Curated Article: Tai Chi for Seniors by William C. C. Chen

This is a good read written by William C. C Chen, who is 86 years old now. Entitled “Tai Chi Exercise for Seniors,” I thought I would pass it on to readers of this blog. http://www.williamccchen.com/Seniors.htm

Thursday, July 12, 2018

“The ancient Chinese martial art of Tai Chi Chuan is the perfect callisthenic for today’s seniors. The relaxed and unhurried movements help alleviate nervous and muscular tension. Tai Chi Chuan lubricates joints and promotes automatic body alignment for better control of balance, helping to prevent the instability that can lead to falls.”

Just what are you moving when you do tai chi?

One thing I like about learning and doing tai chi is that it is something that we haven’t done before. At least what we don’t recognize as something we’ve done before. Maybe we have, but don’t realize it as something familiar, … maybe we do.

Nevertheless, whatever way you may see it, tai chi is taking new pathways into the mind and body and discovering new ways of thinking and being. In fact, learning tai chi is more like discovering. You discover a process of movement that produces new perceptions about what you’re doing which, in the case of tai chi, has movement at its core.

The question I have asked myself in the past is: “What is it that you’re moving when you’re “doing tai chi”? The most obvious answer is moving the body, of course; but is that all there is that is actually moving? What about the mind? Is not the mind moving as well? Are we not shifting our attention, our perception to become aware of something about movement that we didn’t notice before?

Next time you “do” tai chi, maybe you will enjoy thinking about this little aspect of movement than may not have occurred to you before.

Turning attention inward—and outward—in tai chi practice

Taiji is a meditative practice. We often think that means turning the attention inward. True. It could be a focus on breathing, or silencing the mind of thoughts. You can do that in taiji, but as a moving meditation you also have a task of focusing on the outside of the self. Or more accurately, focusing the self on what is happening outside; for example, to ground one’s self. This is a process of finding a surer footing; to sink in gravity, yet float on water. To move in various directions, shapes and patterns with greater ease and balance.

It’s also a process of sensing your surroundings and how your body is situated in space. You could say that grounding yourself is more than feeling the soles of your feet on the Earth and sensing movement through them. It’s also sensing movement in the near environment. The far environment, too—the sky, the distant view. Your yin and yang can expand and fill in the space while also condensing and rooting in earth and sky.

That’s the focus. So how do you do it? Certainly by feeling with the body. Also by listening to the body with the mind—with inherent powers of observation and honing one’s awareness in on the inner and outer workings of the whole being. How is a move done? What makes the move occur in the first place? Bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, even organs. How does the body change directions? How much force is generated or is any generated at all? What’s moving, what is not? Tension is released in degrees, so what does that feel like? Can you describe it? Give it language?

Parts of us are asleep. Both the mind and body are asleep. Inertia is at work. Tai chi helps to wake them up. But what do you wake up first? How do you wake? To wake the body, move in ways different from your usual way. Wake the mind by looking at the world in different ways, from different angles and with different perspectives. Moving and seeing differently creates new opportunities for discovery and understanding. The whole of doing tai chi is a question of how to move in general, and how to move each part of the body, specifically.

About loosening in tai chi

I don’t really know about what other tai chi teachers do, but I show learners loosening exercises that they can do to achieve a number of results. One result is to improve concentration on repetitive, rhythmic motion for building skill in biomechanical efficiency, balance and even power. Usually, I encompass these kinds of exercises in “single-basic” exercises. On-going students are familiar with these, but beginners stumble over various aspects of practicing them. One of them is speed.

Speed is not always good in loosening exercise. Slowing down allows you to get connected more readily. Staying connected while moving is easier to accomplish if you stop assuming—moving faster while cycling through them more rapidly—is better. Like it’s aerobics or some cardio exercise.

This tai chi is not, and it may be foolish to compare one to the other. They’re different approaches to movement. Do cardio if you want, but don’t think something is missing in tai chi because it’s not going fast enough or hard enough. You won’t get what tai chi has to offer that is as valuable as anything you can get from some kind of aerobic tai chi.

One of those things you get from tai chi is powerful whole-body connectivity. The mental concentration it takes to achieve it leads to a boon in better mind-body connection and better health and longevity