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, 2013

Habits create….

Posted By Tom Daly on February 22nd, 2013

Habits create….

“Actually, it goes the other way.

Wouldn’t it be great to be gifted? In fact…

It turns out that choices lead to habits.

Habits become talents.

Talents are labeled gifts.

You’re not born this way, you get this way.”

Seth Godin’s Blog, 2/22/13

I often appreciate Seth Godin’s comments.

While this equation is somewhat simplistic, it does contain truth.  You become what you do.

What talents do you want cultivate?  What ARE you doing?

Tom

 

 

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Tai Chi Chuan and Struggle

Posted By Tom Daly on February 18th, 2013

Tai Chi Chuan and Struggle

There is an old Japanese proverb:  Fall down seven times, get up eight.

Struggle is inescapable.  There’s no way to escape struggle.  If you have, you are out of luck because struggle builds character.  It sounds so cliché to write that but we all know it’s true.  It’s a healthy thing to tackle ANYTHING that offers you a struggle.  Working through life’s difficulties is one way to grow as a person.  Taking on a challenge you care about is another way to grow.

The fact of learning specific moves, but then using relaxation, the body’s internal connections and “non-doing” to create those moves, creates a struggle.  The student is stuck between trying to do something specific and then letting go of most of the muscles in the body to execute that something specific.  We are asked to move but not to use our muscles.  Most of us do not possess this ability.  If moving your body with minimal effort does not come easy, more practice is needed.  As Prof. Cheng Man’Ching has stated, if you lack natural ability, you just have to work harder.

I know that I have avoided doing push-hands with many players over the years because of my own fear of not being able to compete or win.  That was a mistake.  On one level, I simply did not want to engage in my own personal struggle.  I didn’t want to look bad.  I wanted to have the skill without going through the tough exercise of losing again and again and again.  I just didn’t want to struggle.  That qualm was my internal struggle of sorts – to move past the vulnerability I felt while being confused and uncertain (like most of us when we start push-hands.)  Now I’m a born again advocate who believes in engaging struggle, not avoiding it!

Some of us like to avoid the struggle with tai chi by sitting on the side lines and watching the class, believing they are learning.  Others want books or videos.  But you never learn tai chi by watching or reading.  The doing IS the learning, even if that doing is not very good.  The stumbling IS the lesson.  It leads to success.  I try a move this way and it doesn’t work.  I try a move that way and it doesn’t work.  Ah!  Now I see!  This is how you do the move!

It is not a case of “doing equals success.”  It is a case of “doing creates real understanding which leads to success.”  You really know something when you understand that one way fails and yet another way works.  You cannot understand movement and relaxation by watching.  You have to get into the pool and flounder.  This approach is similar to what a baby experiences when learning to walk.  Except babies have no consciousness of failure.  They just flounder until they get it.

Not that this struggle is all hardship and woe.  The little victories feel good and motivate us.  But after each victory comes another struggle, a process that continues for some time.  Well, forever actually.  At some point there is enough accomplishment that the enjoyment factor increases.  But the struggle never leaves.  It seems to me that long term tai chi students like the sense of solving an intricate puzzle.  From that perspective, it’s lots of fun!  Because the puzzle is endless!  It is like a wonderful mystery novel with infinite volumes to consume, each one revealing a new aspect of the drama.

In life, hard-won victories are the most meaningful to us.  Tai chi offers the added element of experiential learning: When you understand something in tai chi, your whole body and mind understand it.  This has even greater meaning to most of us because it provides a completeness and a clarity that much of life lacks.  In this regard, tai chi is like the lowly apple.  You can only understand an apple once you have bitten into it.  After that, you will never NOT understand what an apple is.  An apple is not an intellectual exercise.  Watching an apple somehow never does the trick!

The other benefit in struggling with tai chi, aside from its well-documented benefits (greater health, less stress, more balance, fewer falls…), is that the short-term defeats are rather benign.  You don’t lose life and limb, love or work.  You just have to take more time to work with it until you gain more little victories.  In that regard, it is essentially risk free.

Most students quit before the snowball of experience has taken over and real benefit or meaning appears.  But if you can accept struggle as the very tool that gives you the riches you seek, you are way ahead of the game.

Lastly, if success creates arrogance, then struggling is for naught.  Challenge needs to teach you humility and generosity!  Many of us go through an arrogant phase in our tai chi practice.  We fool ourselves by thinking small victories equals profound knowledge.  “I know more than you.”  “I’m the top!”  This attitude is not the place to end.  The place to end is knowing that there is more to learn, that learning is more struggle, that we all have our challenges, defeats, successes, joys, frustrations, talents and limitations.

When we appreciate that we all have our challenges, defeats, etc., this adds to our capacity for compassion for self and others.  My struggle is your struggle; my joy is your joy.  No, not that my specific struggle is your struggle, but the fact that we both have to work with struggling, that struggle is a given for us both.  Likewise for joy, defeats, talents and so forth. We are all in this soup called life together.

One last thought.  An admired teacher I know advises push-hands students to “give up struggle.”  The way to learn, he says, is by completely NOT struggling.  He means that if you stop trying to NOT get pushed, and just let yourself get pushed, you will learn more quickly.  He’s right.  How do we give in to what is, and learn from that situation, even as we face defeat?  The struggle here is with our egos.  There is no defeat.  There is only process….

Fall down seven times, get up eight.

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The Science of Meditation on Stress Reduction

Posted By Tom Daly on February 16th, 2013

Ah, the science of meditation.  In terms of this report, tai chi has tremendous potential in reducing pain or depression and increasing cognitive functioning.  Tom

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

Mindfulness starts with the body: somatosensory attention and top-down modulation of cortical alpha rhythms in mindfulness meditation

Catherine E. Kerr, Matthew D. Sacchet, Sara W. Lazar, Christopher I. Moore and Stephanie R. Jones

Using a common set of mindfulness exercises, mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) have been shown to reduce distress in chronic pain and decrease risk of depression relapse. These standardized mindfulness (ST-Mindfulness) practices predominantly require attending to breath and body sensations. Here, we offer a novel view of ST-Mindfulness’s somatic focus as a form of training for optimizing attentional modulation of 7–14 Hz alpha rhythms that play a key role in filtering inputs to primary sensory neocortex and organizing the flow of sensory information in the brain. In support of the framework, we describe our previous finding that ST-Mindfulness enhanced attentional regulation of alpha in primary somatosensory cortex (SI). The framework allows us to make several predictions. In chronic pain, we predict somatic attention in ST-Mindfulness “de-biases” alpha in SI, freeing up pain-focused attentional resources. In depression relapse, we predict ST-Mindfulness’s somatic attention competes with internally focused rumination, as internally focused cognitive processes (including working memory) rely on alpha filtering of sensory input. Our computational model predicts ST-Mindfulness enhances top-down modulation of alpha by facilitating precise alterations in timing and efficacy of SI thalamocortical inputs. We conclude by considering how the framework aligns with Buddhist teachings that mindfulness starts with “mindfulness of the body.” Translating this theory into neurophysiology, we hypothesize that with its somatic focus, mindfulness’ top-down alpha rhythm modulation in SI enhances gain control which, in turn, sensitizes practitioners to better detect and regulate when the mind wanders from its somatic focus. This enhanced regulation of somatic mind-wandering may be an important early stage of mindfulness training that leads to enhanced cognitive regulation and metacognition.

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Tai Chi Chuan and Leadership

Posted By Tom Daly on February 13th, 2013

Tai Chi Chuan and Leadership

I must admit I have a queasy feeling about “leadership.”  Leadership presumes a certain authority and most leaders project a sense of perfection.  We want them that way.  But I assume all humans – leaders included – are flawed.  So why should we believe leaders when they presume their authority?  Do we ever hear a leader come out and declare their deficiencies for the entire world to see?  In our hero worship culture, we either follow blindly, or try to find a way to tear them down.  Of course, it is we who put leaders in their place.

To my mind, it is OK to have flaws because how can we not?  As long as you know you are flawed – and I know I am flawed – life will go on in a much more forgiving and agreeable way.  Tai chi practitioners know this well because any serious tai chi player will feel deficiencies in their form.  There is always more to learn about you.  Always.

And what is leadership in the first place?

You can look in my blog site for The Humble Hound by New York Times editorialist David Brooks, a very tai chi like approach to the subject.  Not everyone agrees with his position.

I’ve certainly experienced a great deal of “top-down” leadership.  This usually amounts to “What I say goes!”  Why?  Because they are “right”.   To be “right” is problematic.  The top-down perfect leader who is right rarely listens to oppositional forces.  But because we are all flawed, leaders who believe they are “right” are just as often NOT right.  How many disasters have befallen the perfect leader?  Mountains of disasters!  Often, “being right” is the beginning of the end.  The antidote to “being right” is “being engaged,” the beginning of real success.  Which leads me to tai chi.

The other night in tai chi class, one of us wanted to do the form together.  Because a form together with others is a different experience than just doing the form at home alone.  The group form is uniquely a “being with others in unison” kind of experience.  Engagement. Connection.  A group form can be leaderless, just like a small group of musicians.  We all follow each other.

However, there can also be a form with a leader.  When the direction of the form veers away from the leader, as the form will do, the leader then follows the group.  The leader follows the group who then follows the leader and so on.  Inherently, there is a lesson in leadership here.  Leaders lead by following then leading then following then leading and so on.  This kind of leading and following has nothing to do with any kind of perfection.  Everyone in the form is working on some deficiency while doing their best to follow or lead and be in unison with each other.

The tai chi form is a special relationship where the leader will anchor the pace of the group and model some good qualities, but once the pace has been set, the group chi is what creates the tai chi form.  Not the leader.  In tai chi, there a great deal of allowing.  Each participant allows every other participant to be themselves.  You give everyone a long leash.

Too often leadership today is a form of some kind of egotistical hubris.  Such hubris happens everywhere and is a real problem.  There has been an outcry for strong, even bold, leadership and a focus on “leadership” in the education system.  Yet there is no outcry for the kind of leadership authenticity that includes recognition of human frailty.

If you are a leader in push-hands practice, you work with each student individually.  In doing so, you address what that individual needs to learn and even HOW that student learns.  But you need to be honest with yourself and keep working with your own push hands skill.  Leaders can practice push hands by giving themselves a handicap and insisting on maintaining some skill they want to hone.  In the tai chi world, “investing in loss” is the term we use when practitioners would rather lose the game than win it by breaking the principles.  By “investing in loss”, leaders as well as students are more vulnerable.  Students work on what they need to work on and the leaders can work on what they need to work on.

Other kinds of leaders exist.  One leadership style, in push hands, will persistently defeat the student.  The student has to be the kind of student that sees the benefit of working with a “hard” leader.  I believe it was Professor Cheng Man-Ch’ing (my teacher’s teacher) that stated if you push me a 100 times, and I discover one successful neutralization, I have learned an invaluable lesson.  Not everyone likes this level of exchange: Ninety-Nine losses to gain one insight.  “Hard” leaders have to be REALLY secure in their skills while really caring for their students.  At the same time, a student has to have great faith in the leader.  But even this kind of leader knows they have work to do.  Being Number 1 is not the same as lacking deficiencies.

In my view, real leaders would say:

“I see X in you, but you might want to try Y.”

“You have many skills, but the one you need to work on most is Z.”

“What are you trying to do?”

“Where does your path lead you? What is the logical conclusion to your practice?”

“We’re in this together – I need to learn from you as well.”

“I used to believe N, but now I believe M.  What do you think?”

“How can we get this thing to work?”

“What are your thoughts?”

“What do you need to succeed?”

“I don’t know….”

This line of questioning is more than just “seeking to understand.” It engages the student/follower to find their own understanding before a leader intervenes.  A leader may have the answer to a problem, but the student/follower may have helpful insights and possibly a better solution.  Both learn in the process.

I just witnessed the downfall of a leader.  I doubt he ever expressed such statements as I have just noted.  He was “top down” and the base that he was leading did not like it.  The result?  War.  Politics.  Waste of time.  My side vs. your side.  Lies or misrepresentation.  Fear.  Frustration. More politics.  Bad publicity.  Firings.  Misunderstanding. Uncompromising “solutions.” Hirings based on favoritism.  One friend noted the problem was not in this leader’s intentions, but in his style.  Style?  I am beginning to think “Style” is exactly what leadership is.  Knowledge and expertise you can buy.  Style is something you have to “be”, and that being has to bring out the best in your group.  Since we all respond differently, a good leader perceives how to work with each individual.  There is no cookie cutter approach in the real world.

Tai chi principles can inform leadership styles: relax, integrate, focus, be inclusive, connect, get-with, listen, be grounded.  It’s that basic and it’s that deep.

If you decide to lead, it means you have to practice even more deeply.  Because others depend on you.  And ultimately, for your own growth, you depend on others.

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Relax for Productivity

Posted By Tom Daly on February 12th, 2013

Another fine article on the value of relaxation.  Clearly tai chi applies…. Tom

February 9, 2013

New York Times

Relax! You’ll Be More Productive

By TONY SCHWARTZ

THINK for a moment about your typical workday. Do you wake up tired? Check your e-mail before you get out of bed? Skip breakfast or grab something on the run that’s not particularly nutritious? Rarely get away from your desk for lunch? Run from meeting to meeting with no time in between? Find it nearly impossible to keep up with the volume of e-mail you receive? Leave work later than you’d like, and still feel compelled to check e-mail in the evenings?

More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace. Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.

“More, bigger, faster.” This, the ethos of the market economies since the Industrial Revolution, is grounded in a mythical and misguided assumption — that our resources are infinite.

Time is the resource on which we’ve relied to get more accomplished. When there’s more to do, we invest more hours. But time is finite, and many of us feel we’re running out, that we’re investing as many hours as we can while trying to retain some semblance of a life outside work.

Although many of us can’t increase the working hours in the day, we can measurably increase our energy. Science supplies a useful way to understand the forces at play here. Physicists understand energy as the capacity to do work. Like time, energy is finite; but unlike time, it is renewable. Taking more time off is counterintuitive for most of us. The idea is also at odds with the prevailing work ethic in most companies, where downtime is typically viewed as time wasted. More than one-third of employees, for example, eat lunch at their desks on a regular basis. More than 50 percent assume they’ll work during their vacations.

In most workplaces, rewards still accrue to those who push the hardest and most continuously over time. But that doesn’t mean they’re the most productive.

Spending more hours at work often leads to less time for sleep and insufficient sleep takes a substantial toll on performance. In a study of nearly 400 employees, published last year, researchers found that sleeping too little — defined as less than six hours each night — was one of the best predictors of on-the-job burn-out. A recent Harvard study estimated that sleep deprivation costs American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity.

The Stanford researcher Cheri D. Mah found that when she got male basketball players to sleep 10 hours a night, their performances in practice dramatically improved: free-throw and three-point shooting each increased by an average of 9 percent.

Daytime naps have a similar effect on performance. When night shift air traffic controllers were given 40 minutes to nap — and slept an average of 19 minutes — they performed much better on tests that measured vigilance and reaction time.

Longer naps have an even more profound impact than shorter ones. Sara C. Mednick, a sleep researcher at the University of California, Riverside, found that a 60- to 90-minute nap improved memory test results as fully as did eight hours of sleep.

MORE vacations are similarly beneficial. In 2006, the accounting firm Ernst & Young did an internal study of its employees and found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors (on a scale of one to five) improved by 8 percent. Frequent vacationers were also significantly less likely to leave the firm.

As athletes understand especially well, the greater the performance demand, the greater the need for renewal. When we’re under pressure, however, most of us experience the opposite impulse: to push harder rather than rest. This may explain why a recent survey by Harris Interactive found that Americans left an average of 9.2 vacation days unused in 2012 — up from 6.2 days in 2011.

The importance of restoration is rooted in our physiology. Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy.

In the 1950s, the researchers William Dement and Nathaniel Kleitman discovered that we sleep in cycles of roughly 90 minutes, moving from light to deep sleep and back out again. They named this pattern the Basic-Rest Activity Cycle or BRAC. A decade later, Professor Kleitman discovered that this cycle recapitulates itself during our waking lives.

The difference is that during the day we move from a state of alertness progressively into physiological fatigue approximately every 90 minutes. Our bodies regularly tell us to take a break, but we often override these signals and instead stoke ourselves up with caffeine, sugar and our own emergency reserves — the stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.

Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity. Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University have studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes. They begin in the morning, take a break between sessions, and rarely work for more than four and a half hours in any given day.

“To maximize gains from long-term practice,” Dr. Ericsson concluded, “individuals must avoid exhaustion and must limit practice to an amount from which they can completely recover on a daily or weekly basis.”

I’ve systematically built these principles into the way I write. For my first three books, I sat at my desk for up 10 hours a day. Each of the books took me at least a year to write. For my two most recent books, I wrote in three uninterrupted 90-minute sessions — beginning first thing in the morning, when my energy was highest — and took a break after each one.

Along the way, I learned that it’s not how long, but how well, you renew that matters most in terms of performance. Even renewal requires practice. The more rapidly and deeply I learned to quiet my mind and relax my body, the more restored I felt afterward. For one of the breaks, I ran. This generated mental and emotional renewal, but also turned out to be a time in which some of my best ideas came to me, unbidden. Writing just four and half hours a day, I completed both books in less than six months and spent my afternoons on less demanding work.

The power of renewal was so compelling to me that I’ve created a business around it that helps a range of companies including Google, Coca-Cola, Green Mountain Coffee, the Los Angeles Police Department, Cleveland Clinic and Genentech.

Our own offices are a laboratory for the principles we teach. Renewal is central to how we work. We dedicated space to a “renewal” room in which employees can nap, meditate or relax. We have a spacious lounge where employees hang out together and snack on healthy foods we provide. We encourage workers to take renewal breaks throughout the day, and to leave the office for lunch, which we often do together. We allow people to work from home several days a week, in part so they can avoid debilitating rush-hour commutes. Our workdays end at 6 p.m. and we don’t expect anyone to answer e-mail in the evenings or on the weekends. Employees receive four weeks of vacation from their first year.

Our basic idea is that the energy employees bring to their jobs is far more important in terms of the value of their work than is the number of hours they work. By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably. In a decade, no one has ever chosen to leave the company. Our secret is simple — and generally applicable. When we’re renewing, we’re truly renewing, so when we’re working, we can really work.

Tony Schwartz is the chief executive officer of The Energy Project and the author, most recently, of “Be Excellent at Anything.”

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Relax by Professor Cheng Man-Ch’ing

Posted By Tom Daly on February 2nd, 2013

The Word Relax in Tai Chi Chuan by Professor Cheng Man-Ch’ing (鄭曼青).

“I have been practicing Tai-Chi Chuan for over fifty years. Only recently have I started to fully understand the word ‘relax’. I remember my Tai-Chi Chuan teacher Yang Cheng-Fu who did not like to talk much. He used to sit all day without saying a word if no one asked him questions. However, in our T’ai-chi class he would tell us to ‘relax’ repeatedly. Sometimes it seemed like he would say the word hundreds of times during the practice so that the word could fill up my ears. Strangely enough he also said that if he did not tell me of this word that I would not be able to learn T’ai-chi in three life-times (meaning never). I doubted his words then. Now that I think back, I truly believe that if he did not keep reminding me of the word ‘relax’, I doubt if I could have learned T’ai-chi Chuan in six life-times.

What is the meaning of ‘relax’ in T’ai-chi? Here is an example to help you understand the word. When we go visit a Buddhist temple we usually see a statue of Me-Lo Buddha. The one who has a big rounded stomach with a big smile on his face. He carries a large bag on his shoulder. On top of this statue we see a motto: ‘Sit with a bag. Walk with a bag. It would be such a relief to drop the bag.’ What does all this mean? To me, a person himself or herself is a bag. Everything he or she owns is baggage, including one’s children, family, position and wealth. It is difficult to drop any of one’s baggage, especially the ‘self’ bag.

T’ai-chi Chuan is difficult to learn. To relax in practicing T’ai-chi Chuan is the most difficult phase to go through. To relax a person’s mind is the most significant obstacle to overcome in practicing T’ai-Chi. It takes a great effort to train and exercise one’s mind to relax.”

***

Thanks to my classmate Denise for bringing this to my attention.

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