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 September, 2009

Tai chi, amoebic flow and freeways

Posted By Tom Daly on September 19th, 2009

It strikes me that in tai chi, a central theme has to do with working with two aspects at once. And these two aspects are polar opposites of a spectrum.

The first polarity would be the sense that you are an amoeba. You have no real form, but you definitely are in space and flowing as you want to flow. You fill here, you empty there. You explore here, you dip there. It is easy, unforced, undirected, open. In fact, the lack of force or effort or even too much intention allows you to be flowing and easy.

Then there is the fact that you are definitely moving through a very very specific shape with a specific purpose. It reminds me of the perfection of a freeway system. To get the traffic to flow in a meaningful way, we create channels that form the turns of the freeway so that the cars can accommodate the freeway and the other cars. The specificity of the channel gives order and meaning to the flow of the cars. It perfectly accommodates the situation in order to get you where you need to go. The curves are elegant. They are specific, fixed, smooth, well defined. I’ve often admired the clover like shape of two intersecting freeways. Once you enter into the correct pathway, you zoom in the right direction, adjusting your speed as needed, always accommodating other cars and the sides of the curving pathway.

Tai chi is, of course, a martial art. The tai chi form has a shape with well defined curves and vectors. Yet the way the entire operation moves is from the perspective of an amoeba. The practice, the challenge, is to find the specificity of the shape and flow from within the easy, relaxed, open, directionless feel of the amoeba. The form is the intersection of both qualities. If it looks, from the outside, too much like an amoeba, lacking form or direction, then it lacks the specificity of the martial art. It becomes fuzzy. If it starts to look like slo-mo Karate, then it has lost the open, relaxed, exploratory feel of an amoeba. That’s the edge. It’s neither and it’s both.

Even more, the pathway and the flowing amoeba like quality are actually one. If the freeway is the channel, the pathway, the amoeba quality itself is the fuel that creates that freeway. It fulfills itself as the pathway. So the pathway itself can easily change as the amoeba flow (chi) changes. Another way to think of this is that air itself simply flows around aimlessly, but air can also be a tornado which has a real strength and direction and force and path. The air in the tornado eventually returns to its aimless air-like state of being. Yet another example is water in the ocean. Water molecules are mostly free floating, aimless and flowing, until they become a wave of force, power, direction… and then again relax into a quiet random flow.

As a martial art, both ends work to make tai chi functional. Yet another challenge! If your perfect shape cannot accommodate some force that invades this perfect shape, then you are relying on shape itself, and you will clash with this incoming force. The strongest will “win”. But we say in tai chi “the soft overcomes the hard”. The amoeba quality is there to allow an infinite amount of variation in responding to a force. You are not trapped in your shape. It holds you but you hold it.

On the other hand, if a force invades your shape and you don’t have skill for redirecting that vector force off your center (neutralizing) and then turning it around so that your new shape maximally returns that force back to the attacker, you merely crumble from the attack. Just like that freeway system, you have to be able to find the correct path to redirect that force. Out of this, you then need to find the curve that allows you to return that force right back to the perpetrator. This is very high level skill. This is where your sense of shape comes into play. You need to understand the right shape that will deliver the right results. You momentarily dissolve your old shape (the one that has been attacked) and then regroup so that this force is being redirected back to the attacker.

The form trains you to be sensitive to the forming and dissolving and reforming of various martial arts shapes in a manner similar to an amoeba. Push hands trains you to functionally do the same thing when presented with an actual force. These qualities of flow and shape give you an experience of your body that is hard to find in other disciplines. The matter at hand (you, air, amoeba) has the ability to change and flow and change and flow and ….. endlessly.

Tai chi is a superb method to explore this area and to find shapes that maximize the potential for holding energy (chi, air) and use it efficiently to accomplish your goals.

The mind that is aware of all of this also benefits in similar fashion.

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The Tai Chi Habit

Posted By Tom Daly on September 10th, 2009

The Tai Chi Habit.

Well, not so fast. Let’s look at habits in general….

I was at the Zendo some time ago and I saw something that has stuck in my mind. There was this male sitting in Zen meditation and, along with all of us, he was at it for roughly an hour with a kin-kin walking meditation in the middle. But unlike the rest of the group, his torso was not vertically upright. He held it leaning back, perhaps at a 20 degree angle off the vertical. This was not someone with a disability. He was merely in the habit of leaning back while sitting zazen. In order to do this, he had to be holding muscles tightly to maintain the angle for an hour. Looking at him made my back ache, but I’d guess this felt normal to him. I don’t know where he learned sitting meditation and I suspect he doesn’t have a teacher. But generally, one is taught to sit erect in order to find a line of balance that is comfortable. Just like in tai chi.

So here was a good example of someone with a poor habit, at least in terms of a comfortable posture. Perhaps his habit gave him a sense that what he was doing was comfortable. His muscle holding pattern had been sufficiently developed so that what would hurt the average person felt OK as far as he was concerned. And if you corrected him, the new posture would feel uncomfortable to him. Such are the ways of habit. What’s “wrong” feels right and what’s “right” feels wrong.

In a way, of course, we are all like my example here. The only difference is that our patterns may not be as visible or dramatic. We are in a somewhat correct place, but still, there are uncomfortable holding patterns that are hard to see, and even more difficult to feel, because we have become accustomed to the position. What feels normal is not correct, but merely a habit that blinds us to what would be truly comfortable. There are 656 to 850 muscles in the body (depending on which expert you consult) and to arrange them properly is a science and an art.

In tai chi we are aiming for perfect relaxation so that precisely the muscles that are needed in any given movement are free to do the job exactly as required. Improper muscle usage blocks freedom of movement. This is why the study of tai chi requires great attention. It is very difficult to discern habit and improper use of muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints, from relaxation and proper muscular tonus.

Holding a posture for a long time can be a double edged sword. Often it will reveal that you are tensing some muscle improperly. But habit can also hide poor muscular usage and actually make the habit itself WORSE. We unconsciously tell ourselves, “I am right because it feels right.” But it is the habit that makes it feel right. The mind assumes that what you are doing is correct and this will override the actual experience in the body.

Answers? Here are a few but I can’t claim this is a complete list.

1. A good teacher. (In addition to tai chi, The Alexander Technique is a superb method to focus on recognizing and changing habits.)

2. Aim for comfort. Since comfort may in fact be habit, search for deeper comfort than the level you currently inhabit.

3. Try it different ways to experiment.

4. Aim for the whole picture, not just the isolated area of concern.

5. Do the posture as if you are a marionette and see if you can find a way let the structure fall into place.

6. Use non-doing as a guide.

7. Let the body fill from the inside out and see if you can find a feeling of releasing into space and ground.

8. Balance the top of your head with the bottom of your feet with the right and the left and front and back of the room and the four corners. Be balanced in space so you can let your body relax but in a round way.

9. It may be helpful from time to time to look at a mirror and see if what you think you are doing IS what you are doing. It is not a good idea to rely on mirrors, however.

I haven’t bothered here to note habitual ways of THINKING. That is yet another level.

The tai chi habit is to practice on a regular basis, and to examine again and again any habitual patterns (mind and body) that may be interfering with relaxation. We need to play with our structure and test it out.

Let go of being right. Let go of being wrong.

Get in the habit of trying something new.

That’s the tai chi habit!