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 March, 2010

Tai Chi – The BIG Chi!

Posted By Tom Daly on March 28th, 2010

The Big Chi

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.

Which leads me to the BIG QUESTION of CHI.   What is it?  How does it function? 

The word is used a great deal with some schools, and it is ignored in others.  Since this is not an American concept, we have to rely on Chinese sources.  I’m often told there is no accurate translation into English, so the translations are mostly vague or inadequate.  I often ask those who are prone to using the word “chi” what they mean or experience with chi.  I can’t say that I am satisfied with any of the answers.  This is not to say that they don’t experience chi, but that the words haven’t been very helpful in learning about their physical experience nor clarifying my own.

Roughly (and safely) we use the word “energy” or “intrinsic energy” to capture it.  But this is a circular statement because “energy” is also vague and we don’t have a good exact usage of this word in our daily life.  It is right up there with “love” or “spiritual” or “God”.  We mostly invest our own meaning and attach some experience to these words.  These words mean what they mean to each of us personally.  Another word to describe chi is “breath”.  This, too, is inadequate because clearly chi is MORE than just breath.

Chi is not a personal experience that we self define, though each of us will experience (or not experience it) as a personal attribute.  Chi is more objective, like breathing, or feeling a warm shower flow over your body, or your heartbeat.  There is a there THERE!  It is not some illusionary ghost that some magically see, but others sadly don’t.

For one thing, it is a whole body experience that begins with total relaxation.  Cultivating stillness within movement, relaxing the mind and body, correct alignment and more are the prerequisites for chi.  Then, and only then, the chi will flow unimpeded.  It will flow you!

Perhaps “fill” is a better way to look at chi.  As you move, it moves you and fills certain parts as needed.  Flow is what happens when you allow movement of chi to happen.  (I’m told that chi is flowing even if you are not moving.)  This is analogous to breathing or surfing on a wave.  You are being “breathed” when you simply relax and let breath happen.  You ride that wave when you surf.  With chi, you move and it will fill the body and move the body as directed by the mind.

Another thing to consider is that the path to chi is NOT an intellectual road map that gets you there.  You don’t think yourself into experiencing chi.  It is an experiential fact that is realized by giving up tension and the intellect.  One needs to allow the parts of the body to work together in correct alignment with no internal gaps or breaks.  You are now accessing the intelligence of the body.  You can’t intellectualize yourself into chi.  You can’t intellectualize yourself into breathing, or heartbeats, or blood flow, or seeing, feeling, hearing or the scent of a rose.  Your body knows how to do this without “you”.

Maggie Newman, my long time teacher, tells us that Professor Cheng used to say that you could freely borrow chi from the universe at any time.  Take all you like (it’s free!)  The only catch here, he tells us, is that it is very hard to borrow.  I like the relational implication of that statement.  All of life has some energy.  We live in an electromagnetic universe.  We are part of that universe.  On the level of atoms, our skin blends with the air around us.  They are constantly exchanging energy with each other.  Waves of energy are permeating the air and our bodies all the time. This just is.

If you are alive, you have chi.  It may not be much, but it is there. Infants are FULL of chi.  Poor physical and mental habits have not interfered with babies yet so they explore the world with their chi with gusto.  We, on the other hand, can stand a bit of help in working with our chi.  That is why tai chi (or chi gung exercises) is so invaluable.  It is directly aiming at cultivating and using chi.

It’s clear that energy in the body exists and that the mind has a relationship, at times, towards directing it.  There can be a spontaneous chi that will gather in some place in the body, as when some part heats up.  In the tai chi form, we are shifting back and forth in order to circulate the chi.  This literally moves the chi from one leg to the next.  One description of chi compares the body to a vessel of water.  Moving the vessel stimulates the movement of that water.

To me, the chi is the sensation you feel (and cultivate) from the sum total of the physical and mental experience of moving your body from here to there using tai chi principles.  That is, the totality of the experience from the perspective of energy.  This would include breath, mind, intent, and the unified aspect of the movement (all parts working together as a whole.)  This assumes relaxation and proper alignment.  When all of this is in place, a feeling happens that is distinct from other internal feelings. That feeling is chi, an internal energy that we all have, we can cultivate and we can direct.  In one sense, this begins at the cellular level, but is experienced at a macro level, the whole body.

Your chi may have qualities associated with your state of your consciousness and physical stamina.  Are you groggy? Relaxed?  Alert?  Jittery?  Anxious?  Tense? Spaced out?  Fearful? Tired?  Joyful?  All of these various states will affect the quality of your chi.  Our emotions contain their own expressive chi.  Cultures will have an expression of mass chi.  A calm and neutral state will help you work directly with your chi best of all.  (However, we are not always calm and neutral and therefore need to make adjustments with various states of consciousness.)  

Incidentally, by “neutral”, I don’t mean “dead”.  Neutral is an open receptive state that is not clouded by other emotions.  It’s a state of being available.  There are no mental barriers between you and your body.

In general, we don’t tap into that energy because to experience it requires great focus and awareness.  It’s always there but we don’t take the time or effort to cultivate this awareness.  The reason we do tai chi is to increase our chi.  The results?  I have to say that in general, long term practitioners of tai chi (like yoga and other energetic type exercises – even running and swimming) look younger.  OK, all exercise tends to do this to varying degrees, but the tai chi advantage is that what you learn can be applied to every moment of your moving life and it directly impacts your relationship to stress.

Even if you are resting on a bed, you can go inside and feel that energetic something in the body.  Breath itself causes movement and movement causes chi to flow.  You might even relate this chi to the chi of the air.  Chi is the electric foundation to the other processes of the body.  I am not saying that you will identify a line of a current flow in the body.  I am saying the whole body, even in a resting state, has an electric component that is stimulating and supporting all of the other physical processes in the body.  I believe this is what the masters are talking about when they talk of chi.

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Tai Chi Chuan – Wet But Not So Wild

Posted By Tom Daly on March 28th, 2010

Tai Chi Chuan – Wet But Not So Wild

It intrigues me to hear how often water is used as a metaphor in tai chi.  Of course, we are mostly made up of water so I guess there is sense in its use in a martial art.

Professor Cheng Man-ch’ing has said that tai chi is like swimming on land.  The image here is to feel the air as if you are doing tai chi in water, that air has the mass and feel of water, that you are interacting with air as if it has more solidity.  This will make the solidity of your body less solid and more like water itself.  You will use less effort if you float yourself in water.  I have a friend who practices in water to feel this literally.

Someone just told me that when you pushed with Professor, it was like trying to press a ping pong ball into water with a finger.  He’d bob right back up in another place.

Another reminisced that when Professor pushed you, it was as if the wall of a wave was coming at you.  You could poke your hands into the wall of water, it was soft, but it was useless to avoid the force of the wave.  The wave simply picked you up and sent you flying.

My teacher often uses the phrase of letting yourself “melt into the ground” as a way to encourage us to relax and soften.

The tai chi classics refer to water in the following statement: “Tai Chi Chuan is like a great river rolling on unceasingly”.

My point this round is simple.  Keep yourself fluid and easy, like water.  Find ways to emulate it in your form and push-hands practice.

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Deep Conversation=Happiness, New York Times article

Posted By Tom Daly on March 18th, 2010

OK, another tangential article for this blog.  This one grabs my attention because it is clear to me that in tai chi push hands, we are having a conversation.  Not only that, but it is a DEEP conversation because it involves the whole being.  It takes a while to get to a place where you can actually practice push-hands. 

Talk to anyone who works with push hands.  Clearly, push hands practice creates a lot of joy and happiness.  It’s more than great fun.  It is challenging, bonding, relaxing and fascinating.  This commentary is about deep conversations.  When you practice push hands, you are having one, without words.  Tom

 March 17, 2010, 2:34 pm

 New York Times

Talk Deeply, Be Happy?

By RONI CARYN RABIN

Would you be happier if you spent more time discussing the state of the world and the meaning of life — and less time talking about the weather?

It may sound counterintuitive, but people who spend more of their day having deep discussions and less time engaging in small talk seem to be happier, said Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona who published a study on the subject.

“We found this so interesting, because it could have gone the other way — it could have been, ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ — as long as you surf on the shallow level of life you’re happy, and if you go into the existential depths you’ll be unhappy,” Dr. Mehl said.

But, he proposed, substantive conversation seemed to hold the key to happiness for two main reasons: both because human beings are driven to find and create meaning in their lives, and because we are social animals who want and need to connect with other people.

“By engaging in meaningful conversations, we manage to impose meaning on an otherwise pretty chaotic world,” Dr. Mehl said. “And interpersonally, as you find this meaning, you bond with your interactive partner, and we know that interpersonal connection and integration is a core fundamental foundation of happiness.”

Dr. Mehl’s study was small and doesn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship between the kind of conversations one has and one’s happiness. But that’s the planned next step, when he will ask people to increase the number of substantive conversations they have each day and cut back on small talk, and vice versa.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, involved 79 college students — 32 men and 47 women — who agreed to wear an electronically activated recorder with a microphone on their lapel that recorded 30-second snippets of conversation every 12.5 minutes for four days, creating what Dr. Mehl called “an acoustic diary of their day.”

Researchers then went through the tapes and classified the conversation snippets as either small talk about the weather or having watched a TV show, and more substantive talk about current affairs, philosophy, the difference between Baptists and Catholics or the role of education. A conversation about a TV show wasn’t always considered small talk; it could be categorized as substantive if the speakers analyzed the characters and their motivations, for example.

Many conversations were more practical and did not fit in either category, including questions about homework or who was taking out the trash, for example, Dr. Mehl said. Over all, about a third of all conversation was ranked as substantive, and about a fifth consisted of small talk.

But the happiest person in the study, based on self-reports about satisfaction with life and other happiness measures as well as reports from people who knew the subject, had twice as many substantive conversations, and only one-third of the amount of small talk as the unhappiest, Dr. Mehl said. Almost every other conversation the happiest person had — 45.9 percent of the day’s conversations — were substantive, while only 21.8 percent of the unhappiest person’s conversations were substantive.

Small talk made up only 10 percent of the happiest person’s conversations, while it made up almost three times as much –- or 28.3 percent –- of the unhappiest person’s conversations.

Next, Dr. Mehl wants to see if people can actually make themselves happier by having more substantive conversations.

“It’s not that easy, like taking a pill once a day,” Dr. Mehl said. “But this has always intrigued me. Can we make people happier by asking them, for the next five days, to have one extra substantive conversation every day?”

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Tai chi and Critique: How to Help Each Other – Or Not!

Posted By Tom Daly on March 5th, 2010

I am very interested in how we work with each other in tai chi. 

The essential difficulty is this:  we are discussing not only a skill, but also our bodies.  It is extremely personal and there is no escape from this.  On the other hand, I believe, progress is highly dependant upon our practice, our teachers, and our classmates.  That is, from each other.  You don’t learn tai chi in a vacuum or from a book.

I recently saw a video on how to critique.  That is, how to give a critique such that the openness of the relationship stays in tact.  I was impressed.  His approach was very much in line with the soft approach of tai chi in general.

It’s rather simple:

Be kind.

Be specific.

Be helpful.

“Be kind” was the first suggestion and that alone says volumes.  The rest also speaks for itself.

For tai chi, I would add one more point.  Be “welcomed”.  This has more to do with the attitude of the person you are offering help.  Are you, in fact, actually welcomed by the other to give them your suggestions?  Do they invite you in?  Do they actually want it? 

Let me add one more nuance. If we are pushing hands with a partner, and you persist in pushing them out because they don’t understand what they are doing that allows you to “win”, you are offering a critique.  It goes like this:  “Here is the flaw, and I can take advantage of it by pushing you out.”   All of this is non-verbal.  But if they are not the kind of partner that wants your correction, you may need to drop this agenda.  A few pushes for your practice is fine.  To continue to take advantage of it is not so helpful. 

Some of us prefer experiential dialogue, but not experiential monologues.  A persistent push is like a persistent critique, it’s a monologue. If they can’t deal with (neutralize) the push, and they don’t want you to “instruct” them, then stop taking advantage of the situation and work on something else instead. 

The best practice is your partner comes to you (and you come to them.)  You need to be alert to emotional reactions and whether or not you are welcome.  To insist on “being helpful” may backfire and you may only harm the working relationship you want to build.  When you stop insisting, you will be surprised how often your partner will ask for your observation.  Not always, but often.  And if you ARE invited in, be sure to leave your podium behind.

This is not a relationship of “I am superior” and “You need my help”.  It’s more a relationship of “Let’s do this together!”

Be kind, be specific, be helpful, be welcomed….

I wish someone had told me this YEARS ago.

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Keep It Moving! New York Times article

Posted By Tom Daly on March 4th, 2010

More on the value of moving your body.  However you get yourself there!  Tom 

March 2, 2010

Personal Health

New York Times

Even More Reasons to Get a Move On

By JANE E. BRODY

“I’m 86 and have walked every day of my life. The public needs to wake up and move.”

“I’m 83 going on 84 years! I find that daily aerobics and walking are fine. But these regimens neglect the rest of the body, and I find the older you get the more attention they need.”

These are two of many comments from readers of my Jan. 12 column on the secrets of successful aging. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a new series of studies prompts me to again review the myriad benefits to body, mind and longevity of regular physical activity for people of all ages.

Regular exercise is the only well-established fountain of youth, and it’s free. What, I’d like to know, will persuade the majority of Americans who remain sedentary to get off their duffs and give their bodies the workout they deserve? My hope is that every new testimonial to the value of exercise will win a few more converts until everyone is doing it.

In a commentary on the new studies, published Jan. 25 in The Archives of Internal Medicine, two geriatricians, Dr. Marco Pahor of the University of Florida and Dr. Jeff Williamson of Winston-Salem, N.C., pointed to “the power of higher levels of physical activity to aid in the prevention of late-life disability owing to either cognitive impairment or physical impairment, separately or together.”

“Physical inactivity,” they wrote, “is one of the strongest predictors of unsuccessful aging for older adults and is perhaps the root cause of many unnecessary and premature admissions to long-term care.”

They noted that it had long been “well established that higher quantities of physical activity have beneficial effects on numerous age-related conditions such as osteoarthritis, falls and hip fracture, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, cancer, diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis, low fitness and obesity, and decreased functional capacity.”

One of the new studies adds mental deterioration, with exercise producing “a significantly reduced risk of cognitive impairment after two years for participants with moderate or high physical activity” who were older than 55 when the study began.

Most early studies demonstrating the benefits of exercise were done with men. Now a raft of recent studies has shown that active women reap comparable rewards.

Research-Based Evidence

Sedentary skeptics are fond of saying that of course exercise is associated with good health as one ages; the people who exercise are healthy to begin with. But studies in which some participants are randomly assigned to a physical activity program and others to a placebo (like simply being advised to exercise) call their bluff. Even less exacting observational studies, like the Nurses’ Health Study, take into account the well-being of participants at enrollment.

Thus, in one of the new studies, Dr. Qi Sun of Harvard School of Public Health and co-authors reported that among the 13,535 nurses who were healthy when they joined the study in 1986, those who reported higher levels of activity in midlife were far more likely to still be healthy a decade or more later at age 70. The study found that physical activity increased the nurses’ chances of remaining healthy regardless of body weight, although those who were both lean and active had “the highest odds of successful survival.”

Taking the benefits of exercise one system at a time, here is what recent studies have shown, including several published in The Archives of Internal Medicine in December.

Cancer. In a review last year of 52 studies of exercise and colon cancer, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis concluded that people who were most active were 21 percent less likely to develop the disease than those who were least active, possibly because activity helps to move waste more quickly through the bowel.

The risk of breast cancer, too, is about 16 percent lower among physically active women, perhaps because exercise reduces tissue exposure to insulin-like growth factor, a known cancer promoter.

Indirectly, exercise may protect postmenopausal women against cancers of the endometrium, pancreas, colon and esophagus, as well as breast cancer, by helping them keep their weight down.

Osteoporosis and fragility. Weak bones and muscles increase the risk of falls and fractures and an inability to perform the tasks of daily life. Weight-bearing aerobic activities like brisk walking and weight training to increase muscle strength can reduce or even reverse bone loss. In one of the new studies, German researchers who randomly assigned women 65 and older to either an 18-month exercise regimen or a wellness program demonstrated that exercise significantly increased bone density and reduced the risk of falls. And at any age, even in people over 100, weight training improves the size and quality of muscles, thus increasing the ability to function independently.

Cardiovascular disease. Aerobic exercise has long been established as an invaluable protector of the heart and blood vessels. It increases the heart’s ability to work hard, lowers blood pressure and raises blood levels of HDLcholesterol, which acts as a cleansing agent in arteries. As a result, active individuals of all ages have lower rates of heart attacks and strokes.

Though early studies were conducted only among men, in a 2002 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. JoAnn E. Manson and colleagues found that among 73,743 initially healthy women ages 50 to 79, walking briskly for 30 minutes a day five days a week, as well as more vigorous exercise, substantially reduced the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular events.

In another study, women who walked at least one hour a day were 40 percent less likely to suffer a stroke than women who walked less than an hour a week.

Diabetes. Moderate activity has been shown to lower the risk of developing diabetes even in women of normal weight. A 16-year study of 68,907 initially healthy female nurses found that those who were sedentary had twice the risk of developing diabetes, and those who were both sedentary and obese had 16 times the risk when compared with normal-weight women who were active.

Another study that randomly assigned 3,234 prediabetic men and women to modest physical activity (at least 150 minutes a week) found exercise to be more effective than the drug metformin at preventing full-blown diabetes.

Dementia. As the population continues to age, perhaps the greatest health benefit of regular physical activity will turn out to be its ability to prevent or delay the loss of cognitive functions. The new study of 3,485 healthy men and women older than 55 found that those who were physically active three or more times a week were least likely to become cognitively impaired.

One study conducted in Australia and published in September 2008 in The Journal of the American Medical Association randomly assigned 170 volunteers who reported memory problems to a six-month program of physical activity or health education. A year and a half later, the exercise group showed “a modest improvement in cognition.” Various other studies have confirmed the value of exercise in helping older people maintain useful short-term memory, enabling them to plan, schedule and multitask, as well as store information and use it effectively.

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