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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New York Times editorial: Slow practice may be the stuff of genius.

Posted By Tom Daly on May 1st, 2009

We emphasize slow practice in tai chi. This editorial notes just how important slow deliberate practice can be. Tom

May 1, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
Genius: The Modern View

By DAVID BROOKS

Some people live in romantic ages. They tend to believe that genius is the product of a divine spark. They believe that there have been, throughout the ages, certain paragons of greatness — Dante, Mozart, Einstein — whose talents far exceeded normal comprehension, who had an other-worldly access to transcendent truth, and who are best approached with reverential awe.
We, of course, live in a scientific age, and modern research pierces hocus-pocus. In the view that is now dominant, even Mozart’s early abilities were not the product of some innate spiritual gift. His early compositions were nothing special. They were pastiches of other people’s work. Mozart was a good musician at an early age, but he would not stand out among today’s top child-performers.

What Mozart had, we now believe, was the same thing Tiger Woods had — the ability to focus for long periods of time and a father intent on improving his skills. Mozart played a lot of piano at a very young age, so he got his 10,000 hours of practice in early and then he built from there.

The latest research suggests a more prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of the world. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It’s not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess. Instead, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft.

The recent research has been conducted by people like K. Anders Ericsson, the late Benjamin Bloom and others. It’s been summarized in two enjoyable new books: “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle; and “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin.

If you wanted to picture how a typical genius might develop, you’d take a girl who possessed a slightly above average verbal ability. It wouldn’t have to be a big talent, just enough so that she might gain some sense of distinction. Then you would want her to meet, say, a novelist, who coincidentally shared some similar biographical traits. Maybe the writer was from the same town, had the same ethnic background, or, shared the same birthday — anything to create a sense of affinity.

This contact would give the girl a vision of her future self. It would, Coyle emphasizes, give her a glimpse of an enchanted circle she might someday join. It would also help if one of her parents died when she was 12, infusing her with a profound sense of insecurity and fueling a desperate need for success.

Armed with this ambition, she would read novels and literary biographies without end. This would give her a core knowledge of her field. She’d be able to chunk Victorian novelists into one group, Magical Realists in another group and Renaissance poets into another. This ability to place information into patterns, or chunks, vastly improves memory skills. She’d be able to see new writing in deeper ways and quickly perceive its inner workings.

Then she would practice writing. Her practice would be slow, painstaking and error-focused. According to Colvin, Ben Franklin would take essays from The Spectator magazine and translate them into verse. Then he’d translate his verse back into prose and examine, sentence by sentence, where his essay was inferior to The Spectator’s original.

Coyle describes a tennis academy in Russia where they enact rallies without a ball. The aim is to focus meticulously on technique. (Try to slow down your golf swing so it takes 90 seconds to finish. See how many errors you detect.)

By practicing in this way, performers delay the automatizing process. The mind wants to turn deliberate, newly learned skills into unconscious, automatically performed skills. But the mind is sloppy and will settle for good enough. By practicing slowly, by breaking skills down into tiny parts and repeating, the strenuous student forces the brain to internalize a better pattern of performance.

Then our young writer would find a mentor who would provide a constant stream of feedback, viewing her performance from the outside, correcting the smallest errors, pushing her to take on tougher challenges. By now she is redoing problems — how do I get characters into a room — dozens and dozens of times. She is ingraining habits of thought she can call upon in order to understand or solve future problems.

The primary trait she possesses is not some mysterious genius. It’s the ability to develop a deliberate, strenuous and boring practice routine.

Coyle and Colvin describe dozens of experiments fleshing out this process. This research takes some of the magic out of great achievement. But it underlines a fact that is often neglected. Public discussion is smitten by genetics and what we’re “hard-wired” to do. And it’s true that genes place a leash on our capacities. But the brain is also phenomenally plastic. We construct ourselves through behavior. As Coyle observes, it’s not who you are, it’s what you do.

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Basics in How to Progress in Tai Chi Chuan

Posted By Tom Daly on April 29th, 2009

Over the years, I have seen many students come and go. Of those that stay, some progress, and some actually regress. I wanted to state a few basics on what I see in those who progress.

The first requirement, of course, is a GOOD TEACHER. By that I mean someone who has something you want to learn. It’s that simple. Some are more articulate than others, or can demonstrate what they want from you with greater accuracy, but your teacher has to have the goods you want in your life.

The next major requirement is ATTENDING AS MANY CLASSES AS POSSIBLE. Some students have a “yoga” mindset. You drop in when you feel like it. I think yoga is great, but tai chi is not like yoga at all. Attending all or most classes is crucial in tai chi development. Attending every other class, or when you feel like it, or when it doesn’t get in the way of your social schedule never ever leads to progress. You have to be there to get it. Books and videos may be of interest, or even help you, but nothing replaces uninterrupted class attendance.

PRACTICE ON A REGULAR BASIS is another requirement. My teacher’s teacher, Prof. Cheng Man-Ch’ing claimed it was better to practice twice a day and, if needed, skip meals or get less sleep.

Next, students that really progress TAKE NOTES and review them to capture details or nuances that they know they need to work on. There is simply too much to learn to keep it all in your head. Some habits are so deep that you need to devote a portion of your practice time to breaking the habit. Writing it down keeps you on track. You are less likely to forget what you already don’t know.

The next item on my list would be to periodically LOOK AT WHAT YOU ARE NOT DOING. How? Just ask the question – what do I not give attention to in my practice? Maybe you are really good about how you use your feet, the placement, the weight on your feet, the transfer of weight into your feet, etc. So the opposite would be: what are you doing with your head placement and relaxation? If “sinking” is your joy, what about the counterbalance of the up movement? And so on.

Lastly, REFOCUS ON “NON-DOING”. You can always work on non-doing in tai chi. When we learn tai chi, initially we do a lot of “doing”. Non-doing is the essence of tai chi, the most challenging aspect to manifest. We need to come back to it again and again because in our zeal to master the tai chi postures, we tend to get caught up in what we need to do. The question of doing less of something (muscle use, effort) or simply “being” while moving through the postures can get lost in the effort to succeed.

These observations come from looking at fellow students and teachers since 1982.

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Tai Chi Chuan and Change

Posted By Tom Daly on March 8th, 2009

One Fundamental aspect of tai chi is change. The one constant in the tai chi form as well as push hands is change. You are always doing it. You are never fixed or solid. The only moment of solidity may be when you discharge during a push, the moment when you have the advantage and can take it. You take advantage of your advantage. You undermine your partner’s momentary lack of change. Actually, I’m not sure if solid is the right way, this is still a question. Certainly, you are more full when you discharge, but maybe not solid.

Some changes are large. Like during push hands you run into the hard spot, the stuck moment of your partner. Then you change direction so that you are going under this hard spot, or going into the weak spot, or like a current of water that hits a rock, goes around the hard spot. All are big changes. Green light to red light to green light.

But there are small micro changes too. As you move through the form, your shape keeps morphing, amoeba like, into a new shape. And this happens in analog fashion, smoothly, effortlessly and within each tiny moment. It is like you can take a three second sequence and chop it up into 1000 tiny bits. Each bit is a complete change. Our minds can’t quite keep up with this, but it shows up when you don’t do it.

Often we don’t change. When you don’t change, the “not-change” hangs on. So the movement gets stuck or off balance or out of kilter. The whole is no longer whole, but in two parts. One part static, another part fluid. It feels wrong somehow. Or worse, it feels OK because you can’t feel the part that isn’t changing. You assume something that isn’t true. This now feels normal somehow. Habit creates a sort of blindness and you don’t see or feel your stuck unchanging places. You can fool yourself for a while, but when you get to partner work in push-hands, you will get pushed. We push each other to help each other find our stuck places.

In tai chi, as in life, we deeply need each other to learn what is stuck and how to free it. When you get pushed, the best attitude is one of gratitude. This is not some sort of false piety or humility. How else will you grow? Of course, in the normal course of our human interactions in push-hands, we often get frustrated or angry. Even more amusing, we blame them for doing it wrong when they push us! How backwards we get it. It takes great skill to create a situation to see what is really needed and to appreciate it.

I can recall an interaction when I literally stopped the game and left the “ring” because I was so angry. I really needed a huge change! But so did my partner. In retrospect, thinking about my anger, it amuses me to think how much I enjoy that memory today. I even really love that partner – he’s a lovable person. Yet in that moment, in that context, what he was doing drove me out of the room in anger. Or so I thought. You have to go through certain experiences to find a new change. I couldn’t change then, I simply reacted. Today, the same situation would be totally different. I have a more mature understanding, more options, and I wouldn’t have to flee. I can thank him now for driving me nuts then!

The tai chi space has to be carefully tended so that we can practice in a spirit of mutual cooperation and trust. This is something very delicate to achieve, though it can be done. We need to find the right balance to get it right. In one sense, you are always creating this safe space, a space where real play, and exchange, and change can happen. Generosity of spirit is needed. A lack of being judgmental is needed. Playing the game at the right level needs to be agreed upon. The changes here are very very fine indeed. It is an act of mutually creating a playing space that works for both of you. It takes two to do this.

The point of practicing change goes beyond your physical ability. Clearly it is advantageous to be able to change. Fast, instantly, in a microsecond. Because sometimes life itself is like that. A still body, at rest, has tremendous change due to breathing and blood flow. A static body simply doesn’t exist until it dies.

In a deep way, you have to listen to your body to hear what is stuck, and then you have to let go. You may not even be able to let go. You may not know how to let go. But this fundamental practice, noticing what is stuck and then letting go, is a basic practice in your form and push hands work.

This is what tai chi is about: living, life, fluidity, change. Change is our issue, our blood, our breath. You are not solid, the ground is solid. Even the ground is not solid, but by comparison it is more solid than your body. To be able to change, to practice change, to see change, to have the options that change provides is a high level. It feels right. It creates health, physical as well as mental health. When you give up changing, you begin the process of dying.

Tai chi = Life. This is one of the most primary and deep aspects of practice. Is it not better to be able to change, anywhere, at any time, for any reason, than to not change?

Change is the option always on the table. It’s a good thing to practice.

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