Category Archives: Flow

Stillness Is Death

When is the body ever completely still?

Only in death is there no movement.

If you are living, you are breathing.

If you are breathing, you are moving.

The movements of tai chi ride upon the breath wave

like flotsam following an ocean current.

The hip bone is connected to the thigh bone.

The thigh bone is connected to the shin bone.

The shin bone is connected to the ankle bone.

Thus when one thing moves, so does the next

and the next

and the next.

How could it be but thus?

As long as sequential movement is not arrested

by tension, resistance, and stress

the breath moves the body

and the body, in turn, moves the breath

and the chain is unbroken

so that the crown of the head

and the tips of the toes

are bosom buddies.

What affects the minutest part

affects the whole

and what affects the whole

affects the minutest part.

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Posted by on January 6, 2014 in Flow, Tai Chi


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Structure, Balance, Flow

Tai chi teaches us to move with structure, balance and flow.

Structure is alignment of the joints that takes forces into the bones, giving muscles mechanical advantage.

Balance is alignment with gravity that provides central equilibrium, keeping the body planted and upright.

Flow is complimentary muscular activation, allowing us to move without stress by literally getting out of our own way.

The combination of structure, balance, and flow gives rise to effortless power; deficiency in any one gives rise to powerless effort.

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Posted by on November 24, 2013 in Flow, Tai Chi


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Mirror Neurons

There is a certain subset of our motor neurons, called mirror neurons, that activates in response to the movements of others as if we were making identical movements. When you see another person, these neurons create an internal representation of that person’s posture, movements, sensations, and even their emotional state.

Normally these signals from our own nervous system are very subtle and faint, so that we are unaware of them, but they may be very strong at times, as when seeing another person become injured compels you to feel their injury in your body, and flinch as if to avoid it. They are also responsible for emotional contagion, the effect whereby moods are transferable.

In tai chi we train ourselves to be more sensitive to these signals, among other things. By stilling the body and quieting the mind, we become attuned to the subtle play of neurological impulses resonating within us, including those that link us to others, allowing us to both feel and follow their intent. The practice of mirroring is one way of directly exercising this capacity. Standing in front of a partner, take turns mirroring one another’s slow, gentle, continuous movements. At first there will need to be a leader and follower, but with practice and attunement you can eventually drop the roles and engage in free-form flowing together.

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Posted by on October 27, 2013 in Flow, Tai Chi Practice


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Douglas On Tai Chi Movements

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to T’ai Chi & QiGong, by Bill Douglas:

If done correctly, slowly, and gently, Tai Chi enables you to become aware of any poor physical habits long before physical damage is done. In fact, you often don’t become aware of problems in high-impact sports until the doctor is telling you not to play that sport ever again.

One amazing aspect of Tai Chi is that it replicates ALL the movements we go through in our daily lives.

When your “Snake Creeps Down,” you are loading the dishes in the dish washer (Thanks Liz Keith in Arizona for this clever image). When you “Push” or “Punch” you are shoveling snow, or pushing the lawn mower. When you “Pull Back” you are raking leaves, and on and on.

As you learn to move effortlessly from the Dan Tien in Tai Chi and Qigong movements, you move differently in all your daily activities, and you get more done, with less strain, and more power. Axis

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Posted by on March 21, 2013 in Flow, Health


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Breath Hitches (And Other Superstitions)

An odd thing about humans is that we tend to hold our breath in moments whenever we are attached to a particular outcome. Just after we’ve rolled the ball down the lane, hoping for a strike. Just after we’ve asked an important question, hoping for the answer we want. When we’re watching our child try something for the first time, hoping for a successful completion.

The first important thing to realize about these breath hitches is that they happen. The second is that they don’t help, any more than crossing your fingers or throwing salt over your shoulder.

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Posted by on November 28, 2012 in Flow, Health



Feeling Energy In The Body

Tai chi is a form of qigong, which means “energy work”.  There are multiple types of energy that move through the body, and some are more subtle than others.  This need not be an esoteric practice, however, as there is no real distinction between the definition of the “energy” felt in tai chi and the scientific definition.  In physics, energy can take on multiple forms, including mechanical, chemical, electrical, and potential.  Kinetic energy is the energy of matter in motion, and is associated with momentum.  It happens that kinetic energy is the easiest form of energy to feel in the body, because it is the most macroscopic, and we can all feel movement.  However, all types of energy flow along the same channels and in the same way.  Therefore, developing the sensitivity for how kinetic energy flows through the body, as well as the ability to direct and project it, also develops the capacity to work with other, more subtle forms of energy.

Many people feel frustration with their tai chi practice when they are told to “feel the energy”, but are not sure what they are supposed to be feeling for.  “Trying” to feel the more subtle forms of energy before you truly develop a feel for kinetic energy is barking up the wrong tree, as far as tai chi is concerned. You might develop some type of skill by doing this, but not the physical capacity that tai chi has the potential to develop.  On the other hand, by developing the sensitivity to feel and work with kinetic energy, you will develop your physical capacity as well as open the channels along which the more subtle types of energy also flow.  As your sensitivity develops through this practice, you will begin to feel these subtle forms of energy, at which point you can start to work with them, but trying to work with them if you can not actually feel them is a distraction from what should be the true purpose of your practice.


Posted by on November 13, 2012 in Flow, Qigong


What Is Composure in Tai Chi?

“Composure” is a term that I find useful to describe the state of being while practicing tai chi.  The specific movements made matter very little, what is important is to maintain composure while doing them.

The elements of composure are many and subtle, but the main indicators are posture, breathing, relaxation, and focus.

Posture: Are you aligned with gravity? Are you rooted?  Are you stable?

Breathing: Are you breathing naturally?  Abdominally?  Smoothly?

Relaxation: Are you straining? Are you floating?  Are your joints expansive and flexible?

Focus: Is your mind clear?  Are you aware of your body?  Are you perceiving the present moment?

It is the epitome of tai chi practice to maintain composure throughout the practice session, and to break it only gently at the end.  Best of all is to avoid breaking it altogether, but instead to carry it with you throughout your day.  But certainly beware of breaking it during practice. Observe when distractions and internal interruptions break your composure, and notice the distinction when it is lost.  The more acutely you can notice the distinction, the more actively you can maintain your composure under all circumstances.


Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Exercise, Flow, Tai Chi


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