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 June, 2012

Tai Chi Chuan and Spirituality

Posted By Tom Daly on June 16th, 2012

Tai Chi Chuan and Spirituality

The word “spiritual” has always frightened me.  Because we all relate (or don’t relate) to it from our personal perspective, it starts to lose meaning.  Worse, a “spiritual person” taps into ephemeral, non-materialistic, moral, the transcendent mystical and ethereal worlds that have no clear boundaries, deeply subject to personal interpretation.  Religious wars have been fought (and continue to this day) over the spiritual side of mankind.  Some note that religion kills.  Others note that we would be far worse without it.

Let me digress.  We have an animal self.  This is the self that needs  survival.  This is the self that caters to our body’s needs and desires.  This self self-perpetuates and creates safety so that it can persist in the world.  This self even procreates in order to see that its genes continue on after the body dies.  Tai chi begins with this self.

Do you have to believe in God to be spiritual?

What makes a spiritual person spiritual?

Who is the most spiritual: Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Buddha, The Pope or Bishop Desmond Tutu?

Can you measure it?

Do you need religion to be spiritual?

Is a religious person more spiritual than a non-religious person?

Are there non-spiritual people?

Lately, I’ve been associating that word with the desire or goal to go beyond our animal existence.  Even that may not be true.  What does our animal nature include?  Is love on the list?

Perhaps a spiritual person is trying to find the best “good” possible.   But again that depends on perspective.  I suspect the average American’s sense of the spiritual would be at odds with Osama bin Laden’s sense of the spiritual.  Some would claim he doesn’t have one but I suspect if he were alive to state his case he would claim that Americans are not spiritual and are hedonistic.

Of course, in the mix here is “religion”.  Some link spirituality with religion, others separate the two.  Many use both religion and spirituality as some sort of Boy Scout badge of honor, proof of their “goodness”.

It is a challenge that not everyone takes up or is capable of taking up should harsh life circumstances create obstacles.  Even that statement falls apart because of the many examples of individuals who start with nothing, yet create something of value.  The mystery of life can take very unusual twists that confound logic or expectations.

The most intriguing statement I’ve run into comes from a Zen monk:  “Spiritual” is what we do to come to terms with the fact that we know we are going to die.  How do you live, knowing you die?  Does that energize you? Create anxiety? Create a feeling of “why bother”?  Hopelessness?  Appreciate every moment?

Some conceive tai chi as a spiritual practice despite the fact that it is not linked to religion.  While it is a mind-body exercise, it is grounded in the body and lacks cerebral or moral teachings.  How can this be spiritual?

When I think of “spiritual” these days, I ponder those individuals who seem to go beyond their own personal safety and pleasure and lift themselves into the service of others, dig into themselves to find a new internal space of generosity, or create a new space in the world for something that is life affirming, something that creates, if not happiness, then peace.   To me, this is the “work” of spirituality:  to find that intangible good that I believe most of us possess.  It is not linked to God or a religion, though to some, God and religion help them frame their spirituality.

It may not even be comfortable or satisfying.  Mother Theresa was very depressed and doubted the existence of God while doing what most would describe as noble work and a spiritual mission.

I read recently that we are the only animal that will put ourselves in harm’s way, or even die, to save the life of others.  Clearly that action has little to do with our own animal existence, safety or comfort.

Tai chi has some unusual goals.  The first would be an internal integration of the body itself.  Each part is connected and moves in concert impeccably, organically with each other part.  But that is not enough.  We need to use the ground and the air to make it alive and interactive.  But that is not enough.  We practice in a group and we have to move with each other in unison.  When we work in push-hands with another body, we need to be connecting to that body.  In sword form we connect with a physical object, a sword.  In sword dueling, we connect to each other through the sword of the partner.

Connection is deeply embedded in tai chi and takes the focus off of our self while not ignoring our self.  We don’t become selfless.  It is more like the whole world becomes your self.  And if this is so, we have a great reason to be with the world generously.  By the requirement that you must rely on others to grow, you invariable appreciate the other.  Their growth is your growth.  When tai chi becomes all about you, you stop progressing.   I’ve seen this many many times.  It is a trap we have to learn to avoid.

Given these demands, we need to press into our self and go beyond what we have naturally acquired in life.  Tai chi training is a process of letting go of that which gets in the way of connection, either to our internal mass, or to others.  To practice tai chi you would have to care about your body – this magnificent tool – and care about your partners or practice group.  They all contribute to creating this cellular response to life that includes everyone and everything.

The spirituality of tai chi is not front and center.  It is not the first thing we are concerned with.  Studying tai chi will not necessarily make you more spiritual.

Personally I’m grateful to tai chi for this potential.  My childhood did not stress connection.  In fact, survival depended on NOT connecting and being independent.  Religion is not a good teacher for me because of its divisive and often aggressive nature.  But in tai chi, if you really progress, at some point you will have to contend with connection to the world.  I’ve needed something this tangible to understand connection.  I’ve changed my tune.

One last word on “spiritual”: It has always seemed to me that one basic aspect of our humanity is being with others with a unified purpose.  Hence, movies, theater, sports events, a yoga class, religious practices and political rallies all have this in common: bodies together with a unified intension.  This always creates a “me” that is more than I am when I am by myself.  The content of the gathering is less important than the bodies gathered and unified purpose of the group.  It is one way that the “I” can become a “We”.

Doing tai chi in a group also has this fundamental experience.  (The danger here is “group think” or hysteria.  It can go both ways.  Hitler comes to mind in that he needed to create a group think response in his followers.  That need is built into our psyches, but Hitler’s aim was not unification.  His aim was separation and dominance and his tools were intimidation and violence.)  In tai chi, a rather benign exercise to begin with, hysteria is far less likely to occur.  We are relaxing, after all.  We are calming and collecting the chi.  We are dissolving the self to become a SELF.

Maybe it is a good thing that everyone has their own definition of “spiritual”.  That way we keep looking for new avenues of practice and connection.  It becomes a live investigation and not an ideology or theology, not a dead weight, not a competition.

Spirituality, like tai chi, has to be lively to have any value.   Both can enliven our existence.

Have I missed anything here?  I hope so.

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Tai Chi Chuan – Think Locally, Act Globally

Posted By Tom Daly on June 7th, 2012

Tai Chi Chuan – Think Locally, Act Globally

I have been looking at non-doing in push hands.  That is, how can four ounces of strength push someone?  We look at many ways to accomplish this and study methods of engagement to create that result.  I hear a divide out there, and both seem sort of logical when you isolate them.

Group One: “When you yield, you yield – when you push, you push.”

GroupTwo:  “Yield into push as a seamless event and yield even as you push.”

I also hear of these miraculous pushes where the person pushed claims they didn’t feel a thing and suddenly they were in the air.  My current thinking – this can change – is that you do feel it, but that once it has registered, it is too late.  The push is a marvelous trick on our ability to register action in the body.  A good push is inevitable.  Even if you do see that push coming, you feel as if there is nothing left to be done but to be pushed.  In a street fight, you can always block a punch.  In tai chi, you never block a punch; you adjust yourself so that you are out of harm’s way.  You incorporate THEM.

Thus far, the best approach given to me by some very talented tai chi players is that of not doing anything at the point of connection.  This requires a bit of explanation:  yes, something happens. You may feel their intention or notice they are after you, intending to trap you.  Perhaps you feel them looking for your center, or preparing to set up a good push.  All of these are “doing” activities.  Noticing their intention gives you a heads up.  But if we are not going “to do” something in response, what is a proper way to respond?  How can we “non-do” to respond?

A few answers come to mind.  Always have their hands connected to your root.  Let them go through you to your ground.  Don’t flee.  Open up internally.  Yield to the extent that you need to (not more, not less.)  Don’t let your mind focus on the point of contact as if the solution lies in that small area of physical connection, but don’t ignore it either.  (None of these ideas are my own – they come from my buddies in Detroit and other teachers.)

This conundrum reminds me of a popular adage these days:

“Think Globally, Act Locally.”

This is because we feel we have some control over our local unit and can do something positive.  As Americans, we love to feel we are doing something positive to create solutions.  I think our “can do” spirit is a double edged sword and we do a lot of “can doing”.   In one sense, we throw our hands up in the air and do the best we can by creating local activity.  What else CAN we do but act locally, right?

Uh, er, oops?  If we act locally to problems, this does not insure that the other localities will work in sync.  We can stop our carbon emissions (in the US we refuse to do this for economic reasons) but what if our neighbors do not?  If NY State outlaws gun sales, but New Jersey continues to allow gun sales, are we safer for our local action?  The US has inflated prescription prices, but across the border in Canada, they are much less expensive.  Economic solution?

In tai chi, the opposite is true:

“Think Locally, Act Globally.”

That is, you are aware of that point of contact, that local concern.  But your response has to be with the whole body and mind.  That small point is just one little dot on the global map.  By responding locally, mostly what you get is force.  By responding globally, you no longer rely on solving the problem with that tiny local area.  Perhaps it is better to say: Think Globally, Act Globally.

Alas, as in tai chi, a global response is much much harder to achieve.

Oddly, it seems that when you do move the globe, it feels as if nothing in particular is going on.  If everything moves, then no part in particular feels active.  The action of the globe is integrated.  (By sitting in a car going 60 miles an hour, after a while, we feel like we are simply sitting at home watching a movie.  Since our whole body is going 60 miles per hour, it has no meaning within that protected environment in terms of experience.  Only the visual queue confirms this.)

But back to push hands.  One question that I’m working with is finding out how to get that globe to expand and integrate so that my action is not a local response.  Yes, I do have to acknowledge and be aware of the local threat.  I just don’t have to attack or run from the local threat.  I have the option of letting the entire globe connect to the threat and in a unified way engage the local activity.  This is our body as U.N.

If we look at the section in the form where press goes to push, that pushing action is moving something.  But it is not using the arms.  The edges of the hands are merely the edge of a larger circle the surrounds the body.  Our chi is expanding, our body is expanding, our globe is expanding and the hands follow.  Those new to tai chi tend to put the hands out front and let the body follow.  Why do we let the bulk of our mass follow those tiny arms?  Why not let that mass move the arms?

I do believe there is an emotional parallel as well.  I’ll let you give that some thought…

Let yourself be a globe, move like a globe, and be global!

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Tai Chi Chuan – Following INTO a Seamless Push

Posted By Tom Daly on June 7th, 2012

Tai Chi Chuan – Following INTO a Seamless Push

My teacher, Maggie Newman, has relentlessly and repeatedly asked that we make ourselves comfortable.  The question arises, how do we make our partner comfortable when we begin to push them?

I have a talented partner who, if he glimmers but a speck of you are about to push him, he gets reactive.  Like many of us.  He runs, attacks, hunkers down and roots, wriggles, collapses to create space and so on.  But what if, as the push begins, he didn’t have a clue as to what you were up to?  What if he had nothing to react to and when he finally got the message, it’s too late.  He’s pushed.

That’s a big goal – not only are you comfortable, but you make THEM comfortable.

But how?

I suspect the key is that as you perceive the potential for a push that you hold the breaks and continue to follow them, really follow them, such that they take themselves into your push.

Here’s a thought.  My back is draping downward, relaxing into my feet.  This is like half of a “U”.  The other half is coming up through their feet and my hands.   This is from my perspective.  This is what I want.  They have the same perspective, but coming from their back, down into the feet, etc.  But if they are stuck, in a sense, their back just got jammed.  It is now going up, not down.  Their back is going up and my back is going down.  Do you see the complete circle here?  If I meticulously join with THEM to complete THEIR circle and then rotate the entire circle forward, my feet have an opportunity to “take out” their feet.  This strikes me as seamless push.

If you can’t really feel someone who is going with you, how can you detect a push coming?  (You can’t!)

Here pushing is NOT pushing.  It is joining with the partner and letting the circles take their logical course.

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