Integrity in Motion
Tai Chi is often called "Meditation in Motion". While this conjures up imagery of students basking in the morning sun, gracefully moving through their forms, reflections dancing gently on a nearby pond, I personally feel it is a bit misleading, especially during the first few years of Tai Chi training when simple coordination and concentration are such an effort. After the basics are comfortable THEN the hard training begins in earnest.
I am always reminding my students, "If it is easy, then it is NOT Tai Chi". Creating that "effortless" movement only looks easy. Consider how beautiful and graceful (even effortless) the Olympic Gymnast or Figure Skater looks when performing their routines for a captivated audience. Then consider the amount of personal sacrifice that went into that performance; countless hours, weeks and years of proper diet, consistent exercise and repetitive training. So then why do new students walking into our Tai Chi classes think that they can master this process of training the body in a few short weeks? The ones that stay with the program soon begin to discover its treasures through better balance, improved strength, coordination and concentration but the forms are far from graceful at this point in training. Years will pass before one feels "comfortable" with the forms. This is perfectly natural as there is no substitute for time and consistent training.
Supporting the Sky
In last week's classes we paid close attention to our spine and giving ourselves a strong, well rooted stance. Tai Chi has its roots in Daoist Philosophy which clearly observes balance in all things as is well represented in the Yin Yang symbol. Therefore, to focus only on Grounding would ignore half of the equation; Supporting the Sky brings that all important balance to this spinal training. Both Grounding and Supporting the Sky begin in the lower Dan Tien then travel in opposite directions down or up the spine respectively. This combined focus on spinal flow creates a level II Qigong Principle focus called Needle in the Cotton.
When we wiggle our fingers, the brain has sent signals through our nervous system to the appropriate muscle groups which then create the desired movement. As an added bonus, our eyes provide visual confirmation of this action. In another example, when we tighten our abdominal muscles we can not "see" them flex (at least most of us can't) we have to feel it happen. This internal focus translates (simply enough) as "listening". In order to truly train your body effectively, you must heighten you ability to "tune in" to yourself through deeper concentration. One of the most effective relaxation techniques I know is the visualization of sinking into the bed with every exhale. This "imagination play" very effectively communicates with the brain and begins the process releasing muscles in an effort to provide the desired sensation of sinking into the bed. When working on spinal strengthening through the Needle in the Cotton Principle, visualization (imagining both the Grounding Energy and Supporting the Sky's Rising Energy) is a very important tool. Being able to confirm your efforts through effective "listening" allows you to close the loop on the process giving you positive confirmation of your actions.
A Mind/Body Road Map
If you decide that Tai Chi is for you then realize that it will take time and sincere effort to produce the desired results. There are no magic pills or substitutions for the focused attention, deep concentration and precise alignments required to be successful. Consider yourself an explorer of unknown terrain (your body and mind). You are setting out on an adventure that will give you a much clearer "road map" of yourself. Providing you the opportunity to affect real change within your own "body world". This journey will take a deep commitment to yourself, a determination that will challenge you mentally, physically and emotionally. Simply put, Tai Chi is about creating Integrity in Motion.