to “get connected”. Even while we focus on the more esoteric, elusive “energy” connection. This is what I’ve learned from my teacher, Xu Guo Ming (George), during the past couple of years. He was realizing that people were not getting the more esoteric lessons and decided to bring it back to the body, to the basics. That’s what the recently published Chan Shi Jing video is about, really.
Tim