Zhong Ding

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.

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

Taiji and Suzuki Roshi’s Zen Mind

I do tai chi as a way to not do other things that disrupt and cause stress. Practice is a meditation through which I may understand the nature of this moving meditation. When I began taiji, I had not yet explored sitting meditation; nor even moving meditation. I viewed taiji as an exercise that I hoped would help me relax, divert my mind away from stressful things and allow my body to heal.

Now, if I want, I can shift the intention of my practice from exercise to meditation and back; that is from physical practice to energy awareness practice, and to some extent spiritual practice. It’s all meditative, however, and as time passes and my practice matures, I ponder on the nature of meditation itself.

For me, many passages in Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind pertain to taiji practice, as well as sitting meditation (zazen). I became interested in reading this classic treatise on Zen practice while at the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center where we have had our annual five-day taijiquan camp for some years now. We meet in September with our teacher Xu Guo Ming (George Xu).

Suzuki Roshi speaks to why I do taiji. He describes what I aim to achieve in practice. One of those aims is to forget the self and merge with the movement and expand it to merge with a greater self that is not me.

For example, he writes “When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself” (p47). The first paragraph of that page is so dense with meaning that I can reread it over and over and always find fresh insight.

“. . . . usually our mind is very busy and complicated, and it is difficult to be concentrated on what we are doing. This is because before we act we think, and this thinking leaves some trace. Our activity is shadowed by some preconceived idea.” This applies in taiji practice, where movement aids in achieving quiet mind.

In “Mistakes in Practice,” he writes that when you become discouraged with your practice “. . . . you should be grateful that you have a sign or warning signal to show you the weak point in your practice” (p57). Similarly in taiji when we are aggravated by something in practice, it is a positive sign that you are becoming aware of your own nature, as well as gaining clarity on the direction practice can go.

Desiring to attain an ideal or goal creates more ideals and goals which in turn “sacrifices the meat of your practice” (p57). It is not possible to achieve rapid, extraordinary progress, he says. Learning is like walking in a fog compared to walking in a rain. You get wet little by little as you walk and practice is like this. But you must practice without seeking goals.

Suzuki Roshi writes: “When you are practicing zazen, do not try to stop your thinking. Let it stop by itself. . . . let it come in, and let it go out. It will not stay long. When you try to stop your thinking, it means you are bothered by it. . . . it is only the waves of your mind . . . . gradually they will become calmer . . . . (p17). We use movement to achieve this in taiji practice.

In taiji, there is a twist to this topic. Many practitioners assume they are achieving their objective, but in reality they only think they are. I find that it helps to study in a group to test yourself to reveal if you are actually doing what you intend or just think you are. I feel this is also good for meditation. Sit or practice with a group or knowledgeable teacher to help cut through the delusion of thought.

“The cause of conflict is some fixed idea or one-sided idea” (p60), Suzuki Roshi writes. This is so in world affairs and in one’s self. Taiji practice is a method of working this way of being out of the self. For me, the movement itself in a meditative mental state produces, or merges with, the intention of clearing the mind and body and energetic configuration for fixation.

These are just a few nuggets of wisdom corresponding to taiji practice found in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. If a taiji practitioner read this book, their practice would surely be imbued with greater awareness and beneficial results.

Tai chi and a Buddhist notion

Impermanence more than implies motion . . . . through time and space, through body, sensations, mind and phenomena, encountered in our particularized journeys. Our shared journey.

Tai chi practice and teaching is a sacred trust, because I have chosen to depend upon this methodology for attaining better health and awareness, and perhaps, enlightenment. I suppose that enlightenment can take place on many levels and in many degrees of life without actually trying. Maybe at some point there is a great, final awakening; but until then it’s small, incremental ones. Unfortunately, for most of us, they are so small that we don’t notice them. Perhaps that is not so unfortunate.

The tai chi rain dance

Note: I wrote the following two years ago. It’s now spring 2018. We have had almost not snow since December, nor rain. We’re in the midst of a severe drought, mere months after a decently wet 2016-17. I’m wondering how to accept with a quite mind and peaceful heart, knowing the impacts a drought can have to the land and the way of life of its inhabitants.

I live in a narrow valley isolated from neighbors and traffic. Its steep slopes on either side block my view of sunrises and sunsets, but also protect me from unsolicited intrusions. Drought has become common for several years. This land would flourish if it received twice the rain it has had over recent years. But El Nino apparently has brought more precipitation for some months now. Not too much and somewhat regularly. This spring’s rainfall shows it would take little to green the place up with more verdant growth. The rain dances must have worked. I know I’ve been calling the rain in my own way. Tai chi. It’s like a dance. Your partner is nature. Your senses are your instruments. They touch feel hear taste smell and see the wind and light. Shadows and the sun’s glare. The far and the close. Big and small. Hard and soft. Very powerful stuff. I hardly know what to do with all the extra energy. It often arrives in bursts, making it even trickier to steer. My response lately has been to keep moving. Go to the moves for guidance along with an intention of sharpening the senses to discern new insights in practice.

Tai Chi as sitting meditation

Tai chi is often thought of as a moving meditation performed standing and walking, but you can do it sitting, too. By meditation, I mean focusing attention on a specific point and/or activity with single-minded concentration. You’ll be “active” in either case as a result of your brain’s “mental activity.” This is a form of mindfulness practice.

A practitioner can easily sit quietly and “practice” tai chi form by visualizing moving through the postures and transitions. Well, maybe it’s not easy for a beginning practitioner, but it is kind of fun. Plus, it’s good for the brain and probably helps to improve memory, or activate areas of the brain that affect our ability to remember things during the learning process (cerebral cortex and sub-cortical parts, such as basal ganglia).

As far as the brain is concerned, the results would be much the same as if you were standing and doing the moves. For a long time, studies have continually recorded evidence that the brain registers the mental imagery same as it does the action itself (example article).

Tai chi and qigong movement are known to improve many physical and mental functions. For example, your bones, joints, ligaments and tendons benefit from their regenerative movement and relaxation. Balance and injurious falls in the elderly have been the most commonly researched topics full of positive findings, although that’s changing fast. Research is spanning out into brain, cardiac, body mechanics, and several other fields of study.

Another common benefit is improved blood circulation which delivers more oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells. Just by breathing deliberately in specific ways, such as abdominal breathing, whole-body breathing or reverse breathing, you can activate energizing results. This is much like mindfulness breathing encountered in Buddhist meditation practice. In the case of tai chi, you’re standing and moving.

Could you produce these effects merely by sitting and visualizing them? Why can’t I produce better circulation if I can imagine it? I’m not a researcher in the formal sense, but I’ve gained insights from direct experience. My body and mental attitude have changed after years of consistent, regular practice of employing conscious use of “mind intention” to move—intending a movement before actually performing it. This is a key to advanced tai chi practice. It’s calms me down, too, in response to the hectic world and its resulting stress levels in the body. Anyone and everyone already practices mind intention at a subconscious level, since it’s a very human ability; but how many of actually deliberately practice it?

Simply visualizing doing tai chi form in your mind’s eye as if you were literally moving through the postures and transitions with your whole body is a practice of mind intention. The more you do it the more powerful results it can produce. A couple come to mind.

Improved memorization of movement and better overall memory function in the brain. Tai chi beginners have to memorize the sequence of postures and transitions of form, mostly from rote practice. But most are not going to stop what they’re doing and practice form, or find a specific time and place to practice during the day.

So, I recommend to learners to “practice” tai chi visualization, wherever they may be (office, driving, cashier line, waiting for movie to start, bored state, lying down to sleep). Take a few moments to run through each move of the form in their mind’s eye. So when they do stand up and move through the sequence they’ll guess less, hesitate less, and their movement will be more connected and graceful—not to mention the health benefits they’ll be cultivating.

Another pretty obvious benefit is that this kind of mental practice can enhance the brain’s memory functions. Your ability to remember anything is enhanced, which is great for overall mental well-being and overall brain function. I’ve even found it useful to visualize the parts of the brain in order to intend better function, such as memory. Check out the work of Richard Davidson (investigatinghealthyminds.org) and Clifford Saron’s research on the science of contemplation (http://mindbrain.ucdavis.edu/).

Maybe, just maybe, we can improve memory function by tapping into some unknown potential hidden somewhere in our bodies and brains. And maybe the practice of tai chi and mind intention can help to shake loose that potential from its moorings and bring it to where we can harness its power for better well-being overall.

Paul Tim Richard studies, teaches and writes about tai chi. His school’s mission is to make tai chi and qigong accessible and affordable to more people everywhere.

The mood of tai chi

IMG_0354Tai chi and qigong are moods–somewhat of an ephemeral notion to a novice perhaps, yet real to a long-term practitioner. If you skip practice for a certain amount of time, you begin to miss it. Your body might even crave it and you won’t feel content until you practice. Both tai chi and qigong place you in a feeling of being more fully present in a moment–a mindfulness moment.

Something about that feeds the spirit.

When you do the moves that make up these systems of exercise, you’re tapping into the flow of energy prevalent in the universe. Imagine yourself dipping your toe into a river … the vast energy of life. How long you can go without a feeling of being swept up by the rush of the current, or the wind lifting your spirit?

An Exercise for a Taiji Stroll

Sometimes I feel like I’ve stared at the computer for too long and I need to take a break, maybe go for a walk. Often, when I do, it’s difficult to shift. It’s like I’m still looking at the computer while I’m walking. The eye muscles are stagnated in the position of staring at the computer. This stiffness in the eyes affects the whole body while trying to walk and loosen up. It’s like I’m fighting against myself. When I become aware that this is happening, the question of what to do about it comes up.

My first inclination is to move. Do some sort of exercise. Simply walking is good. Tai chi is good, of course, because you’re exercising your whole body, not just a single part. Tai chi walking is even better.

Here is something you might want to really think about as a practice goal when you’re doing tai chi: “the whole body moves as a single unit.” Part of moving as a “unit” is to coordinate movement with mind focusing on a particular point in the body as part of an initial stimulus to move the rest of the body.

For example, you might be able to move the eyes in circles while circling the body on a horizontal plane. As you move, the eyes are connected with the dantian (center point of body essentially) while turning in that circle pattern and focusing on as much detail in your view as you can. Let the eyes lead the rest of the body.

It may be difficult at first to smoothly coordinate the eye movement with the rest of the body. But with practice the physical—timing and pace—improve.

Along with that, if you have a mind to focus on it, will be an awareness of the energy connecting all those parts together. Even though they’re separate parts, something is connecting them as a single unit and that’s the energy we call “qi.”