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


 

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Tai Chi Chuan – Heavy and Light

Posted By Tom Daly on October 10th, 2015

Tai Chi Chuan – Heavy and Light

Years ago I went to a hypnotherapist.  This was not for fun, but for a real reason, for real therapy.

The hypnotherapist had a technique to hypnotize.  It was not like the movies where you do something you don’t want to do.  Instead she aimed at a certain kind of deep relaxation.  The technique was simple.  You lie on the couch and she would suggest for all the major regions of the body, carefully moving through each, that you are “heavy, heavy, heavy, heavy as lead, heavy…”  At the end, you were really heavy!

Then she switched channels and repeated this body scan, but this time she intoned in a feathery voice that you were “light, light, light as a cloud, floating like a cloud…”  Man, you were up there in clouds like a twirling leaf.

So relaxed!

In part, this confuses the mind.  You don’t know which way to go and you are in a space that can’t decide where reality sits.  Are you heavy? Are you light?  It unlocks you from your patterns.

I’ve always loved this as a meditation.  And it strikes me that tai chi lives exactly where those two polarities meet.  You are neither here nor there but can change in an instance into either.  By being in that zone, you have options that do not bind you to either, while opening up opportunities to be either one.

There is another system that rings true to me as well: Laban movement.  Laban divides space into quadrants and emphasizes natural movement.  I won’t describe that here though it is easy to demonstrate.  Laban describes all 8 possible movements.  Tai chi is a limited expression of the choices available.

In Laban, the upper planes above the waist are light and free.   The lower plane below the waist is strong and bound (that is, using some muscular strength, as in sawing a piece of wood.)  In front of you is sustained smooth movement, but to move backward is quick movement.  When you execute Laban’s 8 movements, you explore each quadrant that Laban sets out logically (direct/indirect, free/bound, light/heavy, sustained/quick).  Tai chi looks at the heavy/bound lower part and the free and light upper part.  Mostly tai chi form only uses “sustained” movement regardless of going forward or back.

So we might say that the heavy as lead is the lower half and that light as a cloud is the upper half.  Note I’m not suggesting “heavy” is tense.  It’s not.  This heavy happens through letting go and being with the ground in a substantial way.

And there you have it, a place that expresses infinite opportunity.  You are grounded and you are free and agile, light as a feather and capable of joining the rest of the world without being thrown off balance.

You can’t really think this through. You inhabit this space.  The organic you is allowed to exist.  In that sense, this is not a mind focusing exercise; the mind is free to land on any point in the spectrum and see where it goes.

I am tempted to say it is a mind letting go.  I’m not entirely sure here.  Words fail this space as hard as one might try to define it.  I think if I was really sure of the right word(s), the mind would be far too meddlesome to allow the kind of freedom I see in this intersection of allowing, meeting, heavy and light.

Are we one piece?  Are we two?  Are we one and two?  Where are you if you are simultaneously grounded and floating?  Where is the freedom in all this?

You may be asking, what is this all about?  What’s the point?

The point is that we need new tools to change our old patterns.

Take a few years and see what happens…

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Circles – New York Times article

Posted By Tom Daly on January 9th, 2010

This off the beaten track article is not really about tai chi, but about circles. Tai Chi is loaded with circles (and spirals) and to that end, this art world article may give us some clues and inspiration about how important these circles are. NOT required reading this, but sort of fun in a tributary way.

Enjoy if you decide to venture forth. Tom

December 8, 2009

Circular Logic of the Universe

By NATALIE ANGIER

CIRCLING my way not long ago through the Vasily Kandinsky show now on display in the suitably spiral setting of the Guggenheim Museum, I came to one of the Russian master’s most illustrious, if misleadingly named, paintings: “Several Circles.”

Those “several” circles, I saw, were more like three dozen, and every one of them seemed to be rising from the canvas, buoyed by the shrewdly exuberant juxtapositioning of their different colors, sizes and apparent translucencies. I learned that, at around the time Kandinsky painted the work, in 1926, he had begun collecting scientific encyclopedias and journals; and as I stared at the canvas, a big, stupid smile plastered on my face, I thought of yeast cells budding, or a haloed blue sun and its candied satellite crew, or life itself escaping the careless primordial stew.

I also learned of Kandinsky’s growing love affair with the circle. The circle, he wrote, is “the most modest form, but asserts itself unconditionally.” It is “simultaneously stable and unstable,” “loud and soft,” “a single tension that carries countless tensions within it.” Kandinsky loved the circle so much that it finally supplanted in his visual imagination the primacy long claimed by an emblem of his Russian boyhood, the horse.

Quirkily enough, the artist’s life followed a circular form: He was born in December 1866, and he died the same month in 1944. This being December, I’d like to honor Kandinsky through his favorite geometry, by celebrating the circle and giving a cheer for the sphere. Life as we know it must be lived in the round, and the natural world abounds in circular objects at every scale we can scan. Let a heavenly body get big enough for gravity to weigh in, and you will have yourself a ball. Stars are giant, usually symmetrical balls of radiant gas, while the definition of both a planet like Jupiter and a plutoid like Pluto is a celestial object orbiting a star that is itself massive enough to be largely round.

On a more down-to-earth level, eyeballs live up to their name by being as round as marbles, and, like Jonathan Swift’s ditty about fleas upon fleas, those soulful orbs are inscribed with circular irises that in turn are pierced by circular pupils. Or think of the curved human breast and its bull’s-eye areola and nipple.

Our eggs and those of many other species are not egg-shaped at all but spherical, and when you see human eggs under a microscope they look like tranquil suns with Kandinsky coronas behind them. Raindrops start life in the clouds not with the pear-shaped contours of a cartoon teardrop, but as liquid globes, aggregates of water molecules that have condensed around specks of dust or salt and then mutually clung themselves into the rounded path of least resistance. Only as the raindrops fall do they lose their symmetry, their bottoms often flattening out while their tops stay rounded, a shape some have likened to a hamburger bun.

Sometimes roundness is purely a matter of physics. “The shape of any object represents the balance of two opposing forces,” explained Larry S. Liebovitch of the Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences at Florida Atlantic University. “You get things that are round when those forces are isotropic, that is, felt equally in all directions.”

In a star, gravity is pulling the mass of gas inward toward a central point, while pressure is pushing the gas outward, and the two competing forces reach a dynamic détente — “simultaneously stable and unstable,” you might say — in the form of a sphere. For a planet like Earth, gravity tugs the mostly molten rock in toward the core, but the rocks and their hostile electrons push back with equal vehemence. Plutoids are also sufficiently massive for gravity to overcome the stubbornness of rock and smooth out their personal lumps, although they may not be the gravitationally dominant bodies in their neighborhood.

In precipitating clouds, water droplets are exceptionally sticky, as the lightly positive end of one water molecule seeks the lightly negative end of another. But, again, mutually hostile electrons put a limit on molecular intimacy, and the compromise conformation is shaped like a ball. “A sphere is the most compact way for an object to form itself,” said Denis Dutton, an evolutionary theorist at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

A sphere is also tough. For a given surface area, it’s stronger than virtually any other shape. If you want to make a secure container using the least amount of material, Dr. Liebovitch said, make that container round. “That’s why, when you cook a frankfurter, it always splits in the long direction,” he said, rather than along its circumference. The curved part has the tensile strength of a sphere, the long axis that of a rectangle: no contest.

The reliability of bubble wrap may help explain some of the round objects found among the living, where the shapes of body parts are assumed to have some relation to their purpose. Eggs are a valuable commodity in nature, and if a round package is the safest option, by all means, make them caviar round. Among many birds, of course, eggs are oval rather than round, a trait that biologists attribute to both the arduous passage the egg makes through the avian oviduct, and the fact that oval eggs roll in a circle rather than a straight line and thus are less likely to fall out of a nest.

Yet scientists admit that they don’t always understand the evolutionary pressures that sculpture a given carbon-based shape.

While studying the cornea at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. Liebovitch became curious about why eyeballs are round. “It seemed like their most salient feature,” he said. He explored the options. To aid in focusing? But only a small region of the retina is involved in focusing, he said, and the whole spherical casing seems superfluous to the optical needs of that foveal patch. To enable the eye to roll easily in the socket and dart this way and that? But birds and other animals with fixed eyes still have bulging round eyeballs. “It’s not really clear what the reason is,” he said.

And for speculative verve, nothing beats the assortment of hypotheses that have been put forth to explain the roundness of the human female breast. It’s a buttock mimic. It’s a convenient place to store fat for hard times. It’s a fertility signal, a youth signal, a health signal, a wealth symbol. Large breasts emphasize the woman’s comparatively small waist, which is really what men are interested in. As for me, I’m waiting for somebody to explain why a man’s well-developed bicep looks like a wandering breast.

Whatever the prompt, our round eyes are drawn to round things. Jeremy M. Wolfe of Harvard Medical School and his colleagues found that curvature was a basic feature we used while making a visual search. Maybe we are looking for faces, a new chance to schmooze.

Studying rhesus monkeys, Doris Tsao of the California Institute of Technology and her colleagues identified a set of brain cells that responded strongly to images of faces, monkey and otherwise. The only other sort of visual stimulus that aroused those face tracing neurons, Dr. Tsao said, were round objects — clocks, apples and the like. She suspects the results would be similar for humans. We make a fetish of faces. “If you have a round object with two spots in the middle,” she said, “that instantly attracts your attention.”

Or maybe the circle beckons not for its resemblance to human face but as a mark of human art. Dr. Dutton, author of “The Art Instinct,” pointed out that perfect shapes were exceedingly rare in nature. “Take a look at a billiard ball,” he said. “It’s impossible to imagine that nature threw that one up.” We are predisposed to recognize “human artifacture,” he said, and roundness can be a mark of our handiwork. When nature does play the meticulous Michelangelo, we are astonished.

“People come to see the Moeraki boulders of New Zealand,” he said, “and ooh and aah because they’re so amazingly spherical.”

Artists in turn have used the circle as shorthand for the divine: in mandalas, rose windows, the lotus pad of the Buddha, the halos of Christian saints. For Kandinsky, said Tracey Bashkoff, who curated the Guggenheim exhibition, the circle was part of a “cosmic language” and a link to a grander, more spiritual plane. A round of applause! We’ve looped back to Kandinsky again.

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Non-Doing Is, Oddly, Hard To Do

Posted By Tom Daly on December 13th, 2009

I’ve been having an interesting time teaching a simple exercise. We start to do it standing in the legs with little steps. At first I have the class do it as sort of an easy movement. Essentially we perform the movement, but it is sort of a glob. No real skill is being utilized. We “do” it.

Next, I begin to break it down in greater and greater specificity. This means that I’m looking at ways to accomplish the same movement but using relaxation and non-doing. As I articulate how to make it one whole non-doing movement, slowly but surely the students start to lose the movement altogether. Then they go through a time period where they feel they have mostly lost the movement. It falls apart in their hands.

One student commented that the more we work on it, the harder it gets. This is because the focus has shifted. As an unskilled glob, it was easy. But now we are relying on a whole body movement where all parts are integrated and working together. Each part individually is not required to hold you together. The whole is holding you together. One part is all parts. So each individual part has little to do, but more importantly each part must communicate with every other part.

Harder to not “do” it? How fascinating.

Of course, this is impossible to nail in print here because this is an experiential experiment. But the class goes from being able to “do” it, to not being able to “do” it. Nor are they able to NOT “do” it. We perpetually lock ourselves into the habit of doing in order to accomplish what is essentially a simple simple movement.

Or to put it another way, we only know how to do things, we don’t know how to allow things. Allowing relaxation, air, ground, structure, whole body integration to be the tools that hold us together and create a movement. Our habit, and therefore our experience, is that a sense of our doing things is how we get things done. If that support system is removed, we fall apart. Yet to utilize this other support system makes a world of sense because it requires much much less effort. It makes life easy. And now we have a surplus of energy. All that fuss and stiffness is gone.

I see our American sense of personality as a way of forcing results to happen as well. We throw this around like a calling card to help identify who we are and get what we want. This would be OK except this is often unnecessary, tiresome and inefficient. And it is so hard to let this go. Who are you and how do you act if you don’t access your personality? And so many times it actually gets in the way and prevents us from getting what we want.

This comes up a great deal in the work place where most of us are on automatic, getting things done as quickly as possible, and relying on habit to do so. Doing what comes naturally, which usually means how we have always done it via “doing”. The spaciousness and potential of non-doing is completely lost: mistakes are made, feelings are hurt, work is poorly executed, working relationships are damanged, information is misinterpreted and so on. Ever happen to you?

Oddly, in our culture, presenting who you are – your personality – is considered a necessary means of getting to know each other. But it is primarily this habit of doing that we are presenting. Maybe this is a good thing because it is this habit that we ultimately have to deal with. Isn’t it an insult to say “Mr. Jones” has no personality? Yet when we complain about someone, it is the personality that we are annoyed with. How ironic.

If nothing else, I would like to suggest that adding “non-doing”, or allowing, as a tool to get things done is a worthy pursuit and an invaluable practice. The art of tai chi is one way to study this (although not the only way.) Certainly you will add energy to your day since you now need less of it to do what you used to do. You get out of the way of what needs to be done. Your energy goes where it needs to go to accomplish tasks. You are no longer this stiff glob, but free flowing energy.

Yes, this IS difficult to do! Because we don’t practice this. Is “non-doing” on your to do list? It requires great focus and a certain kind of commitment. But the pleasure of tasting even a little bit of this is what tai chi students love. The thrill is palpable. Non-doing is a challenge, yes, but is also thrilling.

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Tai Chi – Stress Buster! How?

Posted By Tom Daly on October 10th, 2009

Tai Chi is well known for its ability to reduce stress. How does this happen?

Stress is ultimately a body issue. The causes of stress are many and inevitable in life. One type of stress (the garden variety) is self induced – we think too much about things that we have no control over, or on problems that have no acceptable solutions, or solutions we do not like. We want what we want. Perhaps we lack patience, or acceptance of “what is.” Perhaps we are too needy. Maybe we only think of others, or only of ourselves.

While one might claim that all stress is self induced, I tend to think that life offers experiences that are sometimes threatening, uncomfortable or unhappy. Tsunami’s do, in fact, happen. Partners decide they want something different in life and leave us. We lose our jobs because markets change. Or a new boss doesn’t like us. We can’t concentrate on our work. We fail crucial exams. Children die prematurely. Spouses get hit by cars. We are rejected by a university we want to attend. The car breaks down on the freeway at midnight. Cancer invades our lives. It is raining cats and dogs and we forgot to pack an umbrella.

“Life happens” and it doesn’t match our game plan. Some solutions lie in changing how we think. Some solutions lie in simply going with the experience and allowing ourselves to feel where we are (without judgment) and letting it go. (Letting it go is the difficult part.) Or meeting the situation head on with total acceptance. Oy!

Stress is a body issue. Regardless of the source, it will damage your body. Research confirms that stress causes obesity, heart disease, lowers immunity, premature aging, even damages your DNA. We all know of someone under stress and how they “age” suddenly. The New York Times published the following article, October 8, 2009: When Stress Takes a Toll on Your Teeth. Yep, some dentists are seeing an increase in patients with teeth grinding, up 20 to 25 percent from last year due to economic worries on the part of patients. Dr. Steven Butensky reports, “I’m seeing a lot more people that are anxious, stressed out and very concerned about their financial futures and they’re taking it out on their teeth.” Teeth are under attack from stress? Who knew?

The study of tai chi is synonymous with the study of relaxation, whether you are relaxing throughout your form, push hands, sword form or sword dueling. It’s relax relax relax. We use the tools that are always available: gravity, the ground, the air, your muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones. These are the tools we have to experience relaxation. Throughout the study of tai chi, we discover real relaxation, a physical condition inherent to the body you are now “renting.” We gain insight into our own tension and how to let it go. This is the detailed work of a soft martial art. We come back again and again to what is relax? What is letting go? What is a whole body movement? What does it feel like to be “centered”? And we come to experience that particular state and begin to inhabit this state not only during practice, but in our everyday lives.

One way to counter stress is to acknowledge its presence. Awareness, a key element to any study, comes into play, but in tai chi, the particular area of awareness is the body, its tension, and relaxation. Awareness: we are on alert that stress has arrived. Some people are so tense they don’t know what life is like without it. In fact, some people equate life with tension. Prisons, of course, are filled with them. Guards and prisoners bounce off one another like a set of billiard balls. Tension can be motivating to some people. I call this beating the egg whites: lots of activity, lots of effort, lots of motion, lots of noise, lots of thinking, improved muscle tone and then a small result.

Tai chi gives students a way to feel something different and to feel this while they are in motion. Actually, relaxation is the cause of motion. You can relieve stress by going jogging, but you will not let go of muscular holding patterns when you go for a jog. You simply carry them with you, burn yourself out, and then feel what you think is relaxation. Ah! Relief! Actually what you are feeling is exhaustion. Not bad but this isn’t a solution to stress. Exhaustion is the body’s way of escaping stress. Many confuse exhaustion with relaxation and stress relief. Beat those egg whites, exhaust yourself. This is a lifestyle for many. We even admire it at times!

Compare exhaustion to relaxation. Ultimately, with exhaustion, you can’t move, nor do you want to move. The sudden absence of extraneous movement will feel good to those who are prone to exhaustion. But with relaxation, in the tai chi sense of the word, you are simultaneously alert and ready to move. In fact, it feels good to move. It is a source of joy. Just watch any infant in a waking state. Moving is a source of fun. With relaxation you are ready to respond! You are ready to explore and engage.

I was teaching a class to some beginners in a less than desirable situation. We had half of a basketball court. The other half of the court had a group of young athletes having fun shooting hoops. Renegade basketballs inevitably came bouncing our way. One student was hit twice. Not very relaxing! These were beginner students, but if this had been an advanced class, this would be a GREAT way to train. The advanced student would pay attention to the instructions, follow the exercise, but also be aware of the other half of the basketball court. You take in the whole picture and include it. One aspect of tai chi training is being aware of the external world so that you can protect yourself. Alert, but not tense. You align yourself with what is. I feel more relaxed just thinking about this as a possibility.

A while back on a wet cold icy day, I was walking to work very carefully to make sure that I wouldn’t fall. I have delicate knees and I am careful to prevent giving them an unwanted twist. I walked all the way to the building safe and sound. But as I was walking on the hard linoleum in the halls indoors, I struck upon a hidden wet spot and took a complete fall to the ground. Wham! I simply got up without any injury. I think the sense of being whole, relaxed and round helped me with that fall. Somehow I did it right. (We do not train in tai chi in how to fall!)

Once you are aware of stress and tension, does the alternative experience that you are learning from tai chi come to the rescue? You may have to go through some feelings of stress. But if you are a tai chi student you do have some tools in dealing with it. For one, the increased awareness that your body is out of kilter will help you identify the Not-Relaxed state. The second thing is that you can practice tai chi or simple standing meditation to help get you back on track. Even this may not necessarily help when you are in a stressful situation. But what does help is that, knowing you are out of kilter and tense, you will more readily want to find a way to return to a state of centered relaxation.

I do get knocked off center, but my body wants to get back to a whole relaxed state as soon as possible. It seems that I return to “normal” more quickly these days. I look for solutions, or go through the stressful process knowing that something else exists.

I know it because I’ve been practicing it, every day, for years.

My body knows it. Yours can too!

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Tai chi, amoebic flow and freeways

Posted By Tom Daly on September 19th, 2009

It strikes me that in tai chi, a central theme has to do with working with two aspects at once. And these two aspects are polar opposites of a spectrum.

The first polarity would be the sense that you are an amoeba. You have no real form, but you definitely are in space and flowing as you want to flow. You fill here, you empty there. You explore here, you dip there. It is easy, unforced, undirected, open. In fact, the lack of force or effort or even too much intention allows you to be flowing and easy.

Then there is the fact that you are definitely moving through a very very specific shape with a specific purpose. It reminds me of the perfection of a freeway system. To get the traffic to flow in a meaningful way, we create channels that form the turns of the freeway so that the cars can accommodate the freeway and the other cars. The specificity of the channel gives order and meaning to the flow of the cars. It perfectly accommodates the situation in order to get you where you need to go. The curves are elegant. They are specific, fixed, smooth, well defined. I’ve often admired the clover like shape of two intersecting freeways. Once you enter into the correct pathway, you zoom in the right direction, adjusting your speed as needed, always accommodating other cars and the sides of the curving pathway.

Tai chi is, of course, a martial art. The tai chi form has a shape with well defined curves and vectors. Yet the way the entire operation moves is from the perspective of an amoeba. The practice, the challenge, is to find the specificity of the shape and flow from within the easy, relaxed, open, directionless feel of the amoeba. The form is the intersection of both qualities. If it looks, from the outside, too much like an amoeba, lacking form or direction, then it lacks the specificity of the martial art. It becomes fuzzy. If it starts to look like slo-mo Karate, then it has lost the open, relaxed, exploratory feel of an amoeba. That’s the edge. It’s neither and it’s both.

Even more, the pathway and the flowing amoeba like quality are actually one. If the freeway is the channel, the pathway, the amoeba quality itself is the fuel that creates that freeway. It fulfills itself as the pathway. So the pathway itself can easily change as the amoeba flow (chi) changes. Another way to think of this is that air itself simply flows around aimlessly, but air can also be a tornado which has a real strength and direction and force and path. The air in the tornado eventually returns to its aimless air-like state of being. Yet another example is water in the ocean. Water molecules are mostly free floating, aimless and flowing, until they become a wave of force, power, direction… and then again relax into a quiet random flow.

As a martial art, both ends work to make tai chi functional. Yet another challenge! If your perfect shape cannot accommodate some force that invades this perfect shape, then you are relying on shape itself, and you will clash with this incoming force. The strongest will “win”. But we say in tai chi “the soft overcomes the hard”. The amoeba quality is there to allow an infinite amount of variation in responding to a force. You are not trapped in your shape. It holds you but you hold it.

On the other hand, if a force invades your shape and you don’t have skill for redirecting that vector force off your center (neutralizing) and then turning it around so that your new shape maximally returns that force back to the attacker, you merely crumble from the attack. Just like that freeway system, you have to be able to find the correct path to redirect that force. Out of this, you then need to find the curve that allows you to return that force right back to the perpetrator. This is very high level skill. This is where your sense of shape comes into play. You need to understand the right shape that will deliver the right results. You momentarily dissolve your old shape (the one that has been attacked) and then regroup so that this force is being redirected back to the attacker.

The form trains you to be sensitive to the forming and dissolving and reforming of various martial arts shapes in a manner similar to an amoeba. Push hands trains you to functionally do the same thing when presented with an actual force. These qualities of flow and shape give you an experience of your body that is hard to find in other disciplines. The matter at hand (you, air, amoeba) has the ability to change and flow and change and flow and ….. endlessly.

Tai chi is a superb method to explore this area and to find shapes that maximize the potential for holding energy (chi, air) and use it efficiently to accomplish your goals.

The mind that is aware of all of this also benefits in similar fashion.

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The Tai Chi Habit

Posted By Tom Daly on September 10th, 2009

The Tai Chi Habit.

Well, not so fast. Let’s look at habits in general….

I was at the Zendo some time ago and I saw something that has stuck in my mind. There was this male sitting in Zen meditation and, along with all of us, he was at it for roughly an hour with a kin-kin walking meditation in the middle. But unlike the rest of the group, his torso was not vertically upright. He held it leaning back, perhaps at a 20 degree angle off the vertical. This was not someone with a disability. He was merely in the habit of leaning back while sitting zazen. In order to do this, he had to be holding muscles tightly to maintain the angle for an hour. Looking at him made my back ache, but I’d guess this felt normal to him. I don’t know where he learned sitting meditation and I suspect he doesn’t have a teacher. But generally, one is taught to sit erect in order to find a line of balance that is comfortable. Just like in tai chi.

So here was a good example of someone with a poor habit, at least in terms of a comfortable posture. Perhaps his habit gave him a sense that what he was doing was comfortable. His muscle holding pattern had been sufficiently developed so that what would hurt the average person felt OK as far as he was concerned. And if you corrected him, the new posture would feel uncomfortable to him. Such are the ways of habit. What’s “wrong” feels right and what’s “right” feels wrong.

In a way, of course, we are all like my example here. The only difference is that our patterns may not be as visible or dramatic. We are in a somewhat correct place, but still, there are uncomfortable holding patterns that are hard to see, and even more difficult to feel, because we have become accustomed to the position. What feels normal is not correct, but merely a habit that blinds us to what would be truly comfortable. There are 656 to 850 muscles in the body (depending on which expert you consult) and to arrange them properly is a science and an art.

In tai chi we are aiming for perfect relaxation so that precisely the muscles that are needed in any given movement are free to do the job exactly as required. Improper muscle usage blocks freedom of movement. This is why the study of tai chi requires great attention. It is very difficult to discern habit and improper use of muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints, from relaxation and proper muscular tonus.

Holding a posture for a long time can be a double edged sword. Often it will reveal that you are tensing some muscle improperly. But habit can also hide poor muscular usage and actually make the habit itself WORSE. We unconsciously tell ourselves, “I am right because it feels right.” But it is the habit that makes it feel right. The mind assumes that what you are doing is correct and this will override the actual experience in the body.

Answers? Here are a few but I can’t claim this is a complete list.

1. A good teacher. (In addition to tai chi, The Alexander Technique is a superb method to focus on recognizing and changing habits.)

2. Aim for comfort. Since comfort may in fact be habit, search for deeper comfort than the level you currently inhabit.

3. Try it different ways to experiment.

4. Aim for the whole picture, not just the isolated area of concern.

5. Do the posture as if you are a marionette and see if you can find a way let the structure fall into place.

6. Use non-doing as a guide.

7. Let the body fill from the inside out and see if you can find a feeling of releasing into space and ground.

8. Balance the top of your head with the bottom of your feet with the right and the left and front and back of the room and the four corners. Be balanced in space so you can let your body relax but in a round way.

9. It may be helpful from time to time to look at a mirror and see if what you think you are doing IS what you are doing. It is not a good idea to rely on mirrors, however.

I haven’t bothered here to note habitual ways of THINKING. That is yet another level.

The tai chi habit is to practice on a regular basis, and to examine again and again any habitual patterns (mind and body) that may be interfering with relaxation. We need to play with our structure and test it out.

Let go of being right. Let go of being wrong.

Get in the habit of trying something new.

That’s the tai chi habit!

Tai Chi is a sensory path to sanity

Posted By Tom Daly on May 25th, 2009

In the documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, it is reported from a Canadian researcher that to put a human being in goggles, ear muffs and gloves has the following effect: within 24 hours that person will have hallucinations and within 48 hours that person will have a mental breakdown. The CIA grabbed this information and made use of it on terror suspects. In other words, the goal here is sensory deprivation. Our sanity is grounded in our sensory experience, at least on one level. This appears to be very primal. To me, this is amazing.

In tai chi, we are doing the exact opposite of sensory deprivation. We are becoming more and more involved with our sensory apparatus. We use sight and physical feeling to ground us. The air is used as if it were water – “swimming on land”. The hands are used as if they are listening to the air. We are directed to be aware of the real sounds around us. This is one reason that you don’t have to have a particularly quiet or isolated place to practice. The feet feel the ground and the weight of the body on that ground. The head is suspended as if from above and this is again a feeling. We notice the structure of the body, the parts in relationship to each other. There is also the awareness of your body in space, along with awareness of the space you are in. While we are not actively looking around, the eyes are open and letting the scenery come to you – a soft focus (not to be confused with making your own eyes blurry.) This reminds me of fish in a fish tank, aware of all that is surrounding us, sort of floating in the space itself.

In tai chi, we are actively using the senses to connect us to our bodies and the surroundings. Many of us have jobs, or mental habits, that disconnect us from our bodies and the surroundings. Have you ever mulled over a problem in your mind only to discover that you didn’t hear the phone ring? Or that you are holding the object that you are looking for? Or the time passes and you didn’t realize you were late for your next activity? Or you missed your subway stop? Or any number of results whereby you are momentarily separated from what is immediately in front of you. We all have!

Tai chi training is about being here now (just like many meditation practices.) The way that tai chi does this is through physical grounding. I suspect those of us who like our physical experience tend to like tai chi, in contrast to our mental or emotional worlds.

Regardless – the tai chi experience uses sensory awareness to connect us to the immediate. The added benefit here is that it is a moving awareness so that it not only adds to your awareness of body and space, but you are moving with your body through space. Your body itself is changing as you move, so there is much to be aware of, and connect to. This level of sensory awareness and movement makes for a challenging and enjoyable experience, one that will carry itself forward into your every day life. I believe this is one reason those of us who love tai chi enjoy it so much: physical awareness feels good.

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Tai Chi Shows Help for Stroke Patients. New York Times reports.

Posted By Tom Daly on April 11th, 2009

April 7, 2009. New York Times report by Eric Nagourney:

Stroke patients who practice tai chi may improve their balance — reducing the risk of falls, researchers say.

Writing in the journal Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, the researchers reported improvement in volunteers after as little as six weeks of training. The lead author was Stephanie S. Y. Au-Yeung of Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

In earlier research, one of the article’s co-authors, Christina W. Y. Hui-Chan, found that tai chi improved balance among healthy elderly people. For this study, the researchers wanted to see if the same effect would occur among stroke patients.

They took 136 people who had a stroke six months or more earlier and divided them into two groups. Over 12 weeks, one group did general exercise, the other a modified version of tai chi.
The tai chi group met once a week for an hour, and were asked to practice at home about three hours a week.

While the exercise group showed little improvement in balance, the tai chi group made significant gains when they were tested on weight-shifting, reaching and how well they could maintain their stability on a platform that moved like a bus.

The benefit of tai chi, the researchers said, is that once the forms are mastered, they can be done without supervision.

Still, they said, some patients lapsed in their practice after the training was over. They might be more likely to continue, the study said, if tai chi were available at places like community centers.

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