“You must try different styles of tai chi in order to learn which you are best suited for,” Master George Xu once told us. Distinct styles match the five elements: wood, water, fire, air, metal. Metal is the most martial of all. Chen Style, for example is a fluid style, while Wu is like a snake—concentrated, connected. He didn’t say which is more metal in nature.
Also, you must go from one level to the next in your training. It is common that while you train at one level, you are preparing yourself for not only the next, but for all. The levels that Master Xu named are physical, energy and spiritual. There is no worthwhile physical without spiritual, he said. But you must train the physical to it highest level of attainment in order to reap the greatest benefit of the spiritual. (from 8/25/2002)
We live by the clock. You might say we’re slaves to it. A lot of our discordant feelings are due to our yearning to be free from the clock. That’s one reason why we do tai chi—to get away from THE CLOCK.
I see people looking at the clock in tai chi class. That means that they’re not concentrating enough on why they’re there in the first place. That’s OK though, because it’s not easy. But it’s easier than we think. Just showing up to practice is a masterful act of at least trying to break the chains of THE CLOCK. There’s a lot to be said for that.
Tai chi is all about change on several levels. Change is easier for some than for others. How can you make it easier for yourself? In tai chi, you can pinpoint how. It’s a matter of simply moving differently from what you are accustomed to. Visualize the parts of the body and see them move. Feel them and how they move. Describe to yourself what they are doing as they move one way or another.
Here are some things to put into play when you practice. Focus on a specific manner of movement, such as direction, speed, pressure, rhythm, range of motion, where movement occurs, and from where it originates, which is super important.
The transition from one direction of travel to another is a key moment in the move. How you do that affects the other features of your effort. Range of motion involves whether your movement is limited or hindered, or over-extended. The shape of the move is about how round or how linear. Which is preferable?
What is the pattern of the motion—is it smooth, stuttered, hesitant, performed with abandon, or guarded?
Pay attention to these features of practice and note how they manifest in your practice in order to help understand more about their effectiveness. Tai chi is not just about memorizing a sequence of postures and transitions. It is, more deeply, about how you perform the movement. It is this deeper, internal awareness and ability that you can apply to other facets of life to improve and enhance them.
An Exercise Stand in Wu Ji (Instructions are found in an earlier post). Simply focus your attention on your sacrum where your tailbone is located and move that in the shape of a figure 8 while holding your spine straight and even. Don’t sway, just shift the tailbone/sacrum/hips in a figure 8 while standing in Wu Ji. See how long you can focus your mind on the sacrum while doing the move. Allow the arms to hang loosely and sway in response to the turning of the tailbone and spine. The legs stay in position and spiral up and down. The spiraling stays close to the bone alignment or central equilibrium.
Work and job activities may cause energy to stagnate and decay. This negative inertia seems difficult to overcome after sitting long periods at a computer or performing repetitive motions for hours. We’re worn out when we get to tai chi class. We don’t feel like doing what seems like even more of the same depleting work. From within a state of fatigue, we fight a hopeless battle that can’t be won. Or so it seems.
This is when it’s time to transcend and transform. Recognize that this dragged-down feeling is not yours to keep. You don’t have to own it. It is not your energy. It is the energy of your workplace, your job and its energy-depleting tasks. You can release it all.
Transcend: seek to revitalize your own energy simply by asking for it.
Transform: practice will take you to a new place in your energetic configuration and a fresh start. and Cultivating mental concentration to release negative, decayed energy is the goal of practice. Achieving a fresh revitalizing energy is the result of practice.
When you feel depleted from the stress, you can assume that qi is not flowing. Often, we aren’t even aware it’s not. Plus, we don’t know (or forget) how to move it if we were aware it wasn’t. We are tethered to the forces that cause life force to stagnate. Qi binds up in our bodies.
The joints are the obvious spots where it gets stuck; but the lymph system is another, the brain, the eyes, the organs, the muscles, and every fraction of flesh, membrane and cells suffer from this.
In leading tai chi and qigong practice, I’ve focused on learning sequences of moves and postures while introducing techniques for developing internal awareness and concentration. Sequence, or “form,” is the what and the internal technique is the how.
You might recall that I’ve mentioned thinking of the hips being the feet. I want to explore that some more in depth with you. So keep this in mind as you practice at home in preparation for next practice.
In order to feel the hip on the ground, you need to connect the feet, legs, and hips into a single unit in which energy forms a solid, yet agile, changeable mass. I’ll show you what I know about that connection.
To prepare for next practice, I suggest doing shoulder rolls. I’ve done them many times with you in the past and I mentioned them last class. The shoulder roll, which I first learned from Master Wang Hao Da, is useful for beginners. This simple move contains many levels of activity. A beginner will only be aware of, and be able to practice, only one or two at a time. You won’t see beyond them to the next level if you don’t practice what you are familiar with now. The teacher can only show you the moves and describe various aspects of them and point out where you might take your practice.
Get a primer on shoulder rolls before next practice by viewing and following along with this video clip.
Tai chi is a way of grounding yourself while you explore your possibilities. It applies to many things you do that involve movement and personal development. In the beginning of learning tai chi, people have trouble remembering the movements. They stumble a little learning them. I think this is due partly to the degree of concentration they muster up. If you are unable to concentrate you must find out why.
Are you thinking about something other than the specific task at hand, the thing that you are there to do? To have the concentration to fully execute, your mind should be only on what you’re doing in that moment. You should be feeling it. Rally your focus onto that one thing, singlemindedly, with all of your being, not just your thoughts, but with all of your mind, body, heart and soul.
It might sound odd, but tai chi is a way of pulling together such a singular focus. Of course, you have to learn to know what it is that makes it such a powerful tool for focusing your mind. At first, you focus on simple kinds of movement, one at a time, then eventually more than one at a time harmoniously.
At a point in your practice, you cross a threshold after which you command many skills and qualities like a conductor and his orchestra. Then you can use what you learn to apply in doing other things beyond your tai chi practice. Tai chi is like nothing else this way. Doing tai chi applies to a whole lot of other things that you might do, things that benefit from greater awareness of mind-body connectivity.
What I mean is: you probably don’t learn business to apply to your skiing. You don’t learn politics to do farming. Fishing doesn’t apply to running, and reading about flying isn’t flying. But if it involves motion, tai chi can help you improve how your mind and body cooperate to achieve those things.
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