Central equilibrium. This is the Chinese word I know it as—Zhong Ding. I assume readers are familiar with it. I came to understand that central equilibrium is more than alignment.
Alignment has a linear quality that we can become aware of in our bodies. It is two-dimensional, a line between two points. Equilibrium, which we can also become aware of, is orientation in relation to our environment. It is multi-dimensional. It is how we balance ourselves in response to the pressures from outside, of which there are many.
Almost every move we make is a response to some external force in our environment. The environment could be the physical environment near us or it could be a more abstract environment — distant and foreign.
Part of the release, and the relief, of letting go of things that are not essential to our well-being, which is a tai chi practice, is distinguishing between what it’s necessary to be concerned about and what is not.
We confront the overwhelming pressure from outside with great risk. We cannot defeat it, but we can relax and let it be. We don’t have to be concerned that we must respond. Yin instead of yang. Let yang take care of itself. Focus attention on yin.
So the act, as simple as it may be, of letting something go—tension, stress, anything at all—is emancipating. Our bodies respond accordingly and become satisfied, contented, rested.
Taijiquan is about cultivating a mood and immersing yourself in it. Continuous and stable, you carry it through the day’s activities—as many as you can. It’s not easy to do this, but many will agree that the mood is very engaging and contagious. I can’t get much more specific without risking mutilating it trying to explain it.
You develop it in group and solo practice. Each practice is a return to cultivating it from where you last left off with it. Often, at some point after leaving class, you might forget this mood. But if you have a big enough taste of it, you’ll want to give it another try.
The more you try, the more you are able to do two things. One is to become familiar with the mood through practice and the second is improved memory. The result is that you’re carrying this mood more and more. You’re not only remembering it, you’re internalizing it. It becomes part of your viewpoint and integral to who you are, as in the case of real long-term practitioners.
It’s like anything that you do. The more you do it, the better you get and the more you get out of doing it. You perceive the external world from the point of view of that mood. It grows, matures, and strengthens. You develop speed, agility, and a greater sense of depth and breadth.
The great Wu Style Taijiquan Master Ma Yueh Liang said it took him 10 years to “discover” qi and the rest of his life to learn what to do with it (Bill Moyers, “The Mystery of Chi,” 1993). We’re all involved in a similar progression of discovery and discerning activities that bring qi into our daily routine.
The real change from a tai chi perspective is in the mind. We think it’s the body because that’s where the problem shows. The pain in there so we think the cause is there.
We have to shift something in our perception in order for the body to make the necessary changes it needs to heal and strengthen.
I suspect that we “discover” qi because it announces itself by virtue of dislodging and flowing, which in turn results from practicing tai chi movement.
You can view many video clips of Master Ma on youtube. I have one of him from many years ago on my website.
When I talk about my teachers having so much energy from taiji, it has to do a lot with the fact that they save energy more than actually producing it out of nowhere, which seems impossible to the average person. This is one thing every practitioner who practices long enough learns about taijiquan. It’s true, you get only so much Qi (energy) when you’re born and as life progresses you lose it, or at least, lose access to it. But you can get it back, and one stepping stone to do that is by learning to conserve it, not waste it, use the energy you have wisely, and consciously bringing stuck qi back into availability. By doing taiji movement, you clear out superfluous energy, which in turn attracts your original qi and rebuilds it. It’s fantastic to reunite with what is essentially a part of ourselves.
These two news articles refer to new research results talking about tai chi improving the lives of peripheral neuropathy patients and reducing stroke risks. I continue to hold tai chi and qigong classes in Durango for learners with a variety of challenges, as does my teacher and friend Susan Matthews in Cortez (she’s the anatomy, stroke and Parkingson’s expert). So please tell your friends about this news and help them help themselves by suggesting they try tai chi classes.
Session P16 – Poster WP416
American Heart Association
The magic of tai chi is that as a movement method it has universal application to other forms of movement. Tai chi principles, which happen to have developed from the martial arts applications, are increasingly applied to the purpose of improving and maintaining overall health and well-being. In some respects, it’s not tai chi anymore, rather a modernized articulation of a practice and method transferable to many forms of movement.
We think we have to separate tai chi practice from our jobs and other daily requirements. We see it as a time thing. We either have time for tai chi or we don’t. We have to work. No doubt about that. Tai chi is extracurricular, not necessary.
This is difficult to accept as a teacher and a long-time practitioner. I prefer to see the issue as a “timing” thing and what kinds of movement can fall under the category of “tai chi.” By that I mean that if we time it right, we can do tai chi anytime during the day by simply recognizing that we have a minute or two to do something—however little it is.
To know what that something is is easy. I’ve given learners several things they can do and they can be practicing intricate subtle principles of tai chi anytime they think of it. Simply standing in Wuji and opening the lower back (ming men): hip sink down, waist rise up, spine elongates, vertebrae open and separate. Top of head rises, back of neck fills (“xu ling ding jing”). One of my teachers calls this (or something like it) “raising the Shen.” I call it a “one-minute exercise.”
Another one minute exercise: visualize expanding the dantian from point to ball. Maintain it as a ball. Even for 10 seconds. You will create a kind of “guardian chi” (not exactly the original meaning, but it applies in this case). It helps to protect you from detrimental energies in your environment.
The challenge is to shift the mind from the demands of work to tai chi even for just a minute or two. That’s the issue, not whether we have time or not. There always is time. The true goal, and what I believe motivates a person to learn tai chi in the first place, is to integrate some sort of “practice” in our daily lives that helps us to rise above demands (often unwelcome), and integrate mind and body connectivity in movement and thought throughout the day—to develop greater awareness of our deeper selves and to awake to that even in the midst of meeting the challenges.
Whether it’s having time, not having time, or simply, timing, doing tai chi is one challenge. Having energy is perhaps a greater, deeper challenge. I’ll have to talk about that another time though. I’m tired.