This post explains how to adapt your tai chi practice to your own body by applying the process “experiment, check results, adjust accordingly”: The Meaning of ECRAA in Tai Chi and Qigong
Category Archives: Qigong
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.
While visualizing might be important and useful for some forms of meditation, in tai chi physical sensation must take precedence to get the greatest benefit. The point of tai chi is to tune into and devolop physical sensation, and visualizing (another word for imagining) the effects you are trying to achieve is only a distraction, as it pulls the awareness away from the physical body and into the mind. Develop your awareness of the physical sensations of the practice, and sooner or later you will be able to feel energy moving through your body, and you won’t have to imagine it.
Because the body and the mind are not only connected, they are different facets of the same thing. Every aspect of one is reflected in the other.
In tai chi, we say that everything physical has psychological analogues, and everything psychological has physical analogs. What shows up in your practice shows up in your life, and vice versa.
If the body becomes rigid during meditation, so will the mind. A flexible body corresponds to a flexible mind.
From another perspective, physical movement propels circulation, of both blood and lymph as well as chi.
Finally, all meditation centers on breathing. If the body is fluid, the breath moves throughout it. Restricting the body in any way automatically restricts breathing.
Breath regulation is the link between body regulation and mind regulation.
The breath originates in the dan tien, the center of the body. While engaging body regulation by relaxing and aligning, engage breath regulation by allowing the breath to expand and contract naturally from this point, in particular the belly, inhaling and exhaling spontaneously and completely. If you are relaxed enough you will feel the wave of expansion and contraction rippling through your body, out to the ends of your extremities. Let this subtle wave precede and guide your movements; in practice, let your movements be initiated and directed by the breath.
To engage body regulation, scan your entire body with your awareness, both narrowing your focus down to a point and moving it throughout your body, and by expanding your awareness to fill your entire body at once. Feel each muscle and joint individually, feeling for tension or strain. Let your muscles drop, your joints expand, and your bones align with gravity. Experiment constantly by making microadjustments throughout your body, wiggling each joint, varying the tension in each muscle individually, and find the optimal configuration for your whole body. Continue to integrate these body regulation principles throughout your practice, and eventually into your daily life.
Tai chi (moving energy) is a form of qigong (energy work). The practice of qigong, including tai chi, involves the engagement of three ongoing regulations, which are the elements of what I refer to as tai chi composure.
The Three Regulations are body regulation, breath regulation, and mind regulation. Body is the physical aspect of our experience, mind is the cognitive aspect, and breath is the link between the two. This corresponds to the fact that breathing is controlled by both the somatic and autonomic nervous system, making it at once both voluntary and automatic. In a sense, the breathing impulse exists in two worlds at once, spanning the gap between mind and body, or conscious and subconscious.
Body regulation consists of relaxing and aligning. As you practice, continually scan your body for excess tension and misalignment, relaxing the muscles, expanding the joints, and aligning the bones with gravity.
Breath regulation consists of breathing in a natural way. As you practice, continually return to consciousness of your breathing, while allowing the breath to flow smoothly, continuously, fully, and evenly.
Mind regulation consists of present moment awareness and sensory activation. As you practice, continually return your awareness to the present moment and fill it with the physical sensations within your body and the sensory inputs from your surroundings.