Energy and the role of the body in tai chi

My teacher, George Xu, says to “think” energy moving through the body. Part of my understanding of this matches his instructions, but I go beyond the literal meaning of his words. For example, I “feel” the energy moving as though that were thinking. I “think-feel” or “feel-think”. From my training with my teachers and readings from other traditions, I’ve come to apply the term “perception” to refer to this. I perceive a sucking up and sinking down, qi flowing and energy moving. This term is more encompassing, and I believe, a more accurate description of the phenomena.

A Buddhist might call this “bare attention,” but that may not be entirely accurate for all I know, which is very little.

The role of the physical body in this dynamic may be a sticking point. On one hand, the body must get out of the way for the energy to move it. The mind must intend it. You have to consciously instigate letting go. It can take years of practice to achieve incremental progress, but when it happens it can happen suddenly, effortlessly. Kind of surprising.

It doesn’t have to take long before you experience this letting go. You may be just starting out in your practice, but it can happen. The speed at which the internal arts are developing in the West makes the possibility of real individual progress greater, in my view. It will remain a life-long practice for most, but we can achieve greater, deeper understanding much sooner than in past decades when this information was new and rather foreign to our minds.

Master George says to “suck” energy up through the legs, which triggers a complementary (“reactionary”) sinking of, or yin, of energy from the top downward. This is what takes the opponent’s force to Earth. He also would say that the muscles of the calves change as a result of this “thinking.” At the end of a five-day training this past autumn he began giving us pointers for the physical body and how to use it to achieve his internal and “spiritual” work, which had been the full focus of his teaching for the previous four or so days. For him the internal, or (Qi/Chi) and spiritual (Shen) practices are the true offerings of Chinese martial arts and where power comes from.

The question of how Qi moves, and moves through, the body captures the attention of many as being key to the ultimate evolution of understanding. To resolve this issue would move any practitioner much further along in his or her learning journey.

Tai chi and spine health

Tai chi and spine health: tai chi is a powerful way of activating the spine and flooding it with healing energy. Look at the backs of many martial artists and you will see youthful strength and vigor, even in men and women of advanced age in the their 70s and 80s. Average people in our country spend a lot of time doing things other than developing a strong back. If we do, we think of it in terms of muscle strength. In Chinese internal martial arts, we focus on developing an energetic back, one in which the nervous system is activated through precise movements. Qi is stimulated and the body is refreshed. This is quite different from the westernize method of “working out.”

Additionally, focusing on the back and spine takes attention away from the stomach, which is what the average US person is tied to. We eat too much, we think that a six pack is cool, and we have bad backs. This tells you something is being missed if you ask me. Not that anyone is, but it’s been on my mind lately. I know have to watch I put in my body as much as what I do to it, or with it. I have to look at what not to do as much as what I am doing. I probably should practice tai chi more often and more regularly, but I’m doing better than not practicing at all. People who don’t exercise at all must surely be taking a toll on their longevity.

We sit too much. Doing tai chi helps get us up and work our skeleton and nervous system. Tai chi tells our bodies that we are not ready to just sit around waiting for old age to take its toll on us. Our bodies are capable of living 120 years quite easily, even longer, if we took care of them in ways that facilitate long life. Tai chi is a way to do that, along with intelligent nutrition, of course (see my website’s tai chi and nutrition page). Too often, our final years and days are put in the care of doctors and nurses (who provide a great service albeit with limitations) which often becomes a sad time of hospital bedcare and loss of dignity. We deserve much more than that kind of withering away. We deserve lives of vigor and longevity. Childhood is not just a phase of life that fades into “old age.” It is only the beginning of a long, vigorous time in this marvelous world.