Friday, November 20, 2015

Tai Chi Tip: Take a Moment - Part 1

When you go through a Tai Chi form how much time do you spend on starting the form and finishing the form?  That may seem like a strange question, but very often the importance of preparing for the form followed by the "Begin Taiji" movements, and the "Close Taiji" movements followed by the closure of the form are ignored.  Students who are new to Tai Chi tend to rush through the portions of the form to get to the "good stuff."  I remember when I was first learning Tai Chi, the beginning and end of the form were not important to me.  Those movements just seemed like fancy ways to start and finish the practical-training portion of the form.  Fortunately, I was taught the importance of these segments and grew to appreciate them.  It is my hope that by the end of this tip, you will value these small portions of your training time as well.

If I were to ask you, "How do you start your Tai Chi form?" and you were to respond with, "I start with my feet together, I check my alignment, then I bend my knees slightly, and step out with one foot to the side." then you would have answered correctly (for most forms).  However, there is an entire world of training that exists in the movements that you just described and, believe it or not, you could spend several minutes on just this portion of the form. If you find that hard to believe, read on for a sample of the depth of these seemingly insignificant moves. 

As soon as you decide to practice Tai Chi you have automatically begun to prepare your mind and body to practice (to some extent) simply by developing the intent to practice, but that is certainly not where the preparation ends. When you bring your feet together and check your alignment, before you do any other movements, take a moment.  Pause.  Feel.  Listen.  Become aware of your environment.  Become aware of your body.  Every sensation.  Are your shoulders tight? Is your lower back bothering you?  Do you feel more relaxed than usual?  Are you feeling distracted?  It doesn't matter what you are feeling at this point and you should never feel disappointed by any of those sensations that would be considered undesirable for practicing Tai Chi.  At this point, you are simply becoming aware.  

Once you have become aware, it is time to actually prepare yourself for your Tai Chi practice.  This is where you take care of the things that might effect your training.  Begin with deep abdominal breathing to help quiet the mind, then take your attention to one problem area, the tense shoulders for example.  With your attention on the shoulders, inhale deeply and as you exhale imagine the tension releasing from the shoulders with that breathe, and repeat until your shoulders no longer feel tense.  If your lower back is tense, focus on relaxing those muscles and adjust your hips and overall stance to one that helps the lower back relax (this should have been taken care of when you checked your alignment, but sometimes you won't notice subtle misalignments that are causing issues, like a tense lower back, until you take a moment to listen for them.)  If your mind does not want to stay focused, imagine that you can see the air that you are inhaling travel in through your nose, all the way down to your lower belly.  Then watch it travel up from your lower belly and back out your nose as you exhale.  Continue to watch this breath-trek until it absorbs your attention the way watching a tv show would.  This will help quiet the mind and allow you to focus, which is necessary for directing your intent into your form practice.  As you relax, you should feel that it becomes more easy for your body's energy to flow freely, to exchange with the energy of your environment, and to fill you up so that it can support the structure of your movements. 

Next, sink.  Imagine that your body weight is sinking down into your lower belly, down into your legs and feet, and see yourself growing roots into the ground.  While this is happening the upper body will feel as though it is becoming lighter.  Think of yourself as a tree with big heavy roots anchoring you to the ground and supporting light flexible branches that are reaching up to the sky.  Become increasingly aware of your lower belly (more specifically the Dan Tian) and feel the connection between it and every other part of the body.  Understand that it is the director (like a steering wheel) for all of your movements and take time to mentally establish it in that role in your body.  Again, take a moment, allow all of these mental and physical adjustments to feel natural.  Do not worry about moving, don't think about the form, don't be in a hurry.  When you feel comfortable, you are ready to bend the knees and step out........(to be continued).

To Your Health,
Shifu Andrew Plitt

P.S. Tai Chi movements place heavy emphasis on expressing the balance between Yin and Yang for martial purposes and it is believed that maintaining this balance within the body is necessary for maintaining one's health as well.  I invite you to try a Mediterranean herbal blend that is formulated to promote balance within the body.  Click here to learn more.

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