Improving body awareness.
Somethings you'll need to do to find your way. Some things to try, some things to feel,
and some on which to think.
It seems a long time since I put something new on this page; not that I haven't made great discoveries since, but somehow the new knowledge seems less tangible and explainable. The words would seem empty .... though the discovery behind them awesome. The more we find out the more we realise there is as yet undiscovered. Many times the smallest adjustment manifests itself in the biggest change. There is an awareness of change being the constant .... the principles are unchanging, it is we that change. And knowing this somehow inhibits me writing .... for I know that tomorrow may bring change. The truth for each of us is as we see it at the time, but the essential benefits of our art remain a constant truth, a truth that may be light years away.
The truth of our art is how we perceive it on the day, this day, this moment.
Simon Watson's Dao Yin workshop was such a day .... I hope to be more forthcoming in the weeks ahead ....... but on the other hand ... you should have been there yourself to be shown your own path and gates. Take the opportunities that come your way to see for yourself what can be yours.
There are many examples; we stand on our legs ... ok, we know that. Try using your mind to stand not on your legs but in them , ... ok, so we can find that too, and it is quite a different feeling. We are happy with this until the teacher adds something more ... relaxing the muscles down so that they too feel like they have disappeared into the legs. When you can feel that then all movement will contain the 'stillness' that we also sought. ... and one thing moves ... all moves. .... but not everything moving in a disconnected way ... no, this is different. You need to search for these things .... sometimes you must wait .... not in your arm chair but wait during movement for the unmistakable 'message' from the body that it is time for the next move. It is such a long journey .... might as well enjoy it.
What you search for you must try hard to find, but in it's finding what you looked for will disappear. It will be there but you will know it not as the thing you first sought.
Though you must try hard to find, beware trying so hard that the trying overshadows the discovery that may come from a different way, a smarter trying.
What you look for may arrive when you look in the opposite direction and are able to see it for the first time. If this reads a bit weird, I'm not surprised, yet I am happy with my understanding so far of this paradox.
The more you think the harder will be the discovery, in some unthinkng moment the answer will be yours.
Martial prowess and self defence.
Within this site you will find few references to partner work nor to the martial side of Tai Chi. (Self defence) This is because such skills require the highest of training, regular practice using the best of principles and to be based on reality. We must not ignore the martial origins of the Tai Chi we practice but nor must we delude ourselves that the little we learn has turned us into invincible warriors. We may become better aware, better balanced and use our bodies more efficiently but that may be the limit martially. Best to think of it as 'health defence'. It would appear that some martial arts owe their effectiveness to compliance and rules ... or that the practitioner is truly an exceptionally skilled and dedicated warrior of the true path. If we adhere to the principles as set out in Tai Chi classics we will become more able ...
that is our goal, ... to be able ... to be (in the now) .... that and longevity with health.
Making the first step in Tai Chi - literally
One thing is easy – you step with the left foot first; unless, of course, you know different. I have yet to come across a variation from left foot first. I read fairly recently in a Tai Chi journal reasons why we use left foot. Without going into a rewrite it seems that for most of us our right leg is stronger, all marching starts with the left foot too for the same reason.
How do we make this step? One of the first teachings I remember was, ‘when you step try just to move your hips across smoothly to the left’. Next came, ‘lift the left heel first; slowly as the toes become the last to leave the ground the left leg will feel light and the right leg strong and grounded’. So, there’s a couple of things to try.
One teacher said, ‘ right, let me see some Tai Chi’. I began the first step … he said, ‘no, start again’, as I returned my left foot to centre he said, ’that’s right, that’s the way.’ I must confess it took me at least three goes before I understood what he meant. Try it yourself … so much thought and effort goes in to making the perfect step that it interferes with the smooth and natural step that you will surely make when you say to yourself, ‘ no, start again’; with no pressure your left foot just returns – without thought!
That’s what he wanted.
Another teacher revealed his understanding by saying, ’accept your body weight into your right leg, the more you can do this then the lighter the left becomes, and almost steps for itself.’
Do you step left in a straight line or is there a circular element? Well, if we accept that there are no straight lines in Tai Chi, then perhaps we should see how we can make our first step true to Tai Chi.
Lastly …. so far, anyway …… I read recently in a Wu StyleTai Chi publication from the 1980's the following:- ' stand naturally, feet together, arms hanging down in light contact with outer sides of thigh bones, tips of mddle fingers pressed aginst the middle of the thighs. Top of head erect, tip of tongue in touch with hard palate, eyes looking horizontally ahead. Weight evenly distributed between your two feet. Relax all joints, loosen all muscles. Maintain tranquility.
Keep top of head and body plumb erect, eyes looking forward – shift body slightly to right, and think tip of nose to be vertical with right toe and coccyx vertical with right heel. At this time the left foot will move naturally sideways by shoulder width. Weight now on right foot and mind on tip of right lttle finger. Right side of body tensed, left side is relaxed. ......... equalise weight on both feet.
Keep the spine open and free and you'll not go far wrong.
So, perhaps this will help you make your first step ....... eventually.
A new idea from Longfei students on the 2010 China trip ....... Though your right, standing, leg be ever relaxing, feel also it ever expanding. Worth a try, as you do this the left foot seems to ease off the floor on its own, .... interesting.
And one more idea too ..... as you sink into the right leg encourage your right kua to open more, (sort of trying to raise the right ribs .. but not really ) You should find that the weight seems to disappear from your standing knee and the lifting leg seem to lift of its own accord. Strange but true.
Closing down exercises.
This is a simple note based on brief information from Simon Watson of Longfei – and frankly – that's probably all we need to know.
'At the end of any exercise it is essential to bring the function
of the body back to a normal state.'
After Chi Kung (Qi Gong) work ..' we must return Qi externally from the universe and internally to our four limbs back to the source, (Dantien), like many small rivers flow back o the sea.' 'This combination of conciseness and physiology turns into “pure Qi”. This pure Qi nourishes the body. Once you return Qi you must look after it, if you do not build up your body's reserve, physically, mentally, emotionally, then the body will be like the current financial crisis (October 2008 collapse of banks and stocks) -lots going out and nothing being collected, nurtured etc – result – disaster.
One of the best ways to do this nurturing is at the end of a session where you have generated wealth – or energy. It is the perfect time to be 'Quiet' ... ' when the mind is clear, organs are harmonised – Qi can be stored and nurtured'.
From a Tai Chi point, the above applies also; 'The martial observe the moral; the person aims for virtue'. The teacher will ... 'warm down students with a silent wish or affirmation during quietness meditation, hoping that everyone perseveres with their practice and are filled with confidence, good health, and longevity. - We are cultivating and encouraging, physical well being, intellectual growth, moral growth, and aesthetic education'.
My thanks to our good teacher, Simon Watson for sharing this for our benefit – it makes sense to me, and we will continue our closing exercises in class as always, but perhaps now with more faith. Richard.
Please read as it will assist your understanding of how Tai Chi practice can affect your body – and mind!
If practiced properly Tai Chi can only bring you benefits. There are now many clinical studies, aided by modern science, that prove the many benefits. For example an improvement in T cells in white blood, improving the immune system.
You can become more balanced, stronger and better coordinated too, while you enjoy a journey of exploration in to yourself.
Until you are experienced it is essential to listen to your teacher – this involves listening with ears, eyes and brain. Listen to your own body too, if in pain then stop and ask your teacher about it. Carrying out new exercises your muscles are bound to be affected until they get stronger and you learn to relax more.
Tai Chi will not damage you if done properly, but it might allow your body to access some old injury which tight muscles have hidden from you for years. Sometimes these old injuries come to the surface and it may take time to work through the problem so that you can better return to a more balanced body.
Strange as it may seem old memories are sometimes locked into our bodies and the sort of ‘opening’ exercises you will carry out in Tai Chi (or Chi Kung) can release the feeling and rekindle the memories – hence some times you might experience flashbacks or weird dreams for no apparent reason …… except now you know !
Your knees are particularly important for a healthy and active life – look after them – they only bend in one plane and one direction – so why ask them to do something else? Watch the teacher’s feet and knee relationships.
If in any doubt ASK!
I recall an old proverb which went something like this,
'To ask is but a moment of shame;
not to ask and stay in ignorance is a lifetime of shame'.
Seeing is not seeing; and I guess
understanding is not understanding;
but please do your best.
' Your arm may bend but never shorten'
Your arm should stay one with your body; if isolated it becomes weakened and vulnerable.
When you bend the knees the joint should not close; in fact it should feel like you have no knees.
The above has much value, but only if you seek it out for yourself.
Yang; Light, the heavens, upper body active, strong purpose.
Yin; Dark, earth, serene and passive.
Yin and Yang; they are opposites, but consider this; at one point they become one or both cease. Hence form is emptiness and emptiness is form, from stillness will come movement and from movement comes stillness.
Consciousness allow your body to be relaxed but at the same time consciously energised.
Try to consciously place your energy to places of your choosing; where your intention goes, your energy flows.
Your body should have no tension only intention.
Like the sculptor removing that which they know is not needed, so you should consciously remove the tensions that prevent the release of the 'butterfly from the block of stone'.
Try and differentiate between ‘thinking’ and being ‘conscious’ try to find that relaxed state of awareness where you retain all your power – by staying alert like the watching tiger.
Stand not upon your legs, but stand in them.
Relax the bones and muscles in your feet. Open your foot - feel the connection with the earth. The middle of the ball of the foot, yong ch'uan point or bubbling well, the only place you should feel your weight.
Relax does not mean collapse, consider using the word 'soften' in relation to a posture. Muscles though 'relaxed' must retain tone and sense of life force.
Come on now ... relax those shoulders. Think you are relaxed? Try this; relax your throat. Feel the change?
Seek out all circles and spirals and mindfully exploit them. Sometimes they will not be what or where you think they are, search dilligently: - some of them are internal, therefore not seen - only felt.
Circular movements hide the beginning and end points of a movement.
The Tai Chi symbol is a circle ... no beginning and no end.
Yi dou, chi dou - intention arrives - Chi arrives.
Opening and correct alignment of the spine is the way to have chi rise to the crown. Try to create this effect, when you do, you will know it. No one said it was easy nor that you would find it every time. In Tai Chi it is often said that you should tuck in or drop down the tail bone and raise the crown of the head, keeping chin in by about a centimetre or so. Even the very thought of relaxing and opening the spine to stretch it will cause tension. Therefore try this;- just imagine the spine is opening and stretching, can you feel the relaxation?
Accept that you will ever be a student to the end of your days.
'Until a person practices, ponders and draws the meaning out of their own depths it will remain a secret no matter how well explained'. Therefore seek that which cannot be taught. You cannot explain the inexplicable, but you may be able to feel it.
Keep all joints open - that's all of them, always, you may act out a closing posture but the joints will never close. You must sense the expansion - the reaching out.
Be aware of and protect your centre. Your physical power at least resides in front of centre.
Don't crowd your mind with disbeliefs - believe - imagine - engage.
A paradox - or is it? The teacher tells you 'never extend your arms fully' . ok, so, in your mind you will have 'understood' what the teacher meant. Next week the same teacher says, 'always reach out with your arms, never let them shorten', you nod your head and think you have understood, but there's that nagging thing in the brain that says ' well that's not what he said last week. But in his mind it was.
Here is one thought on the subject; It depends on what is meant and what you understand about 'extend'. A straight arm is extended, its joints may well be locked up, it therefore does not fit with Tai Chi principles. What about 'never shorten' ? If you relax your joints and muscles but 'reach out', you can reach further than with tight muscles; the distance from the tip of your fingers to your shoulder joint must never shorten. This is not to say that you cannot bend your arm at the elbow - however, in doing this, the distance as measured along your arm from finger tips to shoulder must never shorten. This ensures that the joints are open, maximum chi can flow, maximum power is available.
Another paradox? The teacher says 'when pushing forward there should be an equal push backwards' So is he talking about an expansion in all directions, in which the forces are balanced? This would keep you centred and yet still have an effect on any person you push. It may also allow the body to be doing the pushing and not the hands. Oh no, we are supposed to push with our hands in contact but yet not push with the hands , is this another paradox? They are all confusing in the begnning, later you will be confused at a higher level!!. In fact, the more you appreciate yin and yang and their placement the more you will be able to make of the above.
Scraps from a note book. - do you keep one?
If not ... my advise is please do!
Poetic images lead you to greater understanding than itellectualising.
'Hanging' the elbow empties the shoulder too.
Breathing - breathe a fine breath, like drawing silk from a cocoon.
When moving don't think of stepping - just put your body where you want - the legs will do what is necessary for you.
Tai Chi is a wise investment - from a small force comes a greater one.
Knowledge comes through the body not the mind.
Spirals - not a mystery. Do not complicate what is simple.
There are 4 energies to sense; those of the dead , the child, the woman and the madman Makes sense so far?
Remember, 'never give up', for one day your note will make sense.
Not sure? See a good teacher and ask your questions.
'No Wuji – no Taiji'
A few years ago I willingly accepted this statement from a teacher and I foolishly thought I'd understood it – I thought that all you had to do was stand in Wuji prior to making the 'thought' the 'step' into Tai Chi (taiji – it's just a different way of writing in English the same word) and as if by magic you have completed the bargain with the universe so to speak. Recently I heard the words again, but this time with new 'ears'!
So, what is Wuji? I'd accepted that it meant 'emptiness’'. Now I'm not sure what that means either. I looked on he internet for Wuji and found a few places, ( some of which didn't even have what I wanted – it was merely a trap to put me in their sales site – how annoying eh, when you are hot on the path of enlightenment to be stopped in your track by a salesman!). There wasn't much – unless you know different. I found this .... “Wuji is the primordial state of non-being, a state of Nothingness and boundlessness or that which is without bounds or limits. Wuji, like the Tao, is and lies within all of the universe and in the human anatomy”. OK, so now you have an answer and complete understanding eh?
My view here is that Wuji must be something such that if you could define it clearly in words then you probably don't know what it is. Perhaps it is something that we can feel, and if it disappears from our feeling only then will we know what it was – because we lost it.
In truth, I really don't know, however, that's not going to stop me trying to find out more – or writing something that may help others ..... Or not !
It's probably something (about nothing) that you will search for and may think you've found – but how will you ever know? (How would we know we've reached the edge of space, will there be a fence with a sign on it?) Trees must have the answer too; when moved by the wind they remain mainly still and yet when there is no wind and they look motionless they are filled with internal movement – they are growing all the time. – Movement in stillness and stillness in movement. Is that stillness inside movement our elusive Wuji?
My present understanding of the seemingly indefinable is that it is some sort of 'tangible' emptiness’ (empty of what, we might well ask) and energy that can replace the structure created by our muscles as we 'let go' ; – Our intent, Chi, and postural angles give us form. (We seem solid but we are mostly space anyway, with huge relative distance of space between atomic centres.).We might then reach a place where we are calm and still – yet full of the original life force; someone suggested that like a jar of muddy water with a light shining in the middle, so our own light (energy) can shine out as we relax the muscles.
When we practice our Tai Chi we should carry, in our movement, this quiet yet energetic emptiness (calmness) with us.
Mixed with the yin and yang of our Tai Chi is the primordial core of energy that was there before our world began – Wuji.
It has been suggested to me that the emptiness is emptiness of blockage; and by some one else that the emptiness creates a space which fills with energy .... perhaps it is an active emptiness as opposed to a passive one.
Perhaps stillness is the wrong word, perhaps calm is a better one. What do you think?
Perhaps you too have some idea to share. There is always the contact page waiting patiently, wuji like, for your wisdows.
If you have to prepare - then you were never ready.
Never disconnect from self as it can be difficult to recover.
If you push a ball, which part of it moves first .... the top .... where you touch .. where?
Think carefully ....... carefully about your answer. My answer is somewhere below, like the great secrets ... you'll have to look for it.
Postures and feelings
Go for 'feelings' not 'technical'. One way in which you can explore this is to imagine a Tai Chi posture before you, then move into that posture as though it were a mould and you are pouring yourself in to it.
Postures and technical
You may need at times to look at postures with a technical critique, eg, the exact alignment of a leading foot which then creates the necessary shape to allow a powerful connection to earth. Small deviations from the technically correct may result in loss of power.
Avoid 180 and 90 degree shapes - they have no power. The secret lies in forty five degrees - in many ways - (not far off the 42 that Hitchhikers Guide to Galaxy said was the meaning of the universe?)
Engage in concscious movement, create a sense of what Chi may feel like. Either lift an arm or push against an imaginary heavy object or passing through treacle or similar, at the same time relax the muscles, you are tricking the chi into thinking it is required and it appears. You should feel a sense of life force flowing making the action powerful, and perhaps tingling in the hands too. Perhaps the tingling is not the chi itself but may be an indicator that it is present. Just like a light bulb glowing tells you the electricity is there but is not the electricity itself.
'Turn the waist' they say, 'Don't turn the hips' they say.
Consider what is meant by waist. Think of it as longer than you might have supposed, think 'spine'.
If you turn the hips many people will merely turn them in a horizontal plane, so causing the knees to twist. So, it's ok to turn the hips if your knees are soft and bent - the hip turning is more created by rotation of the hip joint. By counter rotating the hip joints you can turn the waist and not twist the knees. Not understood? Find a class and ask the teacher. Words are inadequate - we try to write of the unwriteable.
Engage the Kua, the hip crease. Engaging this will enable body movement without moving much else. Great power is stored in the Kua, after all it is the biggest joint and connected to your biggest muscles ... therefore engage the Kua.
Exercise. Hold fist tight for 5 minutes and feel the negatives, relax and feel the positives.
Have you tried this yet?
I have, I managed about 1 minute before I was fed up and felt I had already become aware of the negatives. Give it a try ... it is interesting ... especially afterwards.
Pushing the ball question; the answer is the top ... don't believe it?
Good, just joking; because it must be that it all moves; the ball moves as one; one thing moves all moves. Just as in your Tai Chi practice. You can imagine that you are encompassed by the ball and when you move it all moves with you, and you never let a part of your body leave the circle. These pictorial ideas may be the key to discovering the feelings for good Tai Chi and advancement.
Be centred - be relaxed - be of good heart - begin a smile.
A lovely exercise to try. Breathing in a smile.
Did you know the first thing you must do before you can smile, is relax a little - try it.
Make a smile, it can be true or pretend, with mouth closed and tip of tongue on roof of mouth (where you would say ' L') , constrict your throat a little and see how slowly and deeply you can breath in your smile.
If it doesn't work you can have your money back!
What's the first thing a chicken does after it scratches the ground?
You'd probably need to watch to know, but the clever will work it out. Why does it scratch? To look for food. Where will this food be? Under the chicken (that's where its legs are!). So the first thing it does is step back to see what sort of sumptuous feast it may have uncovered. Without the bit in the middle the chicken would be forever hungry!
Here's another one. What's the first thing you do before you smile? Find your own answer before scrolling down in search of someone elses.
Never think of 'poses', a pose tends to be static whereas a posture can be transient and exist without being static, so think perhaps 'posture' or 'stance' instead. Not every thing is a stance either; eg, Repulse Monkey is a 'step' not a stance.
On Chi and Breath
My ideas are not my ideas, I owe them to a thousand nameless people who kindly shared their own.
On Chi;- there are many ideas on Chi, think of this; when you say 'hallo' what is important is not the energy or concentration of the word itself but on the emotion, (feeling) that guides it. So it is with Chi - how you use your mind makes all the difference.
On breath;- it is intended to be going where it is going - don't try to control it.
Both Chi and Breath are willing partners in following the intention of the mind (and body) but neither are controlled by it.
This is why trying too hard and wanting too much is counter productive.
In the above we are speaking of the 'spirit mind' not the 'thinking mind', they act because of the mind (or the way the mind is used) as a result of something far greater than each of them - the love of life.
Sadly I cannot remember who said the above, perhaps Prof Li Deyin seems the most likely. Whoever it was, don't you think they had the right idea?
A little more on breath;- why is it rarely taught and usually only to high level students? I have read that using the breath in the wrong way can possibly cause ill health .... seems a good enough reason to get it right I'd say. In general I have found that many students ask about the breath .... and as yet I don't have many answers ... I just repeat what I've been told when I asked the same question. ' Don't worry about it ... let it take care of itself'. Often though an outward, expanding movement becomes associated with the out breath. Peng and Lu are both in breaths though according to one Master in Shanghai ... and he could demonstrate why it was so, highly effectively. Another teacher said ' do not show the breath to your opponent, for when they see this they know when you are weakest' ............ so there is much to learn about breathing ... but perhaps we are not yet ready to know the answers.
General points only; when you look down (about 45 degrees) this can tend you to relaxation, or worst case it is depressing.
Eyes closed tends to internalise your feelings.
To be alert look forward and out, eyes wide open, be the watching tiger. (This does not mean stare at a point or stare blankly; tigers would miss a lot of dinners that way!)
Energy follows the mind therefore use your eyes in Tai Chi. The eyes lead and assess; use peripheral vision, which detects fast movement more quickly. Peripheral vision is aided by having 'soft' eyes. Soft eyes can be encouraged by imagining them deeper inside your head and looking out, through the skull as opposed from the front of it.
The Tai Chi principle 'one thing moves - all moves' , applies to eyes as well.
Exercise . Hold a posture, for example brush knee twist step is a good one. Focus your eyes with intent forwards .... sense the feeling.
Now imagine your eyes are not at the front of your head but set way back in the skull so that as you look forward you 'see' from the back of the head. Sense the new feeling.
Possibly you will find you are more relaxed and that there is a sense of being more behind the posture than in front of it. You can but try.
The eyes should be softened, this improves peripheral vision but more importantly, if you allow it, can soften the whole body too. Try it ... look ahead, even at these words, this screen, now slowly soften the gaze ... do you not feel the wave of relaxation travelling through your body, are your shoulders not less tense?
In some ways there is a connection with the beginning of a smile, the softening can travel the body, if you just wait a while in the middle.
What's the first thing you do before you smile?
Try it. Make a miserable expression, ( I know, you can't manage one of them, because you're a Tai Chi student), feel the tension in the body. Slowly - so you can be aware of it- begin a smile .... don't smile yet, just begin it. Can you feel the relaxation ? A relaxation that seems to seep gently throughout the body. So the answer is in the middle, not where we are serious and not where we are smiling , but the middle where a true relaxation, conscious and aware, full of a pleasure of life - peace. Therefore 'begin a smile'.
(See the story 'Keith's sheep and the fence' on Stories and Articles page, to discover more of the value of what lies between, what is in the middle, perhaps this is 'wuji'?)
The key principles to embrace.
Lower the chest, raise the upper back
Loosen the waist
Sink the shoulders, drop the elbows
Distinguish between ‘full’ and ‘empty’
Use will (mind), not strength
Co-ordinate the upper and lower body
Co-ordinate external and internal movements
Develop a continuity of flow
Seek stillness in movement and movement in stillness
You can count the seeds
in an apple,
you cannot count the apples in a seed.