tai chi for the blind

Check this article out about some interesting applications of tai chi.

Li Langshu (above) and Zheng Yuankang (below) teach at the China Swordmen's Society in Beijing, a civil tai chi organization that gives free lessons to people who are interested in learning tai chi over weekends. Photos by Zhang Wei / China Daily

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Did you forget where you put your tai chi?

I looked for my glasses. Only a moment before I had recalled that I was not wearing them. I often take them off to read and then forget where I tossed them last. I gazed at the clutter on the desktop. Papers, printer, power cords, headset, computer. No glasses. I got up and searched the kitchen, living room, bedroom. No glasses. Bathroom. No glasses. I couldn’t recall where I was when I put them down. I returned to the desk.

There they were tangled up in the headset wires. I had looked straight at them before I got up to find them. I was thinking that I was looking rather than actually perceiving what I was looking at. I’m not sure why that happens, but it happens often enough to draw attention to itself.

This similar thing happens in taiji. We think we’re doing something, say, like what the teacher is asking or showing. But we’re actually not. This quirk in our behavior has to do with how we use our powers of perception, how we see what we are doing, or how we focus our attention.

One thing happening, I believe, is we too often don’t really let go of concerns that are holding us back from performing to our fullest in any given activity. One of my favorite activities, taiji, is a method of gradually breaking those tethers our worries have on us. Our habits of thought, of feeling, of action.

It amazes me when people tell me they don’t have time for tai chi, especially when I know that it is the one thing they should make time for more than anything else. Tai chi is like the thing I am looking for when it is right in front of me and I don’t see it.

Standing in Wuchi

Stand in wuchi: sincere and patient, but not neglectful. Stable and rooted, yet agile and poised. Stand in wuchi, the sky comes down to you, the earth rises up within you. Stand in wuchi in movement, the stillness is yin, the conscious center. Zhan Zhuang, or post standing, or Yiquan are similar. Even when you are moving in the form, be in wuchi. Even when moving you are still and within that stillness, there is motion. There is no movement without stillness and no stillness without movement. This stimulating perspective ignites my imagination.

Cultivate Senstivity with Tai Chi and Qigong

Tai chi cultivates sensitivity to subtle changes in your body and beyond. You may not be very sensitive at first, but with a little effort to pay attention, the moves themselves will offer up very satisfying results. Surprisingly pleasant results arise as our minds open up to new perceptions of what is achievable by practicing simple movements.

Qigong practice also offers sensitivity training benefits. I definitely agree with Masters George Xu and Susan Matthews, who say that Qigong basic movement is important to develop qi, or energy forces. It is very beneficial for developing the mind and physical body to be loose, open, empty free, light, everywhere moving, letting the “qi go through.” Train the mind to ‘look’ for any stuck place in yourself; look for too much yang or too much yin.

“You must develop this in yourself before you can see or create attackable tension in the opponent,” Master Xu says.

The important principle, no matter what style of martial arts you practice, is that qi must move for the physical to move. At the same time, the physical, continuously moving, creates the qi. As Master Xu explains in his new video, “something up/something down, something left/something right, down with up, in with out, forward with backward, sinking with floating, shrinking with expanding, yin with yang must be expressed in all qigong movements in order to create a field of force outside the body.”

You can practice the movements along with Master Xu in his video. He instructs to “practice feeling, not power,” and be continuously reminded of how to apply these principles more and more over time to become more high level.

Tai chi and your comfort zone

I would say that many people who have never done tai chi feel uncomfortable giving it a try because they are not sure what it is all about. When you are in this frame of mind, I encourage you to suspend judgment and go to a class. You might be surprised.

Many of us are experts in one field or another and we are uncomfortable stepping out of that comfort zone. This holds us back from trying new things, like tai chi. Tai chi is all about releasing yourself from binding forces, essentially by learning to move differently.

My tai chi community is a welcoming one. Those in my particular community are open and generous. This is true much of the time wherever you go in the world. If you saw me practicing in the park with others and wanted to join in you would be welcome.

Some people think tai chi is a performance thing, where you get graded and might fail. This is far from the truth in my experience and approach. In China, my teachers love it when you try. They accept any effort at all. Whether you get it or not is only part of their concern. They might even think it’s their fault if you don’t.

What is important to know is that real tai chi is incredibly simple even while it is one of the most sophisticated forms of physical activity on the planet available to human beings. I encourage those who have thought about trying tai chi, or even have contacted a teacher, but never showed up for your first practice, not to let it be an issue of what you are comfortable with or not comfortable with.

Some people think tai chi is too hard, but I fear that is a reflection upon the person and not tai chi. Tai chi can be challenging if you seek deeper understanding of the principles, but the rewards for seeking are incalculable.

A little taijiquan cosmology

Taiji cosmology… “Taiji is the mother of yin yang,” the classic says. It is the “supreme ultimate.” Qi is yang and flows through the body and beyond with a healing power. Like wind and water. Our bodies are like the earth and the blood that flows through our veins is like the waters that flow on the earth’s surface and even below. Qi is like the wind, as well, that blows everywhere. It has similar qualities as water, healing, life giving, yet it is different. Qi is more connected with spirit, a bridge perhaps from our corporeal existence to our abstract connection with unknown, but knowable, things.

Doing taiji, I imagine moving through these connections. This imaginative method of movement raises the shen, which some of my teachers have mentioned to me, that we all need to do when practicing tai chi. 

The internal view of the concept of opponent

Taiji is a martial art at its roots. That means that you are learning to engage with an opponent. But since we are not living in times of warfare as those times during which taiji came into being the meaning of “opponent” has new meanings that perhaps it didn’t used to have. If you are going to learn technique and applications, you will be able to apply them to an physical opponent in battle. In my journey we have learned to see opponent in new ways. One for example is to see yourself as opponent. Your weaknesses. To stalk yourself. To be observant and listen to yourself while you move. To learn to move from a point and return to it. To expand  and shrink, yang yin yang. To lead the chi with the yi and the physical with chi. To pull the silk, not push it. To find wuqi even in the midst of movement. The opponent is the resistance to these things in taiji.

What is tai chi revisited again

You can never say enough about what tai chi is. Today, it comes to mind that in tai chi, 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 that 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. Why? Because 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 tai chi.