Thoughts on Developing Your Home Tai Chi Practice Routine

I was recently asked about developing a routine for home practice. Most of us are probably used to being given a set of movements to do—one set for everyone. I take a different approach, suggesting that you choose a few moves from among the many that we do in class that appeal to you and remember them at home.

While we share a lot in common, every person is different: different bodies, different circumstances, and different interests, needs and desires. So the routine you develop should be customized to you and not have to be a “one size fits all” approach.

Still, you need a place to begin when you’re new to the system. That’s why I share a system made up of loosening exercises, stretching, single-basic moves, qigong, some standing (called Zhan Zhuang), and tai chi form. This is the context out of which a home practice develops.

I also say that that tai chi is founded upon moving in six directions and in three patterns, or shapes, of movement: up/down, left/right, front/back, and circles, figure 8s, and spirals. This is the foundation of your practice.

To add to that, you begin to cultivate an awareness of the energetic piece of the practice, which brings up the questions of “how” to move in the directions and patterns. What you’re doing with your mind, more specifically.

I begin with the question of, “How do you initiate the move and from which point in the body?” You can begin with the dantian point below the navel and inward about three inches (xia dantian), or the zhong ding (central equilibrium/spine). Remember that the focus of your attention is what you’re working on in any particular moment. With experience you can hold your attention on more than a single thing at a time. The key is to develop a concentration and sustain that concentration. This correlates with the meditative function of tai chi and qigong.

With these ideas you have a foundation to begin your home practice. It takes a little time to get familiar with these concepts, but with some effort it comes together. And with a little help from teacher and fellow practitioners you can build a stronger understanding through group practice and testing.

So pick out a few single moves and practice them at home. You can do a few minutes every day whenever your feel the urge, or remember that you have the chance to make a difference in your condition if you try.

This way you’re doing a more customize practice rather than having to do what the teacher forces on you regardless of your unique situation.

Advertisements

Article Forward: Tai Chi’s “Molecular Signature”

Question: What “reverses the effect that stress or anxiety … have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed?” You guessed it! What potentially could be a landmark finding probably won’t surprise some tai chi practitioners (yoga and meditation, too). It’s good to know that researchers is paying attention.

Dear tai chi practitioners,
Shh…Don’t tell them it’s not just about “mind-body.” Let’s keep our little secret. Tell ’em they have to do tai chi to really find out.

http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20170616/why-yoga-tai-chi-and-meditation-are-good-for-you

Tai chi as a practice to train the mind

Renown Zen master DT Suzuki writes in the introduction to the little book entitled Zen in the Art of Archery that describes something that I’ve discovered about tai chi. He writes that a significant feature of the practice of archery is not “… for utilitarian purposes only or for purely aesthetic enjoyments, but … meant to train the mind; indeed, to bring it into contact with the ultimate reality.”

This is la raison d’etre for tai chi for me—to train the mind. Training the body is equally key to balancing the dynamics of yin and yang in motion, of course, but Master Suzuki touches on a very core notion of tai chi practice that takes a little extra effort to grasp. Technique and application are subsumed by training the mind.

“If one really wishes to be master of an art, technical knowledge of it is not enough,” he continues. “One has to transcend technique so that the art becomes an ‘artless art’ growing out of the Unconscious.”

He intrigues the reader with this rather abstract statement, but his next statement, for me, speaks directly to what I try to arrive at in my understanding of taijiquan, qigong, and Chinese internal martial arts, in general.

“The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull’s-eye which confronts him. This state of unconsciousness is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill, …”

This may still appear rather abstract to most tai chi practitioners, but it does speak to what you experience after practicing long enough. That is, when you seek and find silence in your thoughts, the act becomes one of balancing thought with non-thought, or the “unconscious.”

Master Suzuki writes, “As soon as we reflect, deliberate, and conceptualize, the original unconsciousness is lost and a thought interferes.”

If you experience this in tai chi practice, then please share your thoughts with me and others. I recommend reading Zen in the Art of Archery (Eugen Herrigel, 1953) if only to read the introduction by Master Suzuki. I found a copy at White Rabbit Books on the River Trail in Durango.

ARTICLE: The Link Between Stress And Heart Disease May Lie In The Brain

This article is in Forbes magazine, written by Alice Walton. Findings in a study reported on in the Lancet link the brain to stress and heart disease, with inflammation in the arteries as a major symptom. Duh…I suspect as much when I suffered from migraines as a teenager. It’s taken 50 years for science to catch up, but I’m glad it’s coming round to greater grasp by researchers.

The article concludes that “Exercise, meditation, talk therapy and other methods have been shown to be effective.” Well, I suggest doing tai chi. Why? For one reason, for the busy A personalities among us, is Tai Chi is a meditation and exercise wrapped up into a single activity. How’s that for multi-tasking?

Here the Forbes article:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/01/12/the-link-between-stress-and-heart-disease-may-lie-in-the-brain/#6e7a01435312

Mindfulness Meditation To Tai Chi: How To Meditate And The Best Meditation Technique For You

This article states that, “Meditation doesn’t have to be stationary.” Welcome to tai chi, people.

http://www.medicaldaily.com/mindfulness-meditation-tai-chi-how-meditate-and-best-meditation-technique-you-402001

A view of the mindful movement of tai chi

White Crane Spreads Wings tai chi posture

Yang Panhou, White Crane Spreads Wings


Normally when we move through life, our attention is divided. We seldom give full attention to anything that we happen to be doing in any given moment. We are multi-tasking to the ultimate, rushing around, moving here and there. Our minds are elsewhere, thinking about things beyond what our bodies are doing. This wearies many of us and stress builds. We have difficulty managing emotions, we react to the world in desperation and despair; and over time, our health even wanes.

Take driving an automobile for example. While driving we are doing many things at once. We are steering, operating accelerator and brakes, reading road signs, watching out for other drivers, making sure we stay in our lane, the rearview mirror thing is happening. At the same time, we’re also thinking about what’s for dinner, or what a friend or relative is doing, or what was said earlier, or about work problems … on and on it goes. If this ever wears you down, then welcome to the club.

For respite we turn to diversions, such as movies or television sports, or participate in sports. These help take our minds off our worries. These activities give us a break from the more stressful stuff … until we’re off again multitasking states of being. Often, we end up doing even more stuff to try and relax from the other stuff we are doing that wears us down. It’s a vicious cycle of endless return.

In contrast, the mindful movement practice of tai chi gives us a chance to move with the fullest attention of our whole being to the very act of movement itself. And when we do this, we feel different, refreshed, whole again. Relaxation is letting go, unburdening ourselves of energetic stagnation and energetic weights that are not us.

Tai chi differs from watching a movie of course, since tai chi is movement you do yourself. You are consciously choosing to give your fullest attention to the movement.

For many practitioners tai chi is the ultimate meditative movement, because it involves all levels of our total being. It’s not just physical, which most western-based exercises or therapies are limited by. Tai chi is mental, energetic, even spiritual alignment in the sense of connecting the very same energies in our beings with those that make up the whole universe. You immerse your whole being completely in the moment, and in return it feeds back regenerative power.

If you discover the wonders of tai chi, you probably will consider yourself extremely lucky and your gratitude will be reflected in your practice. How much should you practice? Even the smallest amount of effort can produce big benefits in terms of how you feel.

Get in touch with your own sense of self with taiji

Susan Matthews, Rose Oliver, Wang Ming Bo

Susan Matthews Rose Oliver, Wang Ming Bo in August 2012 in Durango, Colorado

Physical qi reacts to psychic or mental energy. If we resonate with what we are doing we are energized by it. We may suffer from fatigue, but we don’t know where it comes from. We sleep relatively well, we eat well, or so it seems, yet we are tired early in the day. We are sluggish, depleted. We are not doing what we truly love to do. Taiji is a useful tool to many who want to reconnect with their energetic selves. It is like an aid to reestablish that old familiar feeling of happiness and a good feeling of energy to spare, especially while we are making efforts to get back to what we love. Taiji gets in touch with your own internal pulse. It unifies your energies, connects deeply with your own sense of self and helps you to be comfortable in your own skin. Relax into yourself, do what you do, naturally.

Plough through to the other side of practice

You have to keep ploughing through to the other side of your practice to arrive at a particular level of understanding. When you do, you see why it’s worth trying in the first place. This is a magical moment that you can reach in the practice of tai chi. My favorite practitioners of taiji are so happy to be doing what they do that it is easy for them to practice everyday regardless if anyone is watching. Many of us have to get through when we don’t feel like it. Getting motivated is hard to do. Why it’s easy for some and difficult for others is a fascinating topic, but I couldn’t tell anyone why if they were to ask. All I know is that something compels some people to come to taiji class.

Many if not most people who have come to my class have never returned. I don’t really know why. Did it have to do with my teaching style or the information itself, or if they just don’t have the conviction. Some people dream of becoming healthier, to heal themselves. They try taiji perhaps to address those needs. Does anyone who quits practicing ever remember why they thought of taiji in the first place? That original spark of interest?

One thing I have concluded from my own experience is that it helps little to try convincing someone that something is good for them when they don’t accept it for themselves. They may know it’s true, but many would rather believe in something else. In my case, I acted in spite of my tendency to quit, in spite of my doubts. My thinking was that I wasn’t doing anything else worthwhile to improve my health anyway. Not an ideal line of thought, I guess; but effective.

Plus, I always admired the strength and graceful coordination of martial artists. The energetic effortlessness of their movements. They also seemed to merge healthy activities with philosophical views about the world and their place in it. Not that others don’t do that, but in martial arts I feel more like I’m thinking about my place in the world and society deliberately as part of my taiji practice. How you interact with others is not only a martial encounter. Martial training is an umbrella concept for any encounter, including peaceful. This is a more holistic approach for me.