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 November, 2010

Wandering Minds – New York Times Article

Posted By Tom Daly on November 19th, 2010

Tai chi as a meditation encourages well being and joy. Here is an odd article that supports that thesis based on the fact that tai chi forces you to pay attention to tai chi when you practice. Read on if this sort of research intrigues! Tom

November 15, 2010
New York Times
When the Mind Wanders, Happiness Also Strays
By JOHN TIERNEY

A quick experiment. Before proceeding to the next paragraph, let your mind wander wherever it wants to go. Close your eyes for a few seconds, starting … now.

And now, welcome back for the hypothesis of our experiment: Wherever your mind went — the South Seas, your job, your lunch, your unpaid bills — that daydreaming is not likely to make you as happy as focusing intensely on the rest of this column will.

I’m not sure I believe this prediction, but I can assure you it is based on an enormous amount of daydreaming cataloged in the current issue of Science. Using an iPhone app called trackyourhappiness, psychologists at Harvard contacted people around the world at random intervals to ask how they were feeling, what they were doing and what they were thinking.

The least surprising finding, based on a quarter-million responses from more than 2,200 people, was that the happiest people in the world were the ones in the midst of enjoying sex. Or at least they were enjoying it until the iPhone interrupted.

The researchers are not sure how many of them stopped to pick up the phone and how many waited until afterward to respond. Nor, unfortunately, is there any way to gauge what thoughts — happy, unhappy, murderous — went through their partners’ minds when they tried to resume.

When asked to rate their feelings on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being “very good,” the people having sex gave an average rating of 90. That was a good 15 points higher than the next-best activity, exercising, which was followed closely by conversation, listening to music, taking a walk, eating, praying and meditating, cooking, shopping, taking care of one’s children and reading. Near the bottom of the list were personal grooming, commuting and working.

When asked their thoughts, the people in flagrante were models of concentration: only 10 percent of the time did their thoughts stray from their endeavors. But when people were doing anything else, their minds wandered at least 30 percent of the time, and as much as 65 percent of the time (recorded during moments of personal grooming, clearly a less than scintillating enterprise).

On average throughout all the quarter-million responses, minds were wandering 47 percent of the time. That figure surprised the researchers, Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert.

“I find it kind of weird now to look down a crowded street and realize that half the people aren’t really there,” Dr. Gilbert says.

You might suppose that if people’s minds wander while they’re having fun, then those stray thoughts are liable to be about something pleasant — and that was indeed the case with those happy campers having sex. But for the other 99.5 percent of the people, there was no correlation between the joy of the activity and the pleasantness of their thoughts.

“Even if you’re doing something that’s really enjoyable,” Mr. Killingsworth says, “that doesn’t seem to protect against negative thoughts. The rate of mind-wandering is lower for more enjoyable activities, but when people wander they are just as likely to wander toward negative thoughts.”

Whatever people were doing, whether it was having sex or reading or shopping, they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else. In fact, whether and where their minds wandered was a better predictor of happiness than what they were doing.

“If you ask people to imagine winning the lottery,” Dr. Gilbert says, “they typically talk about the things they would do — ‘I’d go to Italy, I’d buy a boat, I’d lay on the beach’ — and they rarely mention the things they would think. But our data suggest that the location of the body is much less important than the location of the mind, and that the former has surprisingly little influence on the latter. The heart goes where the head takes it, and neither cares much about the whereabouts of the feet.”

Still, even if people are less happy when their minds wander, which causes which? Could the mind-wandering be a consequence rather than a cause of unhappiness?

To investigate cause and effect, the Harvard psychologists compared each person’s moods and thoughts as the day went on. They found that if someone’s mind wandered at, say, 10 in the morning, then at 10:15 that person was likely to be less happy than at 10 , perhaps because of those stray thoughts. But if people were in a bad mood at 10, they weren’t more likely to be worrying or daydreaming at 10:15.

“We see evidence for mind-wandering causing unhappiness, but no evidence for unhappiness causing mind-wandering,” Mr. Killingsworth says.

This result may disappoint daydreamers, but it’s in keeping with the religious and philosophical admonitions to “Be Here Now,” as the yogi Ram Dass titled his 1971 book. The phrase later became the title of a George Harrison song warning that “a mind that likes to wander ’round the corner is an unwise mind.”

What psychologists call “flow” — immersing your mind fully in activity — has long been advocated by nonpsychologists. “Life is not long,” Samuel Johnson said, “and too much of it must not pass in idle deliberation how it shall be spent.” Henry Ford was more blunt: “Idleness warps the mind.” The iPhone results jibe nicely with one of the favorite sayings of William F. Buckley Jr.: “Industry is the enemy of melancholy.”

Alternatively, you could interpret the iPhone data as support for the philosophical dictum of Bobby McFerrin: “Don’t worry, be happy.” The unhappiness produced by mind-wandering was largely a result of the episodes involving “unpleasant” topics. Such stray thoughts made people more miserable than commuting or working or any other activity.

But the people having stray thoughts on “neutral” topics ranked only a little below the overall average in happiness. And the ones daydreaming about “pleasant” topics were actually a bit above the average, although not quite as happy as the people whose minds were not wandering.

There are times, of course, when unpleasant thoughts are the most useful thoughts. “Happiness in the moment is not the only reason to do something,” says Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research has shown that mind-wandering can lead people to creative solutions of problems, which could make them happier in the long term.

Over the several months of the iPhone study, though, the more frequent mind-wanderers remained less happy than the rest, and the moral — at least for the short-term — seems to be: you stray, you pay. So if you’ve been able to stay focused to the end of this column, perhaps you’re happier than when you daydreamed at the beginning. If not, you can go back to daydreaming starting…now.

Or you could try focusing on something else that is now, at long last, scientifically guaranteed to improve your mood. Just make sure you turn the phone off.

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Tai Chi Chuan and the Tough Question

Posted By Tom Daly on November 14th, 2010

Tai Chi Chuan and the Tough Question

I look at my classmates, all senior students; all have many years and valuable insights into tai chi. All of us all have more to learn too.

In addition to real skills, I see in each one a distinct error. It is different for each of us – we generally don’t share the same deficiency. Usually that error has been there a long time. Our teacher has corrected our errors many times. Yet we each forget that correction, and return to that original habit. Somehow we experience THAT particular habit as normal and sort of invisible, perhaps untouchable. These are the deepest habits to correct and require a persistent amount of attention.

Alas, they feel so natural to us. We codify our error in our experience and this is how normal happens. Since much of what we do in tai chi feels good, it is hard to recognize the habit. They become part of the picture that feels good to us and since they are ingrained in our form, even harder to extricate. When they are pointed out to us, quickly they return.

I think if we were to all gather around and tell each other what we see, we might even note different mistakes in each other’s tai chi forms. Out of respect for the practice (and its deeply personal aspect) and for creating an environment of learning together, we tend to be more accepting than critical. Understandably we leave most of the correcting to our teacher.

It’s good to sometimes ask each other what we think needs to be addressed. In this way I learn from their experience. I don’t have to necessarily agree with what they say but I am free to consider it. And if I do ask, I should consider their comment. I have the alternative of putting it aside for now, or even rejecting it.

But seeing that we all carry old patterns, I decided to ask my teacher, Maggie, what MY biggest error is. Her assessment was that I didn’t utilize relaxation as the core impetus in moving into the next posture. I tend to lead with the arms and pelvis before they have a chance to feel the total relaxation of the body. The arms and pelvis are driving the shape forward. The shape of the postures drives my form to the next posture.

For me, this misunderstanding is a very old way of functioning that makes progress in a certain direction nearly impossible. I have spent a great deal of time getting the external shape down with accuracy. Hence, the shaping of the body, arms, hips, was something I was very careful to study. I am aware of a great deal of relaxation, but I see how activation of arms and hips are leading the relaxation and not the other way around.

I can also see why this correction easily leaves my consciousness and that I revert back to “doing the shape”, to leading the body by activating the shape of the posture. There is a built in pride in this accomplishment. I can do this and I can answer questions on how to do this! I’m ahead of the game!

I see “doing the shape” in others quite readily, yet I am guilty of the same problem. I suspect I hide it better than others because of my long standing study in accurate shapes. It has been integrated in the way I do the form. That level of integration hides the fact that it is still there. Subliminally I am constantly trying to improve those shapes, constantly working to get that cart to lead the horse.

It’s frustrating to keep looking and looking and looking at what’s needed for improvement. There has to be a large amount of appreciation for what we have in order to allow that level of scrutiny to not destroy the good and turn into some crazed habit of self criticism. We can’t live in this realm in order to eat ourselves alive. Nor can we live in this realm in order to serve up criticism of others.

Tai chi has to be an act of generosity towards ourselves (and others) so that this experience has a beneficial value. It has to be a gift we give, not some masochistic punishment, like a dog biting its tail to remove a flea that always jumps away.

An attitude of real appreciation for what we have, and a total acceptance of where we are, coupled with a simple question, makes for a good combination.

That question is, “This feels good now but I know tai chi can be even better. What ingredient do I need to add (or remove)?”

This “ingredient” is a magic variable for each of us and as we progress, the “ingredient” will change over time.

I’m so curious. What’s next?

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Tai Chi Chuan and the Art of Balance

Posted By Tom Daly on November 13th, 2010

Tai Chi Chuan and the Art of Balance.

Of course, are we talking about physical balance or mental balance? In tai chi, both are developed, but neither is guaranteed.

That being said, tai chi is well known for helping with physical balance and studies have backed up this statement. But why is this so?

It intrigues me that the tai chi solution to balance has nothing to do with holding yourself together on top of the ground. Tai chi is about letting go and sinking into the ground. Tai chi has nothing to do with a rigid center line that rises up from the feet into the head. It has more to do with the circumference – the outer circle of your body – and letting that circumference be in harmony with itself and in harmony with its surroundings.

When you study tai chi, initially one element is brought forth – a soft upright quality of the body. “Body upright!” we are told. Another way it is approached is letting the spine hang from the top of the cervical vertebrae.

This “hanging” allows relaxation to take over and to let the pelvic bones anchor the torso around a column like or pillar like sense of the upper body. This top section then rests on the hip joints which in turn rest on the legs on the feet on the ground. So the hanging and resting quality in tai chi lets the weight fall into the ground through the body, unimpeded. The joints open and are encouraged to be relaxed and flexible.

At the same time, it allows other muscles to relax and to let you have enough mind left over to feel the outer edges of the column of your torso. This is actually not a literal sense of the torso, but more of relating the front with the back of a circular column, and the right with the left sides of this imaginary column. Later, we extend this to include the lower half of the body and finally we grow from a column to an oval or circular ball like sense of the body.

By being a ball, we roll along the ground as opposed to sort of clomping along. We become smoother. (Observe that a ball doesn’t really balance on the ground, it just IS with the ground.)

Note the progression above. We go from hanging from above to relaxation to a sense of being a column to the sense of being a ball. This has nothing to do with holding yourself up rigidly to maintain some sort of balance.

The tai chi form offers plenty of moments of challenge in terms of balance when we move one foot off the ground to land somewhere else. By being relaxed and open and connected to the ground, we learn real balance. At these particular moments, the training emphasizes being on the foot where the weight actually is and by not lurching or falling onto the foot that is finding a new place to land. This is the opposite of walking where we really do take advantage of falling onto the next foot as we move forward and catching ourselves as we move forward.

Your body is like a scale. One foot connects more and more into the ground where the weight currently is, the other foot lightly lands – no weight – onto the ground it plans to move towards. So there is a moment where you are ready to shift your weight forward, but you haven’t made any physical commitment in that direction, at least for a brief moment. The scale is all on one side of the fence preparing to move to the other side.

We spend a great deal of time working at this precarious place because we are training ourselves to create a new habit. We no longer perch on top of the ground, but we now sink into the ground and use the ground to help stabilize and relax our bodies, utilizing several new tools to assist in the process. Subtly, you relax the upper body to use the ground to find stability.

Another aspect here, somewhat hidden, is that by working this way, we are encouraged to put our awareness into the body. Our mind is not dwelling on some idea, plan, past annoyance and any other distraction. This new kind of balance is so mentally challenging and oddly satisfying that you absolutely have to be very aware of what is going on within the body itself. A new habit is being formed – that of having your mind in your body.

In tai chi training, we return again and again and again to feeling what is going on inside of our physical selves. To have a special exercise where this is required is a huge benefit.

Yet another aspect is that since tai chi is also a martial art, your awareness has to include your surroundings, even those areas that you don’t see with your eyes. You learn to feel your surroundings. Like an octopus with many tentacles, your awareness expands to include the whole space. We are developing a large inclusive way of perceiving the world.

One could argue that you don’t need tai chi to put your mind in your body. That’s true, but I would argue that by practicing tai chi, you have a tool that gently encourages you to put your mind in your body. Otherwise, most likely you wouldn’t want to be bothered. And since practicing tai chi contains many other benefits, you get more “bang!” for the time spent studying and practicing.

I mentioned mental balance. While this is a tough act to achieve, I’ll briefly state that I believe that putting your mind into your body is a good place to begin if mental balance is an issue. This is not the whole answer of course. It seems to help, though like any human endeavor there are many ways to defeat even the best of training activities.

Balance is a worthy practice, a challenge, rewarding and endlessly fascinating.

Tai chi really helps you get there.

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