To find your proper posture, visualize that you are wearing a heavy, lead-filled backpack, with the straps resting squarely on the bony parts of your shoulders. What’s more, imagine that you will have to wear that backpack all day long, and stand so that you can bear the weight indefinitely. This will make you sensitive to the slightest deviation from ideal alignment with gravity.
Category Archives: Tai Chi
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.
Yoga and tai chi have several elements in common, but they also provide distinct benefits. This is how they are alike and different:
Both are mind-body arts that work by regulating and integrating body, breath, and mind, and are suitable for people of all ages and physical conditions. Practice is meditative, and benefits include reduced stress, improved balance and posture, elevated awareness, and enhanced healing and immune function.
Yoga emphasizes range of motion, tai chi emphasizes fluidity of motion. Yoga focuses on opening the joints as much as possible, tai chi focuses on freeing the joints as much as possible. Yoga tends to make the joints exposed, tai chi tends to keep the joints protected. Yoga is practiced solo, tai chi can only be practiced fully with a partner. Balance in yoga is mostly static, balance in tai chi is mostly dynamic. Yoga develops more external strength, tai chi develops more sensitivity. Yoga inverts the body, tai chi does not. Yoga evolved from devotional practices, tai chi evolved from healing practices.
How Yoga Can Benefit Your Tai Chi Practice
If you already practice tai chi, yoga will reinforce the benefits, as well as provide an extra degree of external strength, range of motion, and breathing capacity to complement your internal energy development, all of which will make your tai chi more powerful and effective.
How Tai Chi Can Benefit Your Yoga Practice
If you already practice yoga, tai chi will reinforce the benefits. It will also help to develop fluidity of motion and active relaxation in addition to stability of structure. It will help you to maintain your balance and poise in the face of interference, such as while moving and being pushed around by another person. It will teach you to avoid joint posture vulnerability, as well as how to issue and absorb large amounts of force.
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.
Doing tai chi is often confused with doing forms.
Forms are a means to an end.
The end is to move with chi.
Can forms help you to move with chi? Perhaps.
Are forms required to move with chi? Certainly not.
When doing forms
and when not doing forms
the question tai chi asks is
“Are you moving with chi?”
…is a sentiment that is very much alive in real life, not just in old B movies.
An old joke goes, “How many tai chi players does it take to screw in a light bulb? Only one, but it takes 99 others to stand around and lament, ‘That’s not how we do it.'”
Maybe it’s because of its martial background, maybe it’s due to cultural influences, but for whatever reason, something about tai chi seems to lend itself to judgmental comparisons. There is something of a fixation with which styles, techniques, or teachers are most “correct”, “authentic”, or “effective”.
The thing is, the art of tai chi is self-correcting. The best teachers will develop the most influence, regardless of any judgments anybody makes about anybody else.
Another thing is, tai chi is different things to different people, and that’s okay. If tai chi spreads, it will be because of the benefits it provides, which is something that we all should support and encourage. More people practicing and teaching tai chi, even if it is not up to some particular standards of purity or rigor, makes the world a better place. Worrying about the dilution of the art is about as silly as worrying about gay marriage undermining the “traditional” family.
There will always be purists and dedicated experts who will preserve the ancient wisdom, which is as it should be. And the greatest benefit will come not from elite orders training secretly behind closed doors, but from passionate evangelists spreading the practice as widely as possible and bringing its benefits to the greatest possible numbers of people. And, as always, the art will continue to evolve.
One of the most notable modern tai chi evangelists, Bill Douglas, founder of World Tai Chi & Qigong Day, wrote about this in a recent newsletter:
“The more we can work together, the more we will expand Tai Chi and Qigong, which is why it is so important not to aggrandize these arts for ego, but for the betterment of global society at a time when stress is rattling people apart.”
I have discovered in my own bodymind that many of my habits and preferences are not necessarily due to any major commitment or physical deficiency but rather to a lack of involvement in new and stimulating activities. The forces of laziness and the easy way out all too often outweigh the more risky routes of change and development. In our culture of instant everything, it’s pretty simple to just slip into a comfortable set of patterns and become trapped and fixed within their structures.
For example, I recently decided to paint several of the rooms in my house. After I began spreading the paint, I noticed that my arm was getting tired, so I tried switching the brush over to my left hand. At first, I was put off by my own awkwardness of movement in this arm, and my immediate response was to take the brush back into my right hand again, no matter how exhausted it was getting. Then I stopped myself and decided that I would try to learn how to paint with my left hand as comfortably as I had always done with my right. It didn’t come easy at first, but after a while I found that either arm could be used for the execution of this simple household task. This process of growth involved first discovering my limitation and then allowing myself a chance to transcend it.