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 January, 2010

Tai Chi Push Hands: Fact vs. Judgment

Posted By Tom Daly on January 9th, 2010

Recently I was practicing push hands with another practitioner, someone who really wants to get this right and improve. He’s good too. In our verbal exchange, I noted something that I was feeling again and again and again and this “error” gave me an opportunity to push him. I forget if he asked me what it was that inspired my pushes, or if I volunteered the observation, but it was a simple fact. “When I am moving forward on my press, you are using your arm to push me away.” It was NOT a gross level pushing me away, but nonetheless there was an effort to keep me out. I’m moving in and he’s trying to keep me out. Clash! He didn’t notice the error, and even after it was pointed out he continued to repeat it. This is not unusual because what is normal to us is hard to see and feel. His understanding of the neutralization was incomplete (or so I felt). We worked on it and he found a different idea about the neutralization.

But then he countered that my push “could be better.”

Here is the language problem. Or to create a new word, the “languaging” problem. How do we communicate to help each other? To tell your partner that their push could be better is an empty statement at best and unhelpful as well. Empty because all pushes could be better. Empty because he has no way of knowing if my push at this time could be better. Unhelpful because what he was expressing was his opinion. Opinions don’t help in push hands practice. I learn how he “feels” about something, but not much about what I’m doing. The “bad-good” discussion or the “better-worse” discussion doesn’t really move our skill level along nor does it increase any real understanding or appreciation of push-hands. (The same might be said of Life in general .)

Instead of telling him that he was pushing me back when he needs to take me in (standard operating procedure in push hands and tai chi because this avoids class and tension and hardness) I could have told him, “Your neutralization could be better.” What is he supposed to do with that? He has no more information on hand than before and not a clue as to what I am working off of. He most likely will feel judged and this does not help.

Of course, the whole situation is sticky to begin with because perhaps he doesn’t want to hear my factual observation at all. I could be wrong in the observation, yes, or he may not really want to hear it. Some folks like to work with push hands, experiment and try to figure out solutions by themselves. I’m not opposed to this, though it is the loooong road to improvement. My own preference is to take some time to try to figure it out and feel it out, but if I truly can’t see it I’d like to hear what they are experiencing and observing. I need a factual observation, not a judgment about whether it is good or not good.

With my regular push-hands partners, we have our languaging in pretty good order and we are on the same page with sharing information. The operative question is “Does it work?” If so, why? If not, why not?

Did my push work? My partner says the direction felt good to him, but it did not feel like the pressure that generally generates a good push went down all the way to my feet. We can argue this fact, but nonetheless, we are talking about a fact and not a judgment on the quality of the push as a whole.

To digress a bit here, I love the way tai chi gives one ample opportunity to be with each other and to note or solve problems that permeate our lives. The languaging problem is endemic and engineering better ways to communicate can help us along tremendously in relationships. But it helps to have a context that creates the problem in the first place. Believe me, you will never see a more heated laboratory than push hands when it comes to relationships. How we talk to each other and treat each other in this context is very very close to the surface. I have noted elsewhere (in another blog commentary) where I RAN from one partner because of his insensitivity. I know that I’ve insulted quite a few by my ignorance as well. But the lure of push hands gives us a reason to keep coming back. It’s a marvelous marvelous tool to see how you relate to others while playing a complex game.

In fact, because push hands is so confusing for such a long time, this aspect of practice doesn’t really surface until a later date. Mostly we muddle through with liking this partner and avoiding that partner. Just like life. And that is fine because not all partners will help you grow as a push hands practitioner or as a person. I still do that, I admit it! But at least I see the problem and how I am dealing (or not dealing) with it and, hopefully, why.

I reflect on one individual that I avoided for years and years. He drove me nuts. But at a later date, I realized he was EXACTLY what I needed for my own selfish growth. The interaction changed between us radically and then I loved working out with him. He has passed on since. I really miss him and – surprise! – not only for selfish reasons.

Tai chi gave me this invaluable experience.

A few years back I took a workshop on Having Difficult Conversations. A core insight from that workshop was the following: There are facts. Then we select the facts that appeal to us. From this we draw a conclusion. When we argue with each other, we typically argue from the perspective of the conclusions we have drawn. The facts are no longer in view. Of course, our conclusion is wrapped in a judgment that satisfies us. This conclusion is right, correct, good. We assume it is supported by the facts and to a certain extent, it is.

I’d like to suggest in tai chi and push hands, we get back to the facts and work from there. The process is more like mining for gold. We have to dig and dig and dig and explore and discover. More data is uncovered as we move through the process. To settle with some judgment or conclusion will not move us along. At best, it is a temporary resting place to let us gather some experience to move to the next level. Your conception of a good push, or your experience of some great push that you have met with some master will only get you so far. The facts that make up YOUR push are crucial to understand, discover and work with.

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Circles – New York Times article

Posted By Tom Daly on January 9th, 2010

This off the beaten track article is not really about tai chi, but about circles. Tai Chi is loaded with circles (and spirals) and to that end, this art world article may give us some clues and inspiration about how important these circles are. NOT required reading this, but sort of fun in a tributary way.

Enjoy if you decide to venture forth. Tom

December 8, 2009

Circular Logic of the Universe


CIRCLING my way not long ago through the Vasily Kandinsky show now on display in the suitably spiral setting of the Guggenheim Museum, I came to one of the Russian master’s most illustrious, if misleadingly named, paintings: “Several Circles.”

Those “several” circles, I saw, were more like three dozen, and every one of them seemed to be rising from the canvas, buoyed by the shrewdly exuberant juxtapositioning of their different colors, sizes and apparent translucencies. I learned that, at around the time Kandinsky painted the work, in 1926, he had begun collecting scientific encyclopedias and journals; and as I stared at the canvas, a big, stupid smile plastered on my face, I thought of yeast cells budding, or a haloed blue sun and its candied satellite crew, or life itself escaping the careless primordial stew.

I also learned of Kandinsky’s growing love affair with the circle. The circle, he wrote, is “the most modest form, but asserts itself unconditionally.” It is “simultaneously stable and unstable,” “loud and soft,” “a single tension that carries countless tensions within it.” Kandinsky loved the circle so much that it finally supplanted in his visual imagination the primacy long claimed by an emblem of his Russian boyhood, the horse.

Quirkily enough, the artist’s life followed a circular form: He was born in December 1866, and he died the same month in 1944. This being December, I’d like to honor Kandinsky through his favorite geometry, by celebrating the circle and giving a cheer for the sphere. Life as we know it must be lived in the round, and the natural world abounds in circular objects at every scale we can scan. Let a heavenly body get big enough for gravity to weigh in, and you will have yourself a ball. Stars are giant, usually symmetrical balls of radiant gas, while the definition of both a planet like Jupiter and a plutoid like Pluto is a celestial object orbiting a star that is itself massive enough to be largely round.

On a more down-to-earth level, eyeballs live up to their name by being as round as marbles, and, like Jonathan Swift’s ditty about fleas upon fleas, those soulful orbs are inscribed with circular irises that in turn are pierced by circular pupils. Or think of the curved human breast and its bull’s-eye areola and nipple.

Our eggs and those of many other species are not egg-shaped at all but spherical, and when you see human eggs under a microscope they look like tranquil suns with Kandinsky coronas behind them. Raindrops start life in the clouds not with the pear-shaped contours of a cartoon teardrop, but as liquid globes, aggregates of water molecules that have condensed around specks of dust or salt and then mutually clung themselves into the rounded path of least resistance. Only as the raindrops fall do they lose their symmetry, their bottoms often flattening out while their tops stay rounded, a shape some have likened to a hamburger bun.

Sometimes roundness is purely a matter of physics. “The shape of any object represents the balance of two opposing forces,” explained Larry S. Liebovitch of the Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences at Florida Atlantic University. “You get things that are round when those forces are isotropic, that is, felt equally in all directions.”

In a star, gravity is pulling the mass of gas inward toward a central point, while pressure is pushing the gas outward, and the two competing forces reach a dynamic détente — “simultaneously stable and unstable,” you might say — in the form of a sphere. For a planet like Earth, gravity tugs the mostly molten rock in toward the core, but the rocks and their hostile electrons push back with equal vehemence. Plutoids are also sufficiently massive for gravity to overcome the stubbornness of rock and smooth out their personal lumps, although they may not be the gravitationally dominant bodies in their neighborhood.

In precipitating clouds, water droplets are exceptionally sticky, as the lightly positive end of one water molecule seeks the lightly negative end of another. But, again, mutually hostile electrons put a limit on molecular intimacy, and the compromise conformation is shaped like a ball. “A sphere is the most compact way for an object to form itself,” said Denis Dutton, an evolutionary theorist at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

A sphere is also tough. For a given surface area, it’s stronger than virtually any other shape. If you want to make a secure container using the least amount of material, Dr. Liebovitch said, make that container round. “That’s why, when you cook a frankfurter, it always splits in the long direction,” he said, rather than along its circumference. The curved part has the tensile strength of a sphere, the long axis that of a rectangle: no contest.

The reliability of bubble wrap may help explain some of the round objects found among the living, where the shapes of body parts are assumed to have some relation to their purpose. Eggs are a valuable commodity in nature, and if a round package is the safest option, by all means, make them caviar round. Among many birds, of course, eggs are oval rather than round, a trait that biologists attribute to both the arduous passage the egg makes through the avian oviduct, and the fact that oval eggs roll in a circle rather than a straight line and thus are less likely to fall out of a nest.

Yet scientists admit that they don’t always understand the evolutionary pressures that sculpture a given carbon-based shape.

While studying the cornea at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. Liebovitch became curious about why eyeballs are round. “It seemed like their most salient feature,” he said. He explored the options. To aid in focusing? But only a small region of the retina is involved in focusing, he said, and the whole spherical casing seems superfluous to the optical needs of that foveal patch. To enable the eye to roll easily in the socket and dart this way and that? But birds and other animals with fixed eyes still have bulging round eyeballs. “It’s not really clear what the reason is,” he said.

And for speculative verve, nothing beats the assortment of hypotheses that have been put forth to explain the roundness of the human female breast. It’s a buttock mimic. It’s a convenient place to store fat for hard times. It’s a fertility signal, a youth signal, a health signal, a wealth symbol. Large breasts emphasize the woman’s comparatively small waist, which is really what men are interested in. As for me, I’m waiting for somebody to explain why a man’s well-developed bicep looks like a wandering breast.

Whatever the prompt, our round eyes are drawn to round things. Jeremy M. Wolfe of Harvard Medical School and his colleagues found that curvature was a basic feature we used while making a visual search. Maybe we are looking for faces, a new chance to schmooze.

Studying rhesus monkeys, Doris Tsao of the California Institute of Technology and her colleagues identified a set of brain cells that responded strongly to images of faces, monkey and otherwise. The only other sort of visual stimulus that aroused those face tracing neurons, Dr. Tsao said, were round objects — clocks, apples and the like. She suspects the results would be similar for humans. We make a fetish of faces. “If you have a round object with two spots in the middle,” she said, “that instantly attracts your attention.”

Or maybe the circle beckons not for its resemblance to human face but as a mark of human art. Dr. Dutton, author of “The Art Instinct,” pointed out that perfect shapes were exceedingly rare in nature. “Take a look at a billiard ball,” he said. “It’s impossible to imagine that nature threw that one up.” We are predisposed to recognize “human artifacture,” he said, and roundness can be a mark of our handiwork. When nature does play the meticulous Michelangelo, we are astonished.

“People come to see the Moeraki boulders of New Zealand,” he said, “and ooh and aah because they’re so amazingly spherical.”

Artists in turn have used the circle as shorthand for the divine: in mandalas, rose windows, the lotus pad of the Buddha, the halos of Christian saints. For Kandinsky, said Tracey Bashkoff, who curated the Guggenheim exhibition, the circle was part of a “cosmic language” and a link to a grander, more spiritual plane. A round of applause! We’ve looped back to Kandinsky again.

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