Applying breath and movement from tai chi practice is not just more stuff to add to your daily activities. It is the foundational thing that you do before everything else. Every breath, like every moment, underlies every movement. To get from here to there, you use awareness of breath, body position and intention. These are the paths by which you travel from here to there, from this step to that, from this position to that position. These are all integrated into the whole being of which breath and movement are part. We are not just objects. We are objects that move, feel, think, perceive. Let these be the vehicle by which you live.
If mental states affect physical conditions, and researchers don’t know how it happens, then how can the cause/effect relationship be proven? As Stephen Locke, MD, states in The Healer Within (1986), “‘Knowing’ that one’s state of mind influences one’s body does not prove that it does.” In his book he talks about the trend in research to discover how the mental states affect the central nervous and immune systems, thus our health.
The book covers amazing things, but I haven’t got to the part where he talks about tai chi and qigong. I’m not finished reading it, but I doubt it’s there. For me, practices, such as tai chi, qigong, and yoga, are addressing at least some questions that researchers are asking, or perhaps, not asking. Massage is another possible methodology of tapping into the central nervous or immune system’s influence over a person’s physical health. Other modalities, or practices, such as reiki, fall into the category of mind-body treatment.
By current scientific measures, these practices don’t prove the influence of mental states over physical conditions. But researchers continue to explore the causes and effects of the influence of mental states on physical health. In the meantime, tai chi practitioners are engaged in our own explorations. We know something is happening when we do our practice, even though Locke says “Common sense is not science.” Go figure.
Knowing is not proof, they say, yet millions of people who practice tai chi know that they experience both mental and physical changes from regular practice over time. They must, because who would keep making the effort and expending the energy to do something without seeing (feeling) beneficial results at some point? People are rewarded for doing tai chi, but that’s not proof of cause and effect, because science hasn’t figured out a way to prove it. Go figure.
The point I want to make is that practices such as tai chi and qigong actively seek the connection without having to explain it. They presume it, or maybe they don’t, but they trust the process and intend beneficial results. They activate the mind-body connection by virtue of engaging one’s whole being in doing their particular practice. The rest takes care of itself. They make it work somehow without having to prove it.
What I am attracted to in the case of tai chi, qigong and yoga is that they are practices individuals do on their own. We may have a teacher to lead us through the practice, but the work is done ourselves for ourselves. Massage, reiki, and other practices are done to, or on, us by a professional. They may be effective at times and at other times less so. Same with the practices you do yourself.
But to do the practice yourself on your own holds a special allure for me. But like Locke says, even though I “know” it works, I can’t prove the cause/effect relationship. However, I can talk about results that happen when I do enough tai chi and qigong, and I can talk about results when I don’t do enough of either. And that is enough for me. The immediate relaxation responses are enough. The longer-term sense of well-being that develops from practice and that I carry with me between practices is real enough.
“Tai chi is not just for old people,” says columnist Viki Mather. I know what she’s talking about. People hate anything that resembles “exercise.” Not my problem. They are so WRONG.
“There is a stigma about tai chi that it is for old people. And it is true that doing tai chi can help regain mobility, balance, prevent falls and all the other things that seniors need to stay independent and active. It does this for younger people, too. It can help you play better golf. It can improve posture, which is important for skiing, skating, horseback riding, and having dinner at Grandma’s house. And it reduces stress.”
Whether you’re sure you want to do tai chi or not, here are things you can consider to help find out if it’s the right thing for you. But DO NOT take someone else’s word for it one way or the other. Which means, technically speaking, don’t take my word for whatever you’re about to read.
Find out what tai chi is. How? Be curious, and ultimately, just do tai chi.
Learn something and experience it. Draw a picture of it in your mind that is not based on second-hand hearsay or ideas you heard somewhere.
Find someone to do tai chi with. Don’t know anyone? They will appear. More and more people are taking it up.
Once you learn a little, practice what you know. You can’t practice what you don’t know, right? However, do try even if you’re not sure. Forget about telling yourself that you won’t do it “right,” and then not try. That would suck. Even wrong is right in this case. Later, test with me or someone to see how close you got.
Wear cool clothes. Naw, … just kidding. Tai chi is more fun in the buff, anyway. Not sure you would feel comfortable doing that? Then wear light, low-volume shoes, and loose-fitting shirts and pants that don’t constrict blood flow or range of motion. In fact, don’t let any constricting thoughts enter into the picture of your efforts.
Know your reason to do tai chi. Let your reason talk to you. Forget reasons not to, even legitimate ones. Question the tendency to think you should do tai chi because others say you should. I think we possess a subconscious tendency to resist such things as “should.” In that case, don’t listen to me—I think you should do tai chi. However, it’s okay to at least try tai chi because someone you admire does. It’s worth considering.
Take time to practice. Actually, don’t “take” time. Maybe you could “give” it time, but it’s more productive not to think of tai chi in relation to time at all. Think of it in terms of effort. For example, learn one thing (PS, I can show it to you) and practice it for one minute, then conclude one thing about that one thing, then one thing you learn from doing it. Notice the emphasis on the “one” idea. How much effort does that take? See what I’m getting at? Time is not the issue.
Prioritize. No, I don’t mean putting tai chi before all those other important demands in life. Okay, so you reached out to a tai chi teacher, you’re (sort of) motivated. You’ve reached out to the universe saying you think it may be important for you to look into learning tai chi, or at least looking into what all the buzz is about it. You’re acknowledging something important. Maybe you’re aging and feeling it. Who knows? In that case, I’m sure you can put off watching your favorite TV show for an hour of tai chi without suffering any major repercussions.
Find a place to do tai chi; like where you feel most comfortable and content. Oh, you mean, that’s on a beach in Bali? In that case, why not just feel being there? Call up the memory and move with it. To a great extent, tai chi is an act of visualizing possibilities. Like time, place is not a constraint, really. Sometimes, I visualize myself standing barefoot on the wet sand of a California beach moving slowly in time with the sound and feeling of the Pacific surf crashing and receding, then crashing and receding …. Of course, just remembering the feeling of doing tai chi itself is enough to make anywhere a good place.
Just do it. Simple, huh? Sometimes tai chi is easier to do with a group of people with similar intent. Sometimes, you feel awkward doing it alone, even when no one is around to see you. When I suggest “just doing” tai chi, I mean to see yourself doing it. To stand in the first position and begin to move. To feel the move. To teach yourself. Don’t wait for some one or some thing to determine for you whether or not to do tai chi. Just do.
Looking for more ideas about stimulating your tai chi practice. Read this related post.
Durango Tai Chi’s mission is to make tai chi available and affordable to everyone everywhere. Plain and simple. If you want to learn tai chi, we’ll find a way. Contact Teacher Tim for a free consultation by phone or in person. He’ll go anywhere on Earth where it’s possible to teach. He donates his time and energy (at least until his savings run out). It’s like a non-profit without the tax-exempt status. Tuition goes to paying expenses for room rent, transportation, advertising, internet fees and printing. Teacher Tim’s private lessons help him with personal income, which he must rely on since he is not employed full-time at another job. Please share this post with friends you care about.
A recently published article mentions that physical activity and “mentally stimulating tasks” are two factors that recent research suggests can prevent dementia in millions. Tai chi and qigong are not mentioned, but as far as I’m concerned, they are both very good mentally stimulating physical activities. Which means they could be very good for reducing the chance of suffering from dementia in what the article refers to as the world’s “most feared illness in old age.”
In the article (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/one-third-of-dementia-cases-could-be-prevented-alzheimers-report/), researchers list nine activities that can help prevent as much as 33% of the world’s estimated 47 million cases of dementia (expected to triple by 2050), including Alzheimer’s.
For healthy mental activities, researchers recommend people stay in school at least until past the age of 15. The article doesn’t specify kinds of physical exercise, but most articles about that subject usually talk about aerobics, interval training, resistance training, even weight lifting.
However, more and more, people are talking about the benefits of tai chi and qigong, especially for older people. For those of us who have put off exercise practices in their younger years, they offer lower impact activity that offers a wide range of desirable results. With proper practice, tai chi and qigong are among the best “prevention” practices I’ve ever seen.
I see more young people looking into tai chi. I think one reason why is that they are born into more sedentary lifestyles, more urban, more media-centric (“mediated reality”), more passive. Yet, they know they need something that gives their mind and body connection more stimulating health and longevity activities—a focus that can tap into one’s own inner awareness.
This is the very same reason Boddhidharma (Damo) introduced exercises to Buddhists in China 2600 years ago. The body is your vessel through life. Treat it well and give it what it needs. We’re all learning what that means and we’re looking for ways to treat our bodies and minds better.
While reading the dementia article, I noted that physical exercise is always recommended to help reduce the effects of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, three factors that cause dementia.
Rather than reciting the old cliché of killing two birds with one stone, I would prefer to say “giving two birds life with a single act.” I feel like tai chi and qigong offer strong possibilities for helping a lot of people who would otherwise suffer from dementia.
Sometimes you can use tai chi to treat a particular health issue by doing almost the same thing that causes the problem. It’s akin to homeopathy, where you treat the germ with the germ itself, so to speak.
Take carpal tunnel, for example. You get it by doing the same motion repeatedly for long periods of time. Fatigue sets in and your forearms tighten up. You keep doing it because you have to work, make money, pay the bills.
But then muscles, tendons and ligaments start aching from overuse. Pain sets in and doesn’t go away. You hang on, hoping it will disappear on its own, or you’ll overcome it long enough to make it through the day.
Then you hurt even when you’re not at work. It becomes “chronic pain.” A doctor may say tests show nothing wrong. False hope. You’re in pain and you know it.
Maybe he’ll say it’s probably wise to stop doing whatever behavior is causing the problem. Wish you could, right?
Eventually, maybe, a doctor offers some hope, sort of. He suggests surgery. It’s your gamble, though. It’s a 60/40, maybe 90/10, chance that surgery will heal you.
No guarantees, of course, except maybe that they can operate on you and it will cost a lot of money. The irony is the carpal tunnel came from working for money.
The homeopathy idea about tai chi is that repetitive movement over a period of time, such as single, basic moves, can help alter the pattern of movement that causes problems. Something about the different manner and intent of the movement can alleviate pain, soreness, stiffness, and retrieve ease of movement and range of motion. Plus, it can release overall tension and help you feel a little better all around.
No guarantee there either, but no slice and splice, and no hospital bills.
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.