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.
You’re so busy to take in the wonder, not even enough time to take a moment to mourn the loss of the precious time burning away. What do you do? Here are a few ideas.
Tip #1—Where you do tai chi.
Get away from where you do your business in order to do tai chi without interruptions.
Tip #2—When to begin tai chi
When you wake, even before you get out of bed, give a thought to tai chi. When you rise, at least, inhale three times deeply, fully and think about one thing, one move, from tai chi that you did the last time you practiced.
Tip #3—Be kind to yourself
Pay your respects to yourself and every little effort you make to break the routine that has driven you to the point of wanting to learn something from outside of that routine, for example, TAI CHI!
Tip #4—It doesn’t have to be all or nothing
I believe that taking an hour out once a week to learn it in the class is not enough. However, I don’t expect anyone to at first spend hours doing tai chi at home. But I think that you can do a minute or two now and again. Simply standing in wuji is doing tai chi. Taking three full complete breaths is not nothing. Gathering your arms above your head and feel them drop slowly down in front of you like a stream of water pouring down a gentle slope is something. Try it. It just might make you feel good.
Build and strengthen your memory of tai chi through regular, sustained practice.
Part of your practice is trying to remember a move or sequence of moves despite whether you actually do recall exactly what they or even how to do them. This process is part of overall learning. Many of us have difficulty doing this, because, well…it seems difficult and it’s easier to not try instead. When this happens, we are procrastinating or suffering from a mild case of mental inertia. Fortunately, if you try anyway, in spite of how you feel, chances are likely that you will overcome your resistance.
Research shows as much. In the popular Coursera.org course “Learning How To Learn” with Barbara Oakley and Terrence Sejnowski, Professor Oakley tells learners that when we simply do our practice despite feeling resistant, we actually are happier we did. At first we just don’t feel like it. This sentiment generates thoughts of things we do like, which stimulates a good feeling that we can apply to the task at hand, which just a minute ago we didn’t want to do.
She also mentions a researcher in Italy who in the early 80s developed the “Pomodora,” which is a timer shaped like a tomato. She instructs to set the time to 25 minutes and really concentrate on one thing for that time. Once the timer goes off, reward yourself with just thinking or doing what you feel like. This trains the brain to do tasks that you otherwise would be reluctant to do left to your own designs. It does so by balancing “focused” mental attention with “diffuse” mental attention. It’s healthy and, for me as a tai chi teacher, a good way to get you to practice!
I suggest a sort of modification of this method for the beginning tai chi practitioner with the following sequence of practices.
- Stand in Wuji. Raise arms to hold the moon to your heart.
- Inhale and exhale deeply three times, feeling the sensation of breath filling and emptying the abdomen and lungs.
- Align the body’s central equilibrium. Knees slightly bent, over the top of the foot. Ears, shoulders, hips, ankles aligned.
- Rest your mind on your Dantian point and breath calmly for as many minutes as you feel comfortably doing.
- Visualize a movement, either a qigong or tai chi move. Just visualize it. You don’t have to do the movement, but if your body feels like following your visualization, then let it happen.
- Begin your solo home practice sessions and go into remembering as much as you can of form or qigong set.
- Always return to Wuji to rest and gather attention.
Let me know sometime how it works. I would enjoy hearing from you. In fact, comment now in the comment box and share with all readers.
Coordinating breath with movement is part of tai chi and qigong, but doesn’t need to be the central focus all the time. Mind and Qi can be coordinated, as well, and should be a major focus of tai chi practice. This goes beyond Qi gong.
Another focus is the question of when do you exhale and when do you inhale? The answer is, it depends. Today, I bent over to put on my slippers which I usually pull on while standing on one foot. I cross my ankle over the top of my knee and pull the slipper over my heel in a kind of off-center posture. I have realized, perhaps from these common habits, that how I breathe influences how it keep my balance. Without mindful breathing I can easily teeter off balance and lose it.
I noticed as I pulled on my slippers that I kept better balance by inhaling as I stooped down to pick up my slipper and pull it on, then exhaling at just the right moment to help propel me back upright.
You might think it would be better the other way around: exhale going down and inhale coming up. You can do that and it might work, too. The key is to try it out, whether it’s in/out, up/down.
Whatever you do, don’t hold your breath. Breathe through the move and coordinate the initiation and completion with the movement whether it’s up or down. With practice you can mature into doing that with energy alone and breath will be only a basic practice that is natural and not the core focus. The point at which learning is achieved is when new things are encountered, not with things known.
Visualize breathing from various locations in the body. For example, as the body moves, imagine inhaling and exhaling through the lower back as though through nostrils. Breathe into and out of the joints, the solar plexus, the soles of the feet and top of the head, the back of the neck. See how it changes how your body moves. The central equilibrium gravity dantian open close left right front back big little. You don’t have to practice tai chi to try this. Anyone can incorporate this simple tai chi breathing technique anytime during the day. It relaxes and teaches the body, plus it improves circulation, getting life-giving oxygen and nutrients into the blood stream. (…more about me)