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.
People don’t know what tai chi really is, or could be, or how much more they could know about it and the potential it holds. Narrowing it down to a phrased description I would say tai chi is a whole-being movement art. It is body-mind movement. Even more, it is mind-energy-body movement meditation. It is being.
The body possesses a sentient awareness unique from the brain, which in turn has its own way of interpreting data provided by the senses. A quiet mind allows this to happen. The body is close to the life force. Thought is not essential, yet knowing is possible. The body can be kept alive even if the brain is dead. The body knows when it is sick and when it is well. It doesn’t need the brain to tell it. It has its own way of knowing. This way of knowing, the tai chi practitioner seeks in practice: to know with the body, to think with the heart, to feel your way, rather than have a discussion in the brain about what the body is doing.
From my tai chi perspective, young people are just as bad off as older folks in many ways. The reason why is because we all learn to move incorrectly from the very beginning. We learn to walk wrong. We learn to use our bodies in ways that expedite decrepitude.
Young bodies in the teens and twenties are still relatively new so they don’t show the wear and tear of, say, fifties and sixties. Their bodies are strong and they heal more quickly. Of course, we take all that for granted when we’re young. But the young are doing the same things that old folks were doing during those years of life … misusing, abusing, overusing, underusing, and so on.
One sign of this, for example, that I’ve noticed is in the position of the ankles in many young people. So many kids at very young ages have crooked ankle joint positions. Their ankles are caved inward, sometimes outward to a gross degree. Even very young kids have flat feet, weak arches. This throws off their postures and eventually leads to various chronic pain issues, poor balance and who knows what.
Shoes we wear as infants are one source of this problem. They force the feet to conform to the hard unyielding structure and materials with which they are constructed. Also, we simply don’t learn to walk properly from the very beginning when we learn to balance ourselves upright on two legs and start propelling ourselves forward in space. It’s such a wonderful feeling that we can’t help but run around, joyous in our newly found freedom of movement. It’s especially great after being bound by wretched immobility for the first several months of life.
Basically, what happens is we learn techniques for movement that place uneven pressure on bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons. After a lifetime of moving with incorrect posture, your body wears out and you feel pain and discomfort. If you’re an athlete, injuries will occur probably due simply to overexertion; extending beyond the limit of your body’s ability to withstand the strain. But it could just as easily be from simple misalignment that was learned through incorrect usage. If you’re an average person of average active daily living you are merely extending the timing, but you inevitably wear out by old age from usage or injury.
I don’t believe this should be an accepted reality of aging. That’s not a way to live nor a way to die.
Could it be that many of our bodily issues stem from how we learn to walk in the first years of youth? A sign that this may be true is the fact so many people have trouble with their balance as they age. It had to start somewhere in life. It doesn’t just happen because you’re older. Many are turning to tai chi because it is known to help improve balance and reduce or even overcome chronic joint and muscle pain. Tai chi definitely can help. This is known and accepted by more and more people across the world.
What if you could avoid these age issues by starting tai chi earlier in life? You would learn that these problems are not as inevitable as commonly assumed. If more people recognize the promise of tai chi later in life, why not while young? Why wait until you have time to do it once you’re retired? That’s only putting off the inevitable when you are closer to desperation and in great need of a cure for old age, like so many of us experience.
Believe it or not, tai chi is a remedy for old age … and young age.
The benefits of tai chi are numerous and have been known for a very long time, but Americans are really only recently learning about them. It takes time to find out about things even in these times of rapid-fire media. It takes time to to take hold and I’m finding out that people begin to notice more of what I’ve known for almost two decades when articles about research start showing up in media where people get their information.
I know about the abilities of tai chi to heal after practicing it for 16 years. I’ve seen it change me and my health and my approach to health. I tell people all the time about what they could learn from doing tai chi, but it is difficult for them to believe and to change their routines in order to spend the time it takes to experience the benefits. I hope more people discover the potential and possibilities from tai chi and qigong, as well as other complementary and alternative approaches to preventative healthcare. If people don’t believe me, maybe they’ll believe references to research that seem to influence our belief systems so much.
What I like about tai chi is that it puts you in a position of learning. Learning makes you feel good about yourself. When you feel good, you’re more likely to feel good about other things. It’s like being in love or being loved by someone. It tends to overflow into other things you’re doing.
In my years of practicing and teaching I’ve seen a lack of motivation among many aging baby boomers and post-boomers to do physical activity. One thing that happens is work depletes their energy reserves. They resist exercise, as a result, because a lot of exercise, like the kind you find in gyms, is too strenuous. A lot is repetitious and boring, too. What we need after a tough day on the job, office or field, is to relax, right?
If you’re dealing with a similar issue and feel stuck, you probably haven’t figure out that tai chi can help you replenish. Maybe you have not discovered tai chi at all. Not yet, anyway. From my perspective, after practicing and teaching tai chi for many years, the accepted exercise norms lack the mind-energy-body integration that tai chi offers. The imagination is not stimulated. The excitement of learning is not there. So we don’t “exercise.” We don’t make the effort and if we do, often, we give up trying sooner or later.
This topic was covered recently in a ScienceDaily.com article, “Boomers building muscle at the gym—but where’s the passion” (8/6/2014).
“What stunned me was when we think of boomers — healthy ambulatory individuals who are reasonably robust and who theoretically have more time on their hands — one might imagine they would want to continue having fun and experiencing personal challenge and growth in what they’re doing,” says Prof. James Gavin (Concordia Univ. Dept. of Applied Human Sciences, published study results in the International Journal of Wellbeing). As a contrast, he points to the excitement and spontaneity that young children display in their physical activities.
Gavin says the results of his study propose a challenge for the fitness industry to move away from machine-dominated options toward personally meaningful and socially connected pursuits. He points to activities where passion happens in the sport itself and physical benefits are wonderful secondary outcomes. Team sports and martial arts are clear examples — even though many older adults mistakenly see themselves as “too old” for these activities.
Gavin goes on to talk about finding “passion” and “deep personal meaning in physical activity.” As far as I’m concerned tai chi remedies the problem, which is that too often individuals don’t stick around long enough to learn enough tai chi to get its fullest benefits. If we were just a little more passionate, we might reignite the excitment of youth when learning and physical activity were intertwined harmoniously.
Maybe it’s the charisma of the teacher, maybe the sheer depth and width of the information that we’re exposed to, that stops us. I certainly no longer accept the excuse that we don’t have time. I say make time. Your life is at stake.
Maybe we’re not desperate enough. I was when I began practicing. I was lucky to have a great teacher, who had a great teacher, who introduced me to other great teachers. I share my knowledge with others, because that’s how this kind of knowledge gets disseminated. It’s a word of mouth method. So I say, Learn Tai Chi. It’s easier than you think. I can show you something in less than 10 minutes that you can do with amazing results everyday for the rest of your life. How much trouble can it be to do that?
Does the hole you’re in look too deep to get out of? And so … you might as well stop trying to free yourself? Here’s a little piece of information that will surprise you. There is no hole and you only think you’re in one. Fact is, you’ve been tricked into thinking that you are. It’s not as bad as you think and you can do something about your predicament. Yes, your predicament is real enough. Maybe your health is compromised by being overweight, for example. But you can see a path to freedom. You’ve seen others overcome conditions and circumstances. There is plenty of proof of the probability of success. If we could strip away our pessimism what would the world look like? It would look bountiful, abundant, and some of the bounty is destined for you. If you allowed yourself to believe this, wouldn’t you feel better? If you just spoke these words aloud, what would it feel like? “The world is beautiful, bountiful and abundant, and some of it is destined for me.”
Reading Abundance—the Future is Better Than You Think—by Dr. Peter Diamandis (Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation) and Steven Kotler
Back to the (tai chi) basics. Breathing practice. Postures. Zhong ding. Dantian gong. Chan si qin. Qi go through. Whole body moves as single unit. Develop spine power and sensitivity not only for balance, but even more for energy refining. Develop dantian for both of those benefits and with more volume energy than a linear alignment. These are the things we focus on in class. I call this developing our tai nature. We are developing awareness then cultivating ability and refining both. It doesn’t matter which form you do or even the kind of martial art … hard, as well as soft. This will soften you though and improve longevity, too.
Everyone of us teachers encounters a time in his journey when he feels he doesn’t know how to teach. He knows he doesn’t and perhaps never did. This is not surprising. It may last only a hour or two, or maybe forever, but the time comes when you thought you knew what you were doing fizzles away under the light of a new level of understanding … that other moment that comes along in the journey of every teacher.