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 February, 2010

Touch Matters: New York Times article

Posted By Tom Daly on February 26th, 2010

This article is not about tai chi but the importance of touch.  It grabs my attention because in push hands we are lightly touching each other through the entire push hands form.  We are “reading” the partner and doing many things with regards to this special kind of touch. 

Read on if the topic grabs you as well!  Tom

February 23, 2010

New York Times

Evidence That Little Touches Do Mean So Much

By BENEDICT CAREY

Psychologists have long studied the grunts and winks of nonverbal communication, the vocal tones and facial expressions that carry emotion. A warm tone of voice, a hostile stare — both have the same meaning in Terre Haute or Timbuktu, and are among dozens of signals that form a universal human vocabulary.

But in recent years some researchers have begun to focus on a different, often more subtle kind of wordless communication: physical contact. Momentary touches, they say — whether an exuberant high five, a warm hand on the shoulder, or a creepy touch to the arm — can communicate an even wider range of emotion than gestures or expressions, and sometimes do so more quickly and accurately than words.

“It is the first language we learn,” said Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life” (Norton, 2009), and remains, he said, “our richest means of emotional expression” throughout life.

The evidence that such messages can lead to clear, almost immediate changes in how people think and behave is accumulating fast. Students who received a supportive touch on the back or arm from a teacher were nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class as those who did not, studies have found. A sympathetic touch from a doctor leaves people with the impression that the visit lasted twice as long, compared with estimates from people who were untouched. Research by Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute in Miami has found that a massage from a loved one can not only ease pain but also soothe depression and strengthen a relationship.

In a series of experiments led by Matthew Hertenstein, a psychologist at DePauw University in Indiana, volunteers tried to communicate a list of emotions by touching a blindfolded stranger. The participants were able to communicate eight distinct emotions, from gratitude to disgust to love, some with about 70 percent accuracy.

“We used to think that touch only served to intensify communicated emotions,” Dr. Hertenstein said. Now it turns out to be “a much more differentiated signaling system than we had imagined.”

To see whether a rich vocabulary of supportive touch is in fact related to performance, scientists at Berkeley recently analyzed interactions in one of the most physically expressive arenas on earth: professional basketball. Michael W. Kraus led a research team that coded every bump, hug and high five in a single game played by each team in the National Basketball Association early last season.

In a paper due out this year in the journal Emotion, Mr. Kraus and his co-authors, Cassy Huang and Dr. Keltner, report that with a few exceptions, good teams tended to be touchier than bad ones. The most touch-bonded teams were the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, currently two of the league’s top teams; at the bottom were the mediocre Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Bobcats.

The same was true, more or less, for players. The touchiest player was Kevin Garnett, the Celtics’ star big man, followed by star forwards Chris Bosh of the Toronto Raptors and Carlos Boozer of the Utah Jazz. “Within 600 milliseconds of shooting a free throw, Garnett has reached out and touched four guys,” Dr. Keltner said.

To correct for the possibility that the better teams touch more often simply because they are winning, the researchers rated performance based not on points or victories but on a sophisticated measure of how efficiently players and teams managed the ball — their ratio of assists to giveaways, for example. And even after the high expectations surrounding the more talented teams were taken into account, the correlation persisted. Players who made contact with teammates most consistently and longest tended to rate highest on measures of performance, and the teams with those players seemed to get the most out of their talent.

The study fell short of showing that touch caused the better performance, Dr. Kraus acknowledged. “We still have to test this in a controlled lab environment,” he said.

If a high five or an equivalent can in fact enhance performance, on the field or in the office, that may be because it reduces stress. A warm touch seems to set off the release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps create a sensation of trust, and to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

In the brain, prefrontal areas, which help regulate emotion, can relax, freeing them for another of their primary purposes: problem solving. In effect, the body interprets a supportive touch as “I’ll share the load.”

“We think that humans build relationships precisely for this reason, to distribute problem solving across brains,” said James A. Coan, a psychologist at the University of Virginia. “We are wired to literally share the processing load, and this is the signal we’re getting when we receive support through touch.”

The same is certainly true of partnerships, and especially the romantic kind, psychologists say. In a recent experiment, researchers led by Christopher Oveis of Harvard conducted five-minute interviews with 69 couples, prompting each pair to discuss difficult periods in their relationship.

The investigators scored the frequency and length of touching that each couple, seated side by side, engaged in. In an interview, Dr. Oveis said that the results were preliminary.

“But it looks so far like the couples who touch more are reporting more satisfaction in the relationship,” he said.

Again, it’s not clear which came first, the touching or the satisfaction. But in romantic relationships, one has been known to lead to the other. Or at least, so the anecdotal evidence suggests.

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Even Entrepreneurs Do It! Part 1

Posted By Tom Daly on February 26th, 2010

How Tai Chi Can Improve Your Business
By Entrepreneur.com

4/4/2008 8:52 AM EDT

Written by Paige Arnof-Fenn of Entrepreneur.com

 I’ve been studying Tai Chi and Qigong for the past year and it’s been helpful for me both mentally and physically to learn to relax my body and calm my mind in new ways. My instructor often quotes Lao Tse’s concept of action through inaction, which sounds simple but is actually quite challenging.

 The class is filled with people of all different professions. We start each class in a circle, introducing ourselves by name so it immediately makes the experience more intimate. The group then starts to warm up with small movements, and we build our minds and bodies to include the chi (energy) around us.

 As a beginner, we learn individual pieces of the form, but we don’t yet quite realize how they all fit together. We practice the simplest moves until they become habit, flowing seamlessly like a piece of kelp in the ocean or a ribbon in the wind.

 Each student comes to the class for different reasons: curiosity, improving health, balancing the yin and yang, overall fitness or because a spouse or friend brought them along. The class is diverse on every level. As I’ve gotten to know some of the other students, I’ve learned how this training improves the quality of their lives.

 At the end of each class, someone tells a joke and we bow out; it’s a nice way to part. The more I train, the more I realize how many applicable lessons from Tai Chi and Qigong there are for entrepreneurs to embrace.

 Warm up before you start something new and practice longer than you want to or think you need to. Even the masters practice their lessons, which is why and how they’ve mastered their craft. Michael Jordan and Kevin Garnett both have the reputation of training harder than everyone else in the locker room; they were born with many gifts but work hard to achieve their success.

 Having diversity enriches your experience. Different people bring new perspectives based on their background and knowledge. I’ve learned as much from the other students in the class as I have from the instructors. I feel I’ve taken the best from each of them and made it my own.

 There is time to meditate, breathe deeply and stretch. You can find small pockets of time standing in line, waiting at a stop light or sitting in a reception area. You don’t have to wait until you have an hour or two to make a difference. There are small opportunities throughout the day to practice and improve.

 Get outside your comfort zone. Stretch your body and your mind. Even though I’m still a beginner, attending the more advanced classes gives me great insight into my training and my goals. I have a clearer vision of the future because I’m taking risks in the present. I highly recommend going out on that limb since that is where the fruit is, after all.

 Leave every encounter with a smile. It will carry with you throughout the day.

Remember that there is action through inaction so not doing is also doing something. As Benjamin Franklin said, “never confuse motion with action.” And the last word goes to Yoda and Nike “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” Just do it!

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Tai Chi – High Kick: To Glob or Not to Glob!

Posted By Tom Daly on February 25th, 2010

When I was younger, I did a pretty good high kick.  With a bit of energy and just enough stiffness, mostly it looked good.  But mostly it was a Glob.  Lingering in the back of my mind has always been the question: How does one do High Kick using relaxation and only relaxation?

In Glob mode (and I am shamelessly using my teacher’s word here!) there is not much specificity.  Given the startling High Kick, even a Glob looks good.  It’s fast and spontaneous, but as a Glob, it loses clarity.  As a Glob, luck and strength are your best friends.  If you don’t have luck, you can add more strength.  That’s the problem of being a Glob.

So, to not be a Glob, you need to look closely at the posture and note every millimeter of movement and gain understanding of the sequence: what causes what.  Once you have that understanding, you can return to the whole posture and let that sequence happen naturally.

I was now required to replace luck and strength with relaxation and timing.  I needed to examine how relaxation creates the High Kick.

Old me: fling myself to make the turn happen and grab myself quickly when I hit the place I need to be before the kick itself.  Fling, grab, jam myself downward.  This sorta works.

New me: Like a bow and arrow, I now think that the aim of the turn should be held in mind BEFORE you turn.  So what does that feel like?  I have been practicing turning small amounts and aiming (in the mind) at where I want to land.  The actual turn is roughly a turn of 135 degrees.  To gain some mastery of this, the actual number of degrees does not matter.  You are turning to kick some person.  That person could be anywhere.  So when I am in correction mode, I play with that concept.  OK, let me turn 5 degrees.  Now let me turn 25 degrees.  Now let me turn 10 degrees.  Now let me turn 95 degrees.  The number of degrees does not matter.  It is aligning my mind with where I am going and spontaneously aiming the arrow and releasing it.  I don’t actually LOOK at where I plan to land, but my mind has the target clearly in mind.  This has helped a great deal with control of the turn.  It feels more direct and even simpler than before.

From the classics: It is said “First in the hsin (mind), then in the body.”

As I practiced this, other flaws appeared.  Even a small turn of 10 degrees had me toppling forward.  What was going on?  There were two big errors.  The first one was easy to correct.  My hands in front of my body were slightly lower than they needed to be.  This was making me top heavy in the hands.  They were subtly pulling me forward and then down.  I needed to make sure that the hands are placed a bit higher.  They curve upwards a bit. You can actually feel this by standing with your hands in their circular position.  If they are lowered a bit, they pull you forward.  If they are lifted upward, at a certain point this allows them to be supported by the center (tan t’ien).  The tan t’ien is now under them and the weight of the arms falls into the body, now resting on the ground.  Of course, if the arms are held too high, you use strength.

The next thing I noticed is even more subtle.  The lifted leg itself has to fall into the pelvis and be supported by the ground.  I had it dangling in such a way that it was pulling away from me and therefore adding to the forward fall of the body.  I had to glue it into the pelvis, not let it hang out there in space.  The limbs need to support the balance, not create internal warfare.  I work on this by feeling a slight internal rotation of the femur (upper leg bone, the thigh) into the pelvis.  This creates a leg that is relaxing into the ground through the pelvis.  Just a little, just enough.  This can’t become a contortion, but just enough to help it stay attached to the pelvis and the ground.  Adding too much strength in doing this will lead to tension.  Once you are ready to do the actual kick after the turn, that femur is falling in the right direction – into you, not away from you.

Pause.  The main point of this laborious discussion is to encourage us to look at all postures in tai chi and see what is needed to make relaxation the guiding force.  I’m not 100% committed to my comments above – this is a work in progress.  But this kind of work feels better to me.  My old Globby High Kick is slowly being replaced with points of relaxation.  Execution does not rely on strength or luck.  The balance is better.  The aim is better.  If I don’t work with these ideas, I topple forward much more often and I feel the need for luck and strength coming back into the picture.  I’m still looking at it for more clues.

Look closely at what you are doing.  See where relaxation makes it work.  What are you doing if relaxation is NOT what you are using?

De-Glob yourself!

Sweep the Lotus Kick, here I come!

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Don’t Sit! New York Times article on the dangers of sitting around too much!

Posted By Tom Daly on February 24th, 2010

Not a tai chi article, but of interest in terms of getting off your seat and moving.  Pursue if this sort of topic interests you.  Tom

February 23, 2010, 6:20 pm

New York Times

Stand Up While You Read This!

By OLIVIA JUDSON

Olivia Judson on the influence of science and biology on modern life.

Your chair is your enemy.

It doesn’t matter if you go running every morning, or you’re a regular at the gym. If you spend most of the rest of the day sitting — in your car, your office chair, on your sofa at home — you are putting yourself at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and an early death. In other words, irrespective of whether you exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods is bad for you.

That, at least, is the conclusion of several recent studies. Indeed, if you consider only healthy people who exercise regularly, those who sit the most during the rest of the day have larger waists and worse profiles of blood pressure and blood sugar than those who sit less. Among people who sit in front of the television for more than three hours each day, those who exercise are as fat as those who don’t: sitting a lot appears to offset some of the benefits of jogging a lot.

So what’s wrong with sitting?

The answer seems to have two parts. The first is that sitting is one of the most passive things you can do. You burn more energy by chewing gum or fidgeting than you do sitting still in a chair. Compared to sitting, standing in one place is hard work. To stand, you have to tense your leg muscles, and engage the muscles of your back and shoulders; while standing, you often shift from leg to leg. All of this burns energy.

For many people, weight gain is a matter of slow creep — two pounds this year, three pounds next year. You can gain this much if, each day, you eat just 30 calories more than you burn. Thirty calories is hardly anything — it’s a couple of mouthfuls of banana, or a few potato chips. Thus, a little more time on your feet today and tomorrow can easily make the difference between remaining lean and getting fat.

You may think you have no choice about how much you sit. But this isn’t true. Suppose you sleep for eight hours each day, and exercise for one. That still leaves 15 hours of activities. Even if you exercise, most of the energy you burn will be burnt during these 15 hours, so weight gain is often the cumulative effect of a series of small decisions: Do you take the stairs or the elevator? Do you e-mail your colleague down the hall, or get up and go and see her? When you get home, do you potter about in the garden or sit in front of the television? Do you walk to the corner store, or drive?

Just to underscore the point that you do have a choice: a study of junior doctors doing the same job, the same week, on identical wards found that some individuals walked four times farther than others at work each day. (No one in the study was overweight; but the “long-distance” doctors were thinner than the “short-distance” doctors.)

So part of the problem with sitting a lot is that you don’t use as much energy as those who spend more time on their feet. This makes it easier to gain weight, and makes you more prone to the health problems that fatness often brings.

But it looks as though there’s a more sinister aspect to sitting, too. Several strands of evidence suggest that there’s a “physiology of inactivity”: that when you spend long periods sitting, your body actually does things that are bad for you.

As an example, consider lipoprotein lipase. This is a molecule that plays a central role in how the body processes fats; it’s produced by many tissues, including muscles. Low levels of lipoprotein lipase are associated with a variety of health problems, including heart disease. Studies in rats show that leg muscles only produce this molecule when they are actively being flexed (for example, when the animal is standing up and ambling about). The implication is that when you sit, a crucial part of your metabolism slows down.

Nor is lipoprotein lipase the only molecule affected by muscular inactivity. Actively contracting muscles produce a whole suite of substances that have a beneficial effect on how the body uses and stores sugars and fats.

Which might explain the following result. Men who normally walk a lot (about 10,000 steps per day, as measured by a pedometer) were asked to cut back (to about 1,350 steps per day) for two weeks, by using elevators instead of stairs, driving to work instead of walking and so on. By the end of the two weeks, all of them had become worse at metabolizing sugars and fats. Their distribution of body fat had also altered — they had become fatter around the middle. Such changes are among the first steps on the road to diabetes.

Conversely, a study of people who sit for many hours found that those who took frequent small breaks — standing up to stretch or walk down the corridor — had smaller waists and better profiles for sugar and fat metabolism than those who did their sitting in long, uninterrupted chunks.

Some people have advanced radical solutions to the sitting syndrome: replace your sit-down desk with a stand-up desk, and equip this with a slow treadmill so that you walk while you work. (Talk about pacing the office.) Make sure that your television can only operate if you are pedaling furiously on an exercise bike. Or, watch television in a rocking chair: rocking also takes energy and involves a continuous gentle flexing of the calf muscles. Get rid of your office chair and replace it with a therapy ball: this too uses more muscles, and hence more energy, than a normal chair, because you have to support your back and work to keep balanced. You also have the option of bouncing, if you like.

Or you could take all this as a license to fidget.

But whatever you choose, know this. The data are clear: beware your chair.

Notes:

The term “calorie” sometimes causes confusion. Most people, when referring to the energy content of food, use “calorie” instead of “kilocalorie” — which is the actual unit that food energy is measured in. When I refer to 30 calories, I am following this convention and therefore technically mean 30 kilocalories. For metric system users, that’s about 125 kilojoules.

For sitting a lot causing heart disease, obesity, diabetes, certain cancers and early death, independently of whether you exercise regularly, see, for example, Katzmarzyk, P. T. et al. 2009. “Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 41: 998-1005. (This study looked at the fates of 17,013 Canadians over a span of 12 years.) See also Dunstan, D. W. et al. 2010. “Television viewing time and mortality: the Australian diabetes, obesity and lifestyle study (AusDiab).” Circulation 121: 384-391. (This study considered 8800 Australians followed for a median time of 6.6 years.)

For the negative effects of sitting a lot on healthy people who exercise regularly, see Healy, G. N. et al. 2008. “Television time and continuous metabolic risk in physically active adults.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 40: 639-645. For fatness and three hours of television, see Dunton, G. F. et al. 2009. “Joint associations of physical activity and sedentary behaviors with body mass index: results from a time use survey of US adults.” International Journal of Obesity 33: 1427-1436.

For energy expended during sitting as opposed to gum chewing, fidgeting, and standing, see Levine, J. A. et al. 2006. “Non-exercise activity thermogenesis: the crouching tiger hidden dragon of societal weight gain.” Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology 26: 729-736. For weight gain by slow creep, see Hill, J. O., Peters, J. C. and Wyatt, H. R. 2009. “Using the energy gap to address obesity: a commentary.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109: 1848-1853. Note that the process of gaining weight is different from the process of losing weight.

For fatness versus leanness being a consequence of small differences in daily movements, see Levine, J. A. et al. 2005. “Interindividual variation in posture allocation: possible role in human obesity.” Science 307: 584-586. For some doctors walking four times further than others while doing the same job, see Conzett-Baumann, K. et al. 2009. “The daily walking distance of young doctors and their body mass index.” European Journal of Internal Medicine 20: 622-624. I have borrowed their “long-distance” and “short-distance” terminology.

Two outstanding papers provide fascinating overviews of the more sinister aspects of sitting. See Hamilton, M. T., Hamilton, D. G. and Zderic, T. W. 2007. “Role of low energy expenditure and sitting in obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.” Diabetes 56: 2655-2667; and Pedersen, B. K. 2009. “The diseasome of physical inactivity — and the role of myokines in muscle-fat cross talk.” Journal of Physiology 587: 5559-5568. The Hamilton et al. paper discusses the results for lipoprotein lipase, and describes how sitting differs from standing in terms of muscles flexed. The Pedersen paper discusses a variety of other compounds that are released by active muscles, as well as the impact they have on metabolism. For muscular activity in rats and the production of lipoprotein lipase, see Bey, L. and Hamilton, M. T. 2003. “Suppression of skeletal muscle lipoprotein lipase activity during physical inactivity: a molecular reason to maintain daily low-intensity activity.” Journal of Physiology 551: 673-682.

For the physiological impact of men reducing how far they walk for two weeks, see Olsen, R. H. et al. 2008. “Metabolic responses to reduced daily steps in healthy nonexercising men.” Journal of the American Medical Association 299: 1261-1263. For the advantages of taking breaks from sitting, see Healy, G. N. et al. 2008. “Breaks in sedentary time: beneficial associations with metabolic risk.” Diabetes Care 31: 661-666.

For the advantages of having a stand-up desk attached to a treadmill, see Levine, J. A. and Miller, J. M. 2007. “The energy expenditure of using a ‘walk-and-work’ desk for office workers with obesity.” British Journal of Sports Medicine 41: 558-561. For a set of radical suggestions regarding how to reduce sitting, including the idea of attaching the television to some kind of exercise device, see the crouching tiger hidden dragon paper mentioned above.

The advantages of rocking chairs have mostly been explored in the elderly. See, for example, Pierce, C., Pecen, J. and McLeod, K. J. 2009. “Influence of seated rocking on blood pressure in the elderly: a pilot clinical study.” Biological Research for Nursing 11: 144-151. However, I see no reason why rocking wouldn’t be preferable to passive sitting in younger people too. For the advantages of using a therapy ball instead of a desk chair, see Beers, E. A. et al. 2008. “Increasing passive energy expenditure during clerical work.” European Journal of Applied Physiology 103: 353-360.

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Tai Chi – What ARE You Doing?

Posted By Tom Daly on February 14th, 2010

Sometimes we have a habit that is really hard to break in tai chi (or life).  We try to solve it this way or that, but after a while, it creeps back into our form.  Here we are again: No Progress! 

There may be a way to help solve the problem from a different direction.  Instead of jumping at the first suggestion or solution, don’t change what you are doing.  Instead, simply examine it.  See it exactly as it is.  Get clear on the problem.  Let the problem guide you.  Understand what you are trying to do by what you are doing, even though it is not correct.  No doubt your efforts are trying to attain some goal.  Investigate that goal.   Allow it to function as it is, even though it is incorrect.  Then look closely to discover what problem your habit is trying to solve. 

I believe it was Albert Einstein who said that if he had an hour to solve a problem, he would spend 59 minutes defining the problem. 

It was helpful to me to shift my practice into observe mode even when I wasn’t trying to correct a habit.  Just doing the form from the perspective of what is already happening can be very very helpful.  It’s as if the whole form is a question:  What’s this? What’s this?  What’s going on now?  You will see more and you are relieved of the effort of “trying” and “fixing”.

I know a very good tai chi student who has the habit of “doing it slowly” (DIS).  We are encouraged to move through the form slowly, even very slowly at times.  But instead of the form unfolding in a slow way (externally), he is taking control of the whole body and going in “slow motion”.  Tai chi is not about going in slow motion at all.  It’s about the chi unfolding without any impediments.  The movement is fulfilling itself naturally and the joints are folding and unfolding naturally.  The body is filling and emptying naturally.  We can do this fast or slow, but mostly we do it slowly in order to completely embody that organic response.  We get inside the movement and let it pull us along.  It’s a deeply relaxing and oddly satisfying way to move the body. 

Moving slowly is not DIS.  DIS is more like gripping yourself from the outside and making sure that you are going at a slow speed.  You are holding yourself back to make sure that a sense of slowness is apparent to yourself.  The concept of “slow” isn’t a tai chi principle, though spectators would most likely describe it as “slow”.  From the inside, it is more like dribbling a basketball down the court without the effort.  Relax, rebound, relax, rebound, relax, rebound. 

Why DIS?  DIS could be practicing the form to insure that every nook and cranny is being executed correctly.  This is “correction mode”, but not a tai chi mode.   It is fine to work on details in this manner, but not when you are practicing the form for real.  Correction time is correction time; form time is form time. 

To stop DIS, there needs to be a change in the goal of each moment in the form.  One example would be to follow the flow of movement – get out of the way and allow it to happen.  Another goal might be to relax at key moments to find the rebound of that relaxation and follow that rebound.  Another goal may be to understand and feel the container that is your body, and see how it fills and empties as you move through the postures.  These goals would not get in the way of the natural flow of tai chi.  Ultimately, you can disband with ANY goal and just “be” as you move through the form. 

So go ahead.  Let your habit be there and take a close look.  “I am now in DIS mode.  What is that like?  What am I trying to do here?  What goal does this serve?  Why am I moving in this manner?  What goal is DIS serving?”  Let it be and don’t fix it.  This could lead to the awareness of what it is you are actually doing, why this is happening and what you need in order to change.  In essence you would be letting go of one goal and discovering another goal to replace it. 

I understand that some readers may react to having ANY goal at all.  Having no goal at all is a good goal to have.  This is the Buddha solution: you are doing a good form because you are enlightened.  But what if you are NOT the Buddha and you are not enlightened?  Should you quit tai chi and go live on a mountaintop for 20 years?  Frankly, I view the Buddhaphiles to be involved in a different sort of trap that also impedes progress.  The practice becomes “precious” and lacks the flesh and blood that makes it a really living experience.  (Full disclosure, I am a Buddhist.) 

You have to start somewhere and baby steps can help.  Goals are like the trainer wheels kids use in learning to balance when riding a bike.  Once you have a sense of that balance, you can remove the training wheels.  I see no harm in this, but don’t confuse those training wheels with true balance.  Mostly, we get rid of those training wheels as soon as we can!  A goal is a crutch.  Crutches help as long as you need them.  Once you can walk, you can toss that crutch away.  

Join me in a few baby steps and take a close look!

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Tai Chi – Following the Master’s Lead

Posted By Tom Daly on February 14th, 2010

 “You are right, there is a secret.  But it is so simple as to be unbelievable.  Its nature insists that you believe, that you have faith; otherwise you will fail.  The secret is simply this: you must relax body and mind totally.  You must be prepared to accept defeat repeatedly and for a long period; you must ‘invest in loss’ – otherwise you will never succeed…. I relaxed my body and stilled my mind so that only chi, flowing at the command of my mind, remained…. In crushing defeat, I forgot anxiety, pride, ego.  By emptying myself I gave the full field to chi.  Gradually my technique improved. Then and only then, did my responses sharpen so that neutralizing and countering were the work of a moment. ”

Professor Cheng Man-ch’ing

from T’ai-Chi by Cheng Man-ch’ing and Robert W. Smith.

For me, this inspiring quote from a real master raises more questions than answers.  It’s so large, how do we begin to embrace it? To emulate him?

One asks, how does one eat an elephant?  One answers, one bite at a time.  Another suggests, to become the Buddha, just assume you ARE the Buddha.  Or perhaps a more modest approach would be to “act as if” in order to attain the attitude of the Buddha.  Does either of these actually get you there?  You can see the conundrum.

Either approach has its danger.  To take it one step at a time could lead down the path of strategy, going in circles or an obsession with “progress”.  The temptation is to feel obligated to demonstrate some success to your “strategic planning”.  To be obsessed with progress can shut doors to discovering some aspect that you haven’t considered yet. That is, the limit of your conceptual mind will predetermine your mind’s suggestion, but other suggestions that don’t come naturally will not arise.  Your own intellectual capacity can only take you so far.

I recall one hard working tai chi student who delighted in his “technique” in push hands.  But in my eyes, he was missing the real thing.  His progress was linked to his technical skill and this shut the door to real listening and real relaxation.  His technique worked only because most of us are not equipped to handle such a forceful surprise attack.  In addition, he was playing two games.  His first strategy followed principle, but then he switched and used force (though he didn’t recognize it as such.)  Another technique, he was using a very low low stance which gave him a mechanical advantage that really doesn’t necessarily rely on tai chi principles. When your strategy works on inexperienced players, your success proves nothing.  Tai chi is one art form that requires a profoundly clear self honesty while maintaining a kind attitude towards yourself and others.  You need to be self critical, but not self loathing.  Hence, my personal war on “good” and “bad” in this context.

To “act as if” (or to assume you are the Buddha) could result in false view of oneself and one’s skill.  You may think you are the Buddha, but who’s to say you manifest his qualities?  You?  Really? Good luck!

The “how to” of progress is what I am discussing here and it has long term implications.  We are always looking for the balanced groove of the middle ground.  By that I mean we are not this, not that, but right on IT, in the groove, at the pinnacle.  The grooves are everywhere.  Relax, but don’t collapse.  Find that groove.  Body upright, but don’t be stiff or held.  Find that groove.  Use the ground, but don’t grind yourself into the ground, and use the upward core as well. Find that pinnacle.  Be round with your energy, but find the curves and straight lines within the form.  Find that pinnacle.  Be alert, but don’t be tense.  Another groove, another pinnacle, another point of “just so”, the “it” path.

To me, that edge is like that perfect middle ground that you fall into that moves the whole mechanism (of the body) forward without “doing”.  A roller coaster comes to mind.  The path is set and you coast your way through it.  The downward slope gives you the momentum to climb the upward slope.  To leave that track would mean disaster.  To follow the track leads to swift direct clear forward motion without strain or effort.  The heights and valleys of the journey are smoothly accomplished.

To get back to the first two options in how to move forward in mastering tai chi, there yet another option and it can include both of the previous suggestions.  I’d call it, The Open Path.  As you move forward, your practice will give you guidance.  What is happening now in your form will give you a clue as to what you might need next.  Follow those leads that naturally present themselves to you.  And include asking classmates and your teacher for suggestions.  Sure, you can be strategic one day and map out some plan.  You can also allow yourself the luxury of embracing all of it (the Buddha) and be that embrace to see where that leads you.  Lastly, you can simply look at where the tracks are going for you in this moment and see where these lead as well.  Stick and follow. 

But even The Open Path has its deficiency.  One has to be careful that this doesn’t lead to self indulgence or a sort of solipsism whereby your experience is the only thing that counts.  All paths can lead towards success and improvement if used correctly; all paths can lead to nowhere.  One way to check in on this is to seek the thoughts of others and see what they think or what they practice.  It can be deeply revealing to check in with those who may not agree with you.

Most of us cannot be the master that Professor was.  We have to be at home with our limitations and accept them.  Nonetheless, what we put in is what we will get back.  We can work to open doors that help us reach further than where we are right now.  We can always look for the edge, find that groove, and enter the pinnacle of some aspect of practice.  We can follow the master’s lead and discover ways to experience some of his ease and responsiveness.  In that way, we can be masters.

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Tai Chi – a BIG Picture

Posted By Tom Daly on February 10th, 2010

I don’t often come back as I should to the words of Professor Cheng Man-ch’ing, my tai chi grandfather.  His legacy is so deep and vast that those who value what he taught have to return again and again to his teachings.

One statement that he made in his tai chi book with Robert W. Smith, now out of print, which always gives me a jolt, is his answer to a question presented in a question and answer section of the book. 

The question: what is the secret to your martial arts success in tai chi? 

His answer is almost incomprehensible:

“You are right, there is a secret.  But it is so simple as to be unbelievable.  Its nature insists that you believe, that you have faith; otherwise you will fail.  The secret is simply this: you must relax body and mind totally.  You must be prepared to accept defeat repeatedly and for a long period; you must ‘invest in loss’ – otherwise you will never succeed…. I relaxed my body and stilled my mind so that only chi, flowing at the command of my mind, remained…. In crushing defeat, I forgot anxiety, pride, ego.  By emptying myself I gave the full field to chi.  Gradually my technique improved. Then and only then, did my responses sharpen so that neutralizing and countering were the work of a moment. ”

There is great value in examining the words and experience of a master.  Most of us do not have his level of skill, and in fact most of us will never attain his level of mastery.  But our own journey can be spurred on by the experience of those who have greater skill.  While it is indispensible to look at your own experience closely, it is also a dead end.  My experience and your experience are limited.  This is simply a fact of the human condition.  There is only so much your experience can teach you.  To be trapped by our own experience will never help you expand into new levels of growth.  We learn much much more from the experience of others.  Hence, it is even more indispensible to examine the success of true masters of the art. Let’s aim high, and look at what we can gather from Prof. Cheng.

(With that last thought, you might want to re-read the above quotation from Prof. Cheng.  What grabs you? What inspires or perplexes you?  What do you need to look at more closely?  You may even want to get some thoughts from your teacher on the issues that you are drawn to.)

The first and foremost step is the total relaxation.  Not “some”, not “a bit”, not “a healthy dose”, but a complete, total relaxation of body and mind, a place where you get out of the way and allow the chi to emerge.  This level of relaxation allows you to discover chi, or internal energy. 

Next, he tells us that technique is something that is employed through the chi.  That is, relax, find your chi, then discover technique.  The very last part not only refers to functionality, but being the “work of a moment”.  A fine practitioner I know always states that Professor was in “real time”.  Now REALLY is now, not just a little bit after now.  Now is not the moment after – it’s the moment we are in.  Attach your right palm to your left and move the right one.  The left palm is right there in “real time”. 

And if you don’t have all this, you must believe and have faith that what he is telling us is real.  When he tells us to accept defeat repeatedly and for a long time, this is the point in training when we are learning how relaxation (then chi) replaces strength.  He doesn’t elaborate in that sentence what new skills are being learned, but there are several basic skills that you need to develop while being relaxed.  Skills such as how to stick and follow the opponent, how to connect them to the ground, how to relate the two bodies in motion through the tan t’ien (center) and so forth.  Initially, you are defeated because you don’t have these skills. Being relaxed in the face of some “attack” is not like being a sack of potatoes in front of an oncoming truck.  Yes, you are relaxed.  And a whole lot more too!

Each of these levels in the tai chi journey is deep and challenging.  How are we to avoid being overwhelmed or simply cave in and give up?  Or worse, dismiss his depth and genius?  And what exactly IS chi anyway?

I will address some of these questions at a later date.  His statement brings up many questions and I am not entirely prepared to answer them all at my own skill level. Nonetheless, listening to his words presses me to explore more deeply what this marvelous exercise has to teach. 

How do we get from here to there?

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The Body Mind Connection, New York Times article

Posted By Tom Daly on February 9th, 2010

A fellow tai chi friend sent me this intriguing article. Tai chi is a body-mind exercise. This article discusses ways the body reflects the mind and the mind reflects the body. Tai chi practise is about fullness and balance. Take a look if this sort of topic interests you!

Tom

February 2, 2010

Abstract Thoughts? The Body Takes Them Literally
By NATALIE ANGIER

The theory of relativity showed us that time and space are intertwined. To which our smarty-pants body might well reply: Tell me something I didn’t already know, Einstein.

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen found that when people were asked to engage in a bit of mental time travel, and to recall past events or imagine future ones, participants’ bodies subliminally acted out the metaphors embedded in how we commonly conceptualized the flow of time.

As they thought about years gone by, participants leaned slightly backward, while in fantasizing about the future, they listed to the fore. The deviations were not exactly Tower of Pisa leanings, amounting to some two or three millimeters’ shift one way or the other. Nevertheless, the directionality was clear and consistent.

“When we talk about time, we often use spatial metaphors like ‘I’m looking forward to seeing you’ or ‘I’m reflecting back on the past,’ ” said Lynden K. Miles, who conducted the study with his colleagues Louise K. Nind and C. Neil Macrae. “It was pleasing to us that we could take an abstract concept such as time and show that it was manifested in body movements.”

The new study, published in January in the journal Psychological Science, is part of the immensely popular field called embodied cognition, the idea that the brain is not the only part of us with a mind of its own.

“How we process information is related not just to our brains but to our entire body,” said Nils B. Jostmann of the University of Amsterdam. “We use every system available to us to come to a conclusion and make sense of what’s going on.”

Research in embodied cognition has revealed that the body takes language to heart and can be awfully literal-minded.

You say you’re looking forward to the future? Here, Ma, watch me pitch forward!

You say a person is warm and likable, as opposed to cold and standoffish? In one recent study at Yale, researchers divided 41 college students into two groups and casually asked the members of Group A to hold a cup of hot coffee, those in Group B to hold iced coffee. The students were then ushered into a testing room and asked to evaluate the personality of an imaginary individual based on a packet of information.

Students who had recently been cradling the warm beverage were far likelier to judge the fictitious character as warm and friendly than were those who had held the iced coffee.

Or maybe you are feeling the chill wind of social opprobrium. When researchers at the University of Toronto instructed a group of 65 students to remember a time when they had felt either socially accepted or socially snubbed, those who conjured up memories of a rejection judged the temperature of the room to be an average of five degrees colder than those who had been wrapped in warm and fuzzy thoughts of peer approval.

The body embodies abstractions the best way it knows how: physically. What is moral turpitude, an ethical lapse, but a soiling of one’s character? Time for the Lady Macbeth Handi Wipes. One study showed that participants who were asked to dwell on a personal moral transgression like adultery or cheating on a test were more likely to request an antiseptic cloth afterward than were those who had been instructed to recall a good deed they had done.

When confronted with a double entendre, a verbal fork in the road, the body heeds Yogi Berra’s advice, and takes it. In a report published last August in Psychological Science, Dr. Jostmann and his colleagues Daniel Lakens and Thomas W. Schubert explored the degree to which the body conflates weight and importance. They learned, for example, that when students were told that a particular book was vital to the curriculum, they judged the book to be physically heavier than those told the book was ancillary to their studies.

The researchers wanted to know whether the sensation of weightiness might influence people’s judgments more broadly.

In a series of experiments, study participants were asked to answer questionnaires that were attached to a metal clipboard with a compartment on the back capable of holding papers. In some cases the compartments were left empty, and so the clipboard weighed only 1.45 pounds. In other cases the compartments were filled, for a total clipboard package of 2.29 pounds.

Participants stood with either a light or heavy clipboard cradled in their arm, filling out surveys. In one, they were asked to estimate the value of six unfamiliar foreign currencies. In another, students indicated how important they thought it was that a university committee take their opinions into account when deciding on the size of foreign study grants. For a third experiment, participants were asked how satisfied they were with (a) the city of Amsterdam and (b) the mayor of Amsterdam.

In every study, the results suggested, the clipboard weight had its roundabout say. Students holding the heavier clipboard judged the currencies to be more valuable than did those with the lightweight boards. Participants with weightier clipboards insisted that students be allowed to weigh in on the university’s financial affairs. Those holding the more formidable board even adopted a more rigorous mind-set, and proved more likely to consider the connection between the livability of Amsterdam and the effectiveness of its leader.

As Dr. Jostmann sees it, the readiness of the body to factor physical cues into its deliberations over seemingly unrelated and highly abstract concerns often makes sense. Our specific clipboard savvy notwithstanding, “the issue of how humans view gravity is evolutionarily useful,” he said.

“Something heavy is something you should take care of,” he continued. “Heavy things are not easily pushed around, but they can easily push us around.” They are weighty affairs in every tine of the word.

The cogitating body prefers a hands-on approach, and gesturing has been shown to help children master math.

Among students who have difficulty with equations like 4 + 5 + 3 = __ + 3, for example, performance improves markedly if they are taught the right gestures: grouping together the unique left-side numbers with a two-fingered V, and then pointing the index finger at the blank space on the right.

To learn how to rotate an object mentally, first try a pantomime. “If you encourage kids to do the rotation movement with their hands, that helps them subsequently do it in their heads,” said Susan Goldin-Meadow of the University of Chicago, “whereas watching others do it isn’t enough.”

Yesterday is regrettable, tomorrow still hypothetical. But you can always listen to your body, and seize today with both hands.

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