Monday, December 20, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
In taiji, breath is closely associated with qi, energy. Where the breath goes, the energy goes. To follow the breath is to follow the qi. This close association of breath and energy or spirit is found in most of the world's great traditions. It is a near universal insight.
Breathing is the natural cycle of inhaling and exhaling. It is very circular with a slight natural pause before the in-breath. Sit for a while and observe your breathing. You will notice that the transition from the end of the in-breath to the beginning of the out-breath is very smooth. There is no pause at all. Now notice that at the end of the out-breath there is the briefest of pauses. The briefest of pauses is followed in taiji as the moment of change. I demonstrate it on two short video clips using the Immortal's Wand. I have mentioned this very useful tool in another blog. There are no set forms for the wand, rather a number of gigong meditation exercises. I have found "wand work" as I call it to be supremely relaxing.
In the first clip I am "sinking qi." The wand is moved in slow circles following the breath. The wand is brought toward the body with the in-breath. With the out-breath the wand moves down and qi is sunk to the dantien (roughly just below the belly button and slightly back). At the end of the out-breath is the briefest of pauses. The wand follows this too. Look closely and you will see it.
The second clip is roughly the reverse and is a "pushing qi" exercise as the breath and qi move away from the body. This time qi is drawn on the in-breath as the wand moves upward and then away from the body on the out-breath. The end of the out-breath coincides with the wand at the furthest point from the body. Then a brief pause as the in-breath begins and the wand is drawn down and toward the body in circular motion.
To notice: with sinking qi the pause is when the wand is at its lowest point, close to the body. With pushing qi the pause is when the wand is at the furthest point away from the body. The is a subtle but very clear different feeling to these two exercises.
A couple of other things to notice. Taiji is whole body work. When one part moves all parts move. When one part is still all parts are still. You will notice that knees bend in wand work, not merely arms.
How many cycles of breath a minute? You will notice on these clips roughly six breaths a minute. This is my normal breathing during qigong/taiji. Great masters breath maybe four times a minute. During a recent meeting where I was a little bored, I occupied myself with counting the breaths of those present. The average was around 15-19 breaths a minute. Taiji slows you down. That's a good thing!
Thursday, December 2, 2010
A very helpful book on all this is Master Lam Kam Chuen's Chi Kung: Way of Power. The book is well written, with amy beautiful pictures, Chinese calligraphy, and helpful illustrations. There is a complete long term system for developing Zhan Zhuang. Master Lam translates the calligraphy of Grand Master Wang Xiang Zhai to demonstrate poetically the essense of Zhan Zhuang.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Master Jesse Tsao spekas of an "energy channel" to be kept between the feet when walking forward or backward. This means that moving from wuji stance (feet shoulder width apart) to bow stance (one foot ahead of the other, weighted toward the front foot) feet should still be about a shoulder width apart. Effectively this means as you step forward you also step to the side. It is counter-intuitive as we are used to walking forward with a very narrow stance. If you begin with your feet more or less together, you tend to walk forward with a short sideways distance between your feet. In taiji the stance is more open. This distance between your feet is the energy channel. With practice it becomes more "natural" and is a much more balanced stance. I have noticed with students that it takes quite a time to retrain the body and open the stance. The temptation is always to narrow the stance (side to side). It helps to spend dedicated time simply walking forward and backward, focussing on the sideways distance between the feet.
Here is a great article on the bow stance from Neigong.net
Saturday, October 30, 2010
- Ching (lightness)
- Man (slowness)
- Yuan (roundness)
- Yun (smoothness)
In all the forms and postures students need an awareness of these four principles as qi develops.Watching a skilled taiji player you will notice the lightness, slowness, roundness and smoothness of her form. This takes great skill, but is a measure how progress in the art.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
This feels to me like a beginning again. Back to basics. Back to wuji. Beginning taiji. Learning yin and yang. There is a long way to go.
Monday, October 11, 2010
I have also been getting ready for my examination for instructor with Master Jesse Tsao (reading, writing, meditating, thinking). It's been a while since an exam and getting back into it from the other side of "grading" is interesting.
The daily practice teaches much and when I have some time I will write posts on cane routine, more on taiji ruler, and getting more in touch with the taiji classics.
In the meantime, I have uploaded a few videos of various forms (under the video tab). The are for aide memoire only and not to be taken as teaching tools. For that, I suggest interested folk get hold of Master Jesse's teaching DVDs. Then you can see all the mistakes in my form! These videos are what form looks like after 300+ hours practice (in Way of Peace Taijiquan at level 6).
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Saturday I managed some gentle qigong and felt energized. For a while only. Worse than Friday.
This morning an hour and a quarter qigong. Felt much better during and after the practice than when I woke. Voice still very gruff. Also, I used some acupressure on points related to colds and flu.
I have come to the view that regular daily qigong/taiji practice is helpful in warding off illness. This year, the little bug is the first that has knocked me sideways. I was hoping to avoid it altogether. So, modified belief. Qigong/taiji practice does not make you invulnerable to illness. However, in that the practice is an all over body-mind-spirit workout that brings general wellness, daily practice is a good thing.
Also, this was the first time since serious taiji study and practice that I have had such energy depletion. Apart from Friday when I was really rough and did not practice beside some breathing mediation (laying in bed) my practice did bring a renewal of energy. I felt that particularly so this morning. Conclusion: gentle gigong while sick does make a difference in qi levels. It is also possible that during the practice, negative qi is released, thus contributing to well-being.
Acupressure also seemed helpful. Here is the link.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
I stumbled upon the taiji ruler. It is sometime's called "The Immortal's Wand." This is much more romantic, and being a bit of an old romantic I like this! The "wand" is about twelve inches long, nearly two inches diameter, with shaped ends that fit comfortably into the palms of the hand. I found a great maker of taiji ruler's on ebay. This is mine, made of cocobolo wood. Very pretty indeed. As you work with a wand it begins to retain your energy and becomes distinctly yours. I am looking forward to this as I continue to practice.
- Ten-fifteen minutes practice with the wand before other taiji really helps.
- Using the wand helps establish deep patterns of breathing (as with other qigong exercises before taiji).
- There seems to be a much greater flow of chi after wand practice than before.
- Having the wand between the palms greatly helps in symmetrical movement of the body
Here's a pic of the pericardium meridian to help you visualize it:
|This from the web site http://www.lieske.com/channels/5e-pericardium.htm|
Great resource on TCM
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Qigong can be simplified (at least as a memory devise) as: meditation, medicine and martial art. The three "m"s. The three "m"s are also three gateways to qigong practice. Some arrive at qigong because meditation is important to them. Perhaps they have practiced Zen breath meditation for a while and then pursue other meditation techniques. The very basis of qigong is breathing. In qigong there are sitting, walking, moving and standing meditation techniques. From all I have read the foundation is being able to stand. There is more to simply standing than meets the eye! Taiji is a form of moving qigong.
Some arrive at qigong through the second "m" of medicine. Qigong is a wonderfully well developed system of complementary medicine that has been practiced in Chine for millenia. But, qigong is not a quick fix. Studies document amazing health and healing results in qigong practitioners for all kinds of ailments, including the "big C." But we are talking practice that takes time. Not a quick surgery, out in a day and a week's recovery. Qigong practice takes months, years, a lifetime of daily relaxation, meditation and gentle movement. Qigong helps the body
to help itself through the movement of energy, releasing of blockages to energy and giving the body its own defenses against illness. Qigong is no guarantee that when the flu season arrives you will not get the flu. But qigong prepares the body to fight off illnesses through its own inner mechanisms. The long term benefits are wonderful for joints, muscles, organs, digestion, circulation, tension and a host of other issues.
The final "m" is martial arts and qigong is of the "internal" variety. It is about energy rather than physical strength. Having tried the "hard" martial arts some discover in the "soft" arts a different, perhaps more holistic approach.
Whatever the gateway, gigong becomes a wonderful practice. It's about lifestyle. I have included links to a couple of books I have found very helpful.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
|Sunrise Lake Fayetteville, AR|
- You can practice taiji anywhere
- It's good to have a store of forms that can be completed in a small place
- Standing qigong is wonderful after a long day in the car. It deals with all the aches and pains of driving
- Taiji is good before getting into the car for a long day driving!
- Cramped circumstances gave me more opportunity to focus on the individual elements of a form (what does each knee feel like? how deep is the belly breathing? how is the qi moving today? etc)
All in all, a great trip and glad to be doing taiji.
Friday, July 30, 2010
There are also those who say, "Take up tai chi. It can't do any damage." But then other who say, "Do taiji wrong and you can damage your knees." Looking at the credentials of those who make the comments, I am tempted to go with the latter. If you practice seriously, there is a lot of knee bending, and a lot of knee turning. If you persistently bend and turn with your knees incorrectly you can do damage.
So, what have I learned about correct knee position? It's back to basics.
- Don't go too low as a beginner. The masters look great, but they have practiced for years and have developed great flexibility and strength.
- Make sure your knees don't go over your toes when you bend.
- Make sure your knees do not bend inward.
- If you get pain in your knees don't bend or turn to the point of pain. If you feel pain, pull back, raise your position.
I have been paying attention to these basic ideas. Number 3 has been very interesting. To move the knees outward rather than inward makes for a much stronger stance. It is also a definite point of attention. I think it may be that I have been allowing my knees to bend inward, particularly the back knee in any stance. So, I am paying attention still to knees. I'll report again.
Here's an interesting link about knee health: Yoga For Knees
Sunday, July 11, 2010
But let me back up a little. We have a way of talking about the body as if it is not "us" but something separate from us; something we own, "my body." It's as if the "me" is not the body, but the "me" has a body as an appendage.
Our trouble with the body is as old as recorded history. The body is a wild horse that needs to be mastered (the ancients). The mind and body are a dualism (the moderns). But, what if the body is just who you are? Be kind to you!
Mostly, we are unconscious of the body until it begins to play up. You don't notice your feet until someone treads on your toe. You don't think about your stomach, until it is upset. Your head sits on your shoulders unfelt until you get a headache. Body consciousness (and that is what taiji is) is about becoming more aware. Being more aware you become kinder.
I have noticed this with sports. Not the ones we watch as spectators, but the ones we engage in. I was talking with a friend recently who has not been exercising regularly for some time. "I need a good work out, sweat a little," he said. We have a view that every now and then the body is better for a good thrashing! (English public school style.) That is not being kind to you. You will feel it. The body will ache. You will pant a lot, sweat a bit and think it's done you good. I wonder.
Before practicing taiji more seriously than before, my games have been squash and running (2-3 games of squash a week, plus a couple of runs of about 3-4 miles). They have kept me pretty fit. Both are good exercises, but both are pretty jarring on the body. I have noticed in recent years that in both squash and running, I am more prone to aches and pains. Knee aches. Ankle aches. Back aches. Shoulder aches. (Of course, my right shoulder still aches because I ran into the wall playing squash six months ago. Stupid thing to do!) In both sports I have learned to push hard. Give it 100%. More if you can.
I am rethinking. The other week my knees started to ache a little. Hmm ... All I have read about taiji is that it is good for your joints and muscles. What was the issue? I began to pay attention to my knees. Focus energy there while practicing; becoming more aware of the feeling in and around the knees with different forms and movements. I realized that I was pushing too hard. After years of "One hundred percent effort. No pain no gain" thinking, I had taken it over into taiji.
The difference? My knees did not ache as much. I am hoping that the ache will go away completely.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
I have had an aversion to calling taiji play, but I am rethinking. Practice and training are goal oriented. You practice to get better at the thing you practice. You train with some end in mind: to be fitter, to compete in a race. When you play, well, you just play! Play is childish. It is one of those things we put behind us when we mature. When adults play it is a little self-indulgent. Play is usually unfocussed. Play is not serious. Play is an end in itself. It doesn't go anywhere. It is not instrumental to something else. It just is.
I suspect I have imbibed too much our cultural emphasis on getting things done. "I had a productive day," we say. Ever hear, "I had a playful day"?
Max Weber (one of the fathers of sociology) had something to say about the "rational" and the "irrational." Rationality is goal oriented behavior. Irrationality is doing things merely for the sake of doing them. In Western society, we discovered that the most productive form of human behavior was rational. We have looked down on the irrational. That's how we accomplished so much. In his other phrase, Weber called this the "Protestant work ethic." It underlies capitalistic enterprise.
(This is an aside, but it always irks me when in a restaurant the wait staff ask, "Are you finished or are you still working on it." Dinner is not work! Dinner is more like play ... or should be.)
What if taiji is irrational, in a Weberian sense. It just is. It is not producing anything. It is play. Pure and simple. Feeling playful?
Don't work too hard at it!
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Thursday, June 24, 2010
There are cultural differences. We noticed when we moved to the USA how much more pressure people are under to work hard, to be productive, to accomplish something ... anything. Friends told us their bosses frowned on them taking two weeks vacation together, and thought they were slackers if they took all four weeks in any year. It still surpirses me when in September I ask a colleague, "Did you have a good summer?" to hear the reply, "Yes, I got a lot done ... followed by a list of accomplishments ... But, I didn't get as much done as I wanted ... followed by a confession of things left undone." In my mind, I am asking about vacation, sun, relaxation, fun.
In Europe, people are more ready to take all the time they can get, work shorter weeks, shorter days, and try to relax a bit more. Still, it is changing there too. Bosses are demanding more work. Workers feel more pressure. Like the USA, to live the material dream you need two people working full-time to afford all you want. True relaxation is in short supply.
There is an important idea in taiji called song (pronounced something like "sown"). It is usually translated "relaxed" and refers to an ideal state. We all need a bit more song. In beginning taiji it can be elusive. "Relax the shoulders," you are told but what does it mean? I have discovered that taiji is "better felt than telt." (For those not from Yorkshire, a rough translation is "you can feel what it means, but it is very difficult to put into words." I think that is why most of the books I have read about taiji sound at times to be speaking in riddles.
In my practice today, I was meditating on the state of song. Feeling it too. What does it feel like? A bit like "Mr. Floppy." Your body feels very fluid. Fluid around a stable spine. Very balanced. Feels like you are a puppet. You are conscious of each part of your body and can place attention there to feel the fluidity. Nothing aches. Well-being. Close eyes, pleasantly floating. Alive and alert. Happy.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Taiji is about balance. Physical balance of course. (I can now stand on one leg, perfectly still, longer than I ever thought possible!) But, much more than that. Taiji signals a life in balance. As yang ends yin begins. As yin wanes yang waxes. So, balance need not be the boring middle, but the gentle flow from one side to the other. The Psalmist long ago penned:
Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.Sad today? Be sure happiness will be yours soon. Happy today? Be ready, for life will bring its sadnesses.
Balance comes through nonresistance to the changes of life. Are you feeling pushed? Don't push back. Allow the push to exhaust itself. Roll back. As whatever is pushing you runs out of steam (as it will) be ready to press forward. Is something pulling you? If you pull back against it, you will be out of balance. Allow it to pull you. Stick with it. It will soon reach its end. Then you can pull back. In balance.
Taiji practice teaches to notice movement, change, to be balanced in the flow of life, ready for the next change, ready and willing to meet it.
Friday, June 11, 2010
I quite like the translation of Lo, Inn, Amacker and Foe. It is large print and the sayings and displayed well with lots of space. Ideal for meditation. This was one of the first books on taiji I read and I keep returning to it. My guess is that I will come back to it many times in the future. The reason is that the classics are brief aphorisms that repay careful attention and thought. I have discovered that each time I come back to the classics I learn something new and discover that my taiji has entered a new phase where things that did not make sense begin to make sense.
This is the case with the saying that the head should be suspended by a cord from above. In the classics it comes up a number of times. Here's one of them:
When the ching shen (spirit) is raised,
there is no fault
of stangnacy and heaviness.
This is called suspended headtop.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
- Warm up in 18 forms
- Yang 24 form
- Eight Piece Brocade qigong
- Eight Immortals cane Routine One
- Various qigong standing postures
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
The Art of Peace is the principle of nonresistance. Because it is nonresistant, it is victorious from the beginning. Those with evil intentions or contentious thoughts are vanquished. The Art of Peace is invincible because it contends with nothing.
All life is a manifestation of the spirit, a manifestation of love. And the Art of Peace is the purest form of that principle. A warrior is charged with bringing a halt to all contention and strife. Universal love functions in many forms; each manifestation should be allowed free expression.
The Art of Peace is not an object that anyone possesses, nor is it something you can give to another. You must understand the Art of Peace from within, and express it in your own words.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
- Don't force your breath, let it be natural.
- Do focus on your breath. Be aware of it. Where it originates. How it makes your insides feel.
- When you exhale, do so fully until you feel your tummy muscles tighten. That ensures you are pushing out all the air.
- As you breath in, you will do so firstly from your belly, and then from the upper part of the lungs.
- Breathe out fully again.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
The qi blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Qi.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Friday, April 16, 2010
Part of my practice is to complete the "Tai Chi Warm Up in 18 Forms" as taught by Master Jesse Tsao. It is divided into two sections. The first is simply warming up the joints. The second is to open up internal energy. This is a list of the forms:
Part I: Warm up body joints
- Wrist rolling
- Elbows rolling
- Shoulder rolling
- Neck rolling
- Bending sideways
- Waist turning
- Hips rotation
- Knees rotation
- Ankle rotation
Part II: Work on internal energy flow
- Up and down flow
- Out and in flow
- Turning the yin yang ball
- Collect heaven energy
- Collect earth energy
- Big bear’s shoulder
- Double needles
- Flying bird
- Golden rooster
To complete the form with some additional qigong takes about half an hour. There is a beautiful symmetry and development to the forms. I want to mention just one of the forms: collecting heaven energy. The form begins (as they all do) in wuji (opening stance), sinking chi. Then knees bend, arms swing to the side and then reach high. The outstretched hands gather energy and then bathe the head and body with energy as they return to wuji.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Little foot note (pun intended).
Here are a few more books that I have enjoyed reading. They all relate to the Yang style taijiquan.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Friday, April 2, 2010
- tai chi chuan
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Saturday, March 27, 2010
- When I am out of balance, my tai chi is off. It is a clear sign for me that something is not right and that I need to find the source of the imbalance.
- Tai chi helps immensely in giving a greater sense of balance and restoring it when it goes askew. There is a particular chi kung practice, "opening chi," that I have found very helpful. Basically, it is a flowing, circular movement with the arms, as the waist rotates from side to side. Very restorative. I will eventually post some videos to reference the practice I talk about.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
With tai chi, as with other activities, some folk try for a while and soon give up. Many of us start with good intentions! I suspect that not a few folk feel a little "cheated" by the advertising byline, "Tai chi chuan—easy, gentle, a breeze, works miracles. Try it!"
It looks so beautiful—effortless—when you see a master practice. But, then you try it and your body feels like it doesn't belong to you. The simplest of things become extraordinarily hard. You fall over your feet. And your muscles hurt. It's enough to put anyone off.
But then, it grabs you and you start to get serious. A once a week class becomes a few days a week practice. Then a more or less daily practice. Then an indispensable part of life.
If you do get serious, there is a threefold cord to help your practice develop.
Wu chi: meditation, stillness.
Tai chi chuan: movement, change, Forms.
The Tao: the Way, philosophy, study, including the mystery and wisdom of the I Ching.
The three belong together, but it's likely that you will start with one and that one will lead to the others. I arrived at tai chi through philosophy and meditation. I have been practicing sitting and walking meditation for about 11 years, with greater or lesser commitment and intensity. For the last several years, I have begun all my philosophy classes at the university with breathing meditation. My meditation practice arose out of my work as a philosopher. I am deeply intrigued by the question, "How should we live?" The Tao (and philosophy generally) is one way of beginning to answer the question. Meditation helps immensely in making philosophy more than merely a mental exercise. Tai chi is meditation in motion. Tai chi is the unity of mind and body through chi.
If your exploration turns to a serious seeking, the threefold cord becomes very important. Each strengthens the other. A threefold cord, who can break?
I will look at each of the three as time allows.