Tai Chi Class

Welcome to WholenessInMotion. Tai chi is a whole body and mind exercise that combines meditation, martial art and health tonic in one. This particular form is the Yang style, 37 posture short form as taught by Prof. Cheng Man-ch'ing. This fascinating and intricate exercise has many benefits and just about anyone can practice it.

Take a look at this site and consider the study of relaxation and how it can benefit you in your daily life. I look forward to working with you. Tom Daly


Archive for May, 2009

Tai Chi is a sensory path to sanity

Posted By Tom Daly on May 25th, 2009

In the documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, it is reported from a Canadian researcher that to put a human being in goggles, ear muffs and gloves has the following effect: within 24 hours that person will have hallucinations and within 48 hours that person will have a mental breakdown. The CIA grabbed this information and made use of it on terror suspects. In other words, the goal here is sensory deprivation. Our sanity is grounded in our sensory experience, at least on one level. This appears to be very primal. To me, this is amazing.

In tai chi, we are doing the exact opposite of sensory deprivation. We are becoming more and more involved with our sensory apparatus. We use sight and physical feeling to ground us. The air is used as if it were water – “swimming on land”. The hands are used as if they are listening to the air. We are directed to be aware of the real sounds around us. This is one reason that you don’t have to have a particularly quiet or isolated place to practice. The feet feel the ground and the weight of the body on that ground. The head is suspended as if from above and this is again a feeling. We notice the structure of the body, the parts in relationship to each other. There is also the awareness of your body in space, along with awareness of the space you are in. While we are not actively looking around, the eyes are open and letting the scenery come to you – a soft focus (not to be confused with making your own eyes blurry.) This reminds me of fish in a fish tank, aware of all that is surrounding us, sort of floating in the space itself.

In tai chi, we are actively using the senses to connect us to our bodies and the surroundings. Many of us have jobs, or mental habits, that disconnect us from our bodies and the surroundings. Have you ever mulled over a problem in your mind only to discover that you didn’t hear the phone ring? Or that you are holding the object that you are looking for? Or the time passes and you didn’t realize you were late for your next activity? Or you missed your subway stop? Or any number of results whereby you are momentarily separated from what is immediately in front of you. We all have!

Tai chi training is about being here now (just like many meditation practices.) The way that tai chi does this is through physical grounding. I suspect those of us who like our physical experience tend to like tai chi, in contrast to our mental or emotional worlds.

Regardless – the tai chi experience uses sensory awareness to connect us to the immediate. The added benefit here is that it is a moving awareness so that it not only adds to your awareness of body and space, but you are moving with your body through space. Your body itself is changing as you move, so there is much to be aware of, and connect to. This level of sensory awareness and movement makes for a challenging and enjoyable experience, one that will carry itself forward into your every day life. I believe this is one reason those of us who love tai chi enjoy it so much: physical awareness feels good.

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Tai Chi, Stress and Struggle – NOT!

Posted By Tom Daly on May 9th, 2009

Our world, our lives, at many times, involves stress and struggle. It is one of those things that actually creates growth and innovation. Tai chi has a great deal to teach us regarding stress and struggle. While we are programmed for fight or flight, there is an alternative.

There is stress, and then there is STRESS!!!!! And depending on our conditioning, this is either a good thing or a bad thing. We all know of that individual (perhaps you?) that actually finds the challenge of overcoming stress to be enjoyable. There are those of us who want nothing more than to avoid it. It’s too uncomfortable. We avoid it to the extent that when we can’t, we have stress on top of stress. I often see stress as “good” stress or “bad” stress. One motivates, the other defeats! That boundary, the shift from good to bad varies with each individual.

Learning tai chi for most beginners is a challenge. We are asked to be very specific in what we are doing with the hands and feet and pelvis and torso and head and the “center” (tan t’ien). The effort to be correct is anything but relaxing, yet we are encouraged to be correct, and then relax. Or more perplexing, relax and this will correct you. Of course both are true, but underneath all of this is a stressful situation. It is inherent in the learning process. In this way, tai chi replicates life.

I recall my own beginning. I was sort of good at putting the hands and feet in the right place. Then my teacher noted, “You work very hard…. TOO hard!” Man, you can’t win! I thought. But that is the teaching of tai chi – there are layers and looking correct is not necessarily correct. To be in the right shape, but not hold the shape, to relax the shape, to allow the shape to emerge from the movement, from the ground, from the air, from the center – all of this is going on. We tend to put ourselves in a vise, to squeeze ourselves into what we think is correct.

So to begin tai chi is to volunteer to work with something that looks easy, but in fact is not. This is dealing with stress in a good way, a playful way. Beginners need to pick at it bit by bit and enjoy the small victories until the day when it finally falls, more or less, into place. It is a pleasurable process. This is one reason that we learn it so slowly. We can’t be overwhelmed by the process in order to learn. We deal with enough stress to learn, but we do this slowly so that eventually there is some ease and relaxation too. Sometimes you just have to hang in there with the discomfort before grace falls from above.

My teacher, Maggie Newman, is always looking for a way to make it more comfortable. That may seem trivial, but in fact it is essential. Consider what Laurence Gonzales in Deep Survival, Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why has to say about children aged 6 and under. This group has one of the highest survival rates when caught in a disastrous situation, better than experienced hunters, physically fit hikers, former members of the military or skilled sailors. One aspect is that they try to make themselves comfortable, and staying comfortable helps keep them alive.

It is hard to say what will create real relaxation and comfort – each of us responds to something different, though each of us must maintain some level of effort to continue on. For some, this can take quite a while. This can feel like a struggle. Yet, stay with it long enough and it will happen. I have never seen anyone not make progress in their work on tai chi.

But wait! It gets worse! Now you have to be all of that, and let someone attack you. A new stress and a very complicated struggle. How on earth can relaxation lead to a martial art? Put two bodies together – any two bodies – and you have a struggle. In fact you have two layers of struggle: the first is within your own body, which now refuses to maintain all the hard won relaxation (mysteriously vanished!) and the second struggle is between two bodies as you try to deal with your partner’s attack.

Here, again, the wonder of tai chi gives you a new challenge. I often work with advanced form students who think that because they have skill in the form that this will automatically translate into good push-hands. They don’t realize that they have to take what skill they have and add to it. The only way to add to it is to practice push-hands with a partner. Because push-hands is complex, this requires great attention and time. The more you practice, the more you learn and the more interesting it becomes. But at first, it is usually a mystery (and a frustrating one at that!)

Of course, you have been practicing some of these skills while learning the form, but this context is very different. Now you have to adjust to an outside force that is moving at you. What are these new skills? Fundamentally, you need to stick and follow the direction of your partner. You have to play THEIR tune, and this requires listening with your physical body. You intentionally create harmony. You become as easy to move as a helium balloon, but as grounded as the Empire State Building. Stick, follow, listen… stick, follow, listen. AND keep connecting them into your feet. Make the two of you one big ball. You are only half of the equation at this point, no longer the whole ball that you were when doing the form. Don’t disturb their pathway. Again, find a way to make this comfortable. This becomes YOUR responsibility. If a pressure presents itself, be sure it connects to your rooted foot. These are rather new skills that you add to your relaxed, structurally sound, whole body movement from the form. One teacher told a push hands class to NOT STRUGGLE. Give up struggling. How? That is part of the struggle, discovering how to give up struggling. Again, there is intentionality at play here, and new skills to be learned.

So in a special way, tai chi replicates stress and struggle in life, but simultaneously offers you solutions to that very stress and struggle. Tai chi is about solving that problem. What a wonderful problem to solve!

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New York Times editorial: Slow practice may be the stuff of genius.

Posted By Tom Daly on May 1st, 2009

We emphasize slow practice in tai chi. This editorial notes just how important slow deliberate practice can be. Tom

May 1, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
Genius: The Modern View


Some people live in romantic ages. They tend to believe that genius is the product of a divine spark. They believe that there have been, throughout the ages, certain paragons of greatness — Dante, Mozart, Einstein — whose talents far exceeded normal comprehension, who had an other-worldly access to transcendent truth, and who are best approached with reverential awe.
We, of course, live in a scientific age, and modern research pierces hocus-pocus. In the view that is now dominant, even Mozart’s early abilities were not the product of some innate spiritual gift. His early compositions were nothing special. They were pastiches of other people’s work. Mozart was a good musician at an early age, but he would not stand out among today’s top child-performers.

What Mozart had, we now believe, was the same thing Tiger Woods had — the ability to focus for long periods of time and a father intent on improving his skills. Mozart played a lot of piano at a very young age, so he got his 10,000 hours of practice in early and then he built from there.

The latest research suggests a more prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of the world. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It’s not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess. Instead, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft.

The recent research has been conducted by people like K. Anders Ericsson, the late Benjamin Bloom and others. It’s been summarized in two enjoyable new books: “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle; and “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin.

If you wanted to picture how a typical genius might develop, you’d take a girl who possessed a slightly above average verbal ability. It wouldn’t have to be a big talent, just enough so that she might gain some sense of distinction. Then you would want her to meet, say, a novelist, who coincidentally shared some similar biographical traits. Maybe the writer was from the same town, had the same ethnic background, or, shared the same birthday — anything to create a sense of affinity.

This contact would give the girl a vision of her future self. It would, Coyle emphasizes, give her a glimpse of an enchanted circle she might someday join. It would also help if one of her parents died when she was 12, infusing her with a profound sense of insecurity and fueling a desperate need for success.

Armed with this ambition, she would read novels and literary biographies without end. This would give her a core knowledge of her field. She’d be able to chunk Victorian novelists into one group, Magical Realists in another group and Renaissance poets into another. This ability to place information into patterns, or chunks, vastly improves memory skills. She’d be able to see new writing in deeper ways and quickly perceive its inner workings.

Then she would practice writing. Her practice would be slow, painstaking and error-focused. According to Colvin, Ben Franklin would take essays from The Spectator magazine and translate them into verse. Then he’d translate his verse back into prose and examine, sentence by sentence, where his essay was inferior to The Spectator’s original.

Coyle describes a tennis academy in Russia where they enact rallies without a ball. The aim is to focus meticulously on technique. (Try to slow down your golf swing so it takes 90 seconds to finish. See how many errors you detect.)

By practicing in this way, performers delay the automatizing process. The mind wants to turn deliberate, newly learned skills into unconscious, automatically performed skills. But the mind is sloppy and will settle for good enough. By practicing slowly, by breaking skills down into tiny parts and repeating, the strenuous student forces the brain to internalize a better pattern of performance.

Then our young writer would find a mentor who would provide a constant stream of feedback, viewing her performance from the outside, correcting the smallest errors, pushing her to take on tougher challenges. By now she is redoing problems — how do I get characters into a room — dozens and dozens of times. She is ingraining habits of thought she can call upon in order to understand or solve future problems.

The primary trait she possesses is not some mysterious genius. It’s the ability to develop a deliberate, strenuous and boring practice routine.

Coyle and Colvin describe dozens of experiments fleshing out this process. This research takes some of the magic out of great achievement. But it underlines a fact that is often neglected. Public discussion is smitten by genetics and what we’re “hard-wired” to do. And it’s true that genes place a leash on our capacities. But the brain is also phenomenally plastic. We construct ourselves through behavior. As Coyle observes, it’s not who you are, it’s what you do.

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