Tai Chi Prompt: Know you central equilibrium

Know where your central equilibrium is. Move around it, up and down its length. Forward and back. Straight, strong, alive, flexible, always regenerating.

Doing snake creeps down in silk reeling and an application with Master George Xu

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Tai chi: a little purpose in life

Seniors who believe they have a purpose in life may sleep better, researchers say.

Give yourself a little purpose by adding tai chi to your daily routine. Findings from this study doesn’t talk about tai chi, but I believe it would be just as valid as any other “purpose.”


Are you doing tai chi? No?

People ask about getting tai chi right. What’s the right way, what’s the wrong? I tell them not to think of it as either right or wrong, just that you’re refining from where you are in your efforts to learn tai chi. This practice builds on the last practice. It’s cumulative. I believe that this thinking helps to dispel the idea that you have to do it right before you do it at all.

The only way to know tai chi is to do it. If you put off doing anything at all related to tai chi, you may never learn anything. You’re dealing yourself a bad hand by making judgments over whether you’re good enough to do it. A teacher can tell you the way he came and you can apply it to your choices, or not. It won’t matter either way if you don’t practice. Only the individual practitioner sees the way. No one else can see it for you.

So how to overcome judgment of yourself, or of tai chi itself? One view is that the simplest activity can be a practice of tai chi. Even doing a single basic repetition is doing tai chi. Even sitting for 60 seconds and breathing mindfully is doing qigong. Anyone can do that anytime and, every time you do, you’re building on the last time you did that.

The catch is that you have to do it regularly enough to reap the benefits. You won’t see results unless you do something and you do it regularly enough.

A journey of learning entails the step-wise progression of putting pieces of information together and building a body of knowledge. It’s a body of simple, personal observations filed away for later use—not assumptions based on conventionalized thought. It is not one thing or another to be argued right or wrong. It is based on your own discoveries. It is experience and the memories of experience.

Home Practice: One key to reaping benefits from tai chi

One key to reaping the greatest benefits from tai chi is to develop a home practice. I like the word practice more than “routine,” which you might hear in some exercise circles. Practice is something you do regularly, which may seem like a routine. But practice, for me anyway, offers opportunities for refinement. You don’t do the same thing every time you do your practice. You create opportunities to discover new things as you learn.

I recently suggested to release tension when moving and not to clench or tighten joints, tendons and ligaments, as well as muscle. This may sound like a rule to apply to all of your efforts, but it’s actually not possible to do all the time. It would be great if you could whenever you needed, for sure.

For the sake of your practice now, just remember to let tension go when you recognize you have it. Try to change that condition into some other state. For all intents and purposes, that probably will take all of your concentration.

Beyond this, you may eventually find the importance of having the control to do what you want when you want. This is a sign of being more aware of what’s going on in your mind and body. For example, more clarity comes from being able not only to relax when you want, but also tighten when you want.

It’s not that easy often, mainly because we’re not clear on what we’re doing. It’s too much guess work for us. Knowing what you want to do and having enough control of your body and mind to actually do it is one ability you’re searching for in practice.

One way to approach it is to try to move a part of your body in isolation from the rest. Once you can do that, then you can intend the rest of the body to follow. You should feel, sooner or later, the energy flowing through your whole being.

As an example of what I mean, I told you once to tighten the hamstrings. This is a way of guiding your focus to move something specific on purpose. I like the word condense energy, where your power coils up and quickly “springs” open when you’re ready.

I also bring out a similar subject when doing qigong and single-basic repetitions. The idea, in this case, is to extend the arms and legs to a point then quickly release and continue on. This is the idea with the poses in Eights Pieces of Brocade, such as bow and arrow.

Moving a muscle or combination of joint, bones, ligaments, and tendons, or fascia as well, begins with holding our attention on a point in the body and initiating a movement from it. Once that’s accomplished, you can hold your attention there while also placing it on a secondary activity, such as another point, or movement itself. The nature of movement refers to speed, quality, shape, size and so on. To reiterate—learn to do what you want to when you want to.

When I say try to relax and release tension, I’m referring to the result of doing something deeper within. This requires cultivating an awareness of the feeling of your intended movement. You need to feel the move, not just think it. Thinking is a small part of tai chi practice, if any at all. Words may help to describe, but they don’t adequately explain, nor can they elicit real understanding on their own. You must feel it.

How do you reach that coveted state of understanding? First, you must practice at your level of understanding and observe your actions. Beware of trying to understand before you practice, or you’ll risk falling into the trap of thinking you’re skilled when in truth you may not be. Understanding is discovered through practice.

We can practice and get feedback by sharing our experiences, and doing group and two-person training. These are great benefits to learning. But in the end, it’s you who comes into understanding through solo practice.

If you like this sort of info, please let me know by writing a comment. I want to provide you with useful knowledge that you can use and apply in your practice. It would be helpful to hear from you in this regard.

Notes from practicing “peng” and a stimulating conversation

I used to assume that we westerners prefer explanations as we learn tai chi. In contrast, in China, teachers might not explain anything at all. However, explanations, or descriptions, are not as defined culturally as an individual preference, I think. We learn by listening to explanations and by doing.

We had a productive practice Saturday outdoors that, for me, revealed many things about this idea of learning and doing tai chi. To learn more deeply by doing tai chi, I believe. However, some explanation can be useful at the right time and place.

At one point in practice, a comment from me triggered a robust conversation (descriptions) and some good practice (doing). We were doing some two-person testing of brush knee.

I said that women are fun to work with because they are not trying to prove something to anyone, except themselves, maybe. They’re there to learn, experience, see what the potential is. More like curiosity.

Men learners, on the other had, more often must prove something to someone else. They are less inclined to prove it for themselves alone. For example, in two-person practice if I “peng” the other person, the hoped-for response is to yield (yin) at the point of contact, then yang from another quarter. Often, men tighten up and resist yang with yang, which hinders your freedom to move…to say the least. Push hands turns into who’s the strongest.

It’s also a sign that you are not able, nor, perhaps, willing, to let go of your preconceptions about two-person interaction. Whether for fun in tai chi class or in real life struggles the goal is to learn “yin-yang”: when to yin, when to yang, and when not to.

One person jokingly said, “You mean, you’re saying we need to get in touch with our feminine side?”

I don’t recall my reply in that moment, but I would have agreed with the idea that we should connect our yin side with our yang side in such a way that one doesn’t overpower the other and they work together harmoniously. Also, work with another person’s yin and yang energy in a similar manner.

I tried to articulate that tai chi is an exercise of shifting perspective to see perceptual bias underlying your actions. What is motivating you to do a move? The underlying attitude? What is the self-image and the intent behind the posture, or technique, or pattern of movement?

We were talking about “peng” or “full”, which is to fill with energy. I likened it to filling with qi at the center and expand it to the extremities, filling feet and hands. You could also view peng as projecting the view outwardly, encasing the body in a energy sphere.

We then did a couple of single-basic moves and explored relaxing the shoulder without collapsing and not tensing it as much as we were able, then tried to fill the whole body with energy and expand outward in peng.

We found two dilemmas: one was we couldn’t fill enough and expand and we sort of petered out. A more effective way would be to expand a sphere of energy beyond the body so physical movement would take place within that ball of energy. This is one way to view peng in an energetic sense.

The other is we would go immediately to “jing,” meaning we tighten muscles and lock up the body and try to overpower the other person physically, or at least stop them from attacking. We break through any energy sphere we might have developed in this case.

These responses signal that we don’t know what we’re doing. So I say that the goal is to know what you want to do in your practice and how to do it. This concept lies at the core. Don’t do just anything because you feel pressure to do something.

I also suggested that you have to do the moves repetitively and rhythmically in order to train the mind to shift more freely when in solo practice or two-person. This practice helps to develop power, too.

For now, we could just focus on filling a part of the body and allowing qi to flow through to other areas. You can breathe into the dantian, or lower back, or jade pillow, for example, and try to feel for it growing beyond into adjacent areas and ultimately everywhere, to toes and fingers.

A emotion word dictionary

This is about emotion words for which no English equivalent exists.

I like this quote from Dr. Lomas who has been researching these cool words and has built a “dictionary” of 1,000 words from all around the world and from diverse cultures. …especcially the final sentence, which reminds me of tai chi learning.

“In our stream of consciousness – that wash of different sensations feelings and emotions – there’s so much to process that a lot passes us by,” Lomas says. “The feelings we have learned to recognise and label are the ones we notice – but there’s a lot more that we may not be aware of. And so I think if we are given these new words, they can help us articulate whole areas of experience we’ve only dimly noticed.”


Dr. Lomas’s website