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 – 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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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!

Investing in Loss (in tai chi)

Posted By Tom Daly on August 29th, 2009

In tai chi, investing in loss usually refers to absolutely refusing to use strength during push hands. How do you push someone using four ounces of strength? When you give up using strength, you tend to lose the game for a long time… Then a new understanding appears in that empty space where once you used strength. Something new appears.

Here is some verse to think upon.

Investing in Loss.

Investing in loss is
the tough choice
of choosing
to give up
something you want
to see what happens
when you don’t get it.

It is an action
you choose
to do
then feel
then experience…

Then you decide
if what you lose
is worth the price
of what you gain

or if what you gained
is worth the price
of what you lose

Invest in loss is
blood guts sweat and tears
shame and pride.
Your body must do it
as does the mind.

It may be MIRACULOUS, too.
It may open doors
unseen before and locked
Now they swing wide open.

So choose carefully,
wring the towel dry
of all hope of getting something
in return

(because pretty words will never get you there,
no matter how inspiring…)

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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, Stress and Struggle – NOT!

Posted By Tom Daly on May 9th, 2009

Our world, our lives, at many times, involves stress and struggle. It is one of those things that actually creates growth and innovation. Tai chi has a great deal to teach us regarding stress and struggle. While we are programmed for fight or flight, there is an alternative.

There is stress, and then there is STRESS!!!!! And depending on our conditioning, this is either a good thing or a bad thing. We all know of that individual (perhaps you?) that actually finds the challenge of overcoming stress to be enjoyable. There are those of us who want nothing more than to avoid it. It’s too uncomfortable. We avoid it to the extent that when we can’t, we have stress on top of stress. I often see stress as “good” stress or “bad” stress. One motivates, the other defeats! That boundary, the shift from good to bad varies with each individual.

Learning tai chi for most beginners is a challenge. We are asked to be very specific in what we are doing with the hands and feet and pelvis and torso and head and the “center” (tan t’ien). The effort to be correct is anything but relaxing, yet we are encouraged to be correct, and then relax. Or more perplexing, relax and this will correct you. Of course both are true, but underneath all of this is a stressful situation. It is inherent in the learning process. In this way, tai chi replicates life.

I recall my own beginning. I was sort of good at putting the hands and feet in the right place. Then my teacher noted, “You work very hard…. TOO hard!” Man, you can’t win! I thought. But that is the teaching of tai chi – there are layers and looking correct is not necessarily correct. To be in the right shape, but not hold the shape, to relax the shape, to allow the shape to emerge from the movement, from the ground, from the air, from the center – all of this is going on. We tend to put ourselves in a vise, to squeeze ourselves into what we think is correct.

So to begin tai chi is to volunteer to work with something that looks easy, but in fact is not. This is dealing with stress in a good way, a playful way. Beginners need to pick at it bit by bit and enjoy the small victories until the day when it finally falls, more or less, into place. It is a pleasurable process. This is one reason that we learn it so slowly. We can’t be overwhelmed by the process in order to learn. We deal with enough stress to learn, but we do this slowly so that eventually there is some ease and relaxation too. Sometimes you just have to hang in there with the discomfort before grace falls from above.

My teacher, Maggie Newman, is always looking for a way to make it more comfortable. That may seem trivial, but in fact it is essential. Consider what Laurence Gonzales in Deep Survival, Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why has to say about children aged 6 and under. This group has one of the highest survival rates when caught in a disastrous situation, better than experienced hunters, physically fit hikers, former members of the military or skilled sailors. One aspect is that they try to make themselves comfortable, and staying comfortable helps keep them alive.

It is hard to say what will create real relaxation and comfort – each of us responds to something different, though each of us must maintain some level of effort to continue on. For some, this can take quite a while. This can feel like a struggle. Yet, stay with it long enough and it will happen. I have never seen anyone not make progress in their work on tai chi.

But wait! It gets worse! Now you have to be all of that, and let someone attack you. A new stress and a very complicated struggle. How on earth can relaxation lead to a martial art? Put two bodies together – any two bodies – and you have a struggle. In fact you have two layers of struggle: the first is within your own body, which now refuses to maintain all the hard won relaxation (mysteriously vanished!) and the second struggle is between two bodies as you try to deal with your partner’s attack.

Here, again, the wonder of tai chi gives you a new challenge. I often work with advanced form students who think that because they have skill in the form that this will automatically translate into good push-hands. They don’t realize that they have to take what skill they have and add to it. The only way to add to it is to practice push-hands with a partner. Because push-hands is complex, this requires great attention and time. The more you practice, the more you learn and the more interesting it becomes. But at first, it is usually a mystery (and a frustrating one at that!)

Of course, you have been practicing some of these skills while learning the form, but this context is very different. Now you have to adjust to an outside force that is moving at you. What are these new skills? Fundamentally, you need to stick and follow the direction of your partner. You have to play THEIR tune, and this requires listening with your physical body. You intentionally create harmony. You become as easy to move as a helium balloon, but as grounded as the Empire State Building. Stick, follow, listen… stick, follow, listen. AND keep connecting them into your feet. Make the two of you one big ball. You are only half of the equation at this point, no longer the whole ball that you were when doing the form. Don’t disturb their pathway. Again, find a way to make this comfortable. This becomes YOUR responsibility. If a pressure presents itself, be sure it connects to your rooted foot. These are rather new skills that you add to your relaxed, structurally sound, whole body movement from the form. One teacher told a push hands class to NOT STRUGGLE. Give up struggling. How? That is part of the struggle, discovering how to give up struggling. Again, there is intentionality at play here, and new skills to be learned.

So in a special way, tai chi replicates stress and struggle in life, but simultaneously offers you solutions to that very stress and struggle. Tai chi is about solving that problem. What a wonderful problem to solve!

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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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