Tai Chi has all the benefits associated with meditation but does not involve sitting on the floor with eyes closed and being still that some westerner’s find so alien. Standing up and going through the gentle exercises of Tai Chi as a moving meditation is more natural to many. Meditation is a great thing but as it is not part of Western culture and can seem so very different, some people just don’t take to it.The scientifically proven benefits to health and mental well being of meditation, along with better balance and posture can be gained through regular Tai Chi practice.
Don’t think, feel.
~ Bruce Lee
The Tai Chi form.
A large part of Tai Chi is the form, a sequence of movements which can take up to half an hour to perform, short versions of the Tai Chi form may take just a few minutes and can be more suitable for a busy life style. While doing the Tai Chi form your body and breathing slow right down, this induces the calm state of mind associated with meditation. Just to keep your balance and an even pace throughout the form calls for a heightened concentration and simple focus that is refreshing in itself. To be fully concentrating in the here and now requires us to let go of any thoughts to do with the past or future this causes a back down to earth relaxation.
You don’t have to sit still.
The hardest thing in seated meditation for beginners, us westerner’s especially, is to sit without fidgeting. In Tai Chi as a moving meditation this pressure is removed, the body does not get in the way of meditation as the meditation is on the body and how it moves through space. Rather than stiffening up sat in one position for a long time Tai Chi stretches the body in many different, you can feel your breathing automatically change as the body opens and loosens.
Mind and body together.
So much of ourselves can get caught up in thinking that we almost switch off from our body for periods of time. Tai chi puts our attention into feeling the body and how it moves, this creates a oneness, mind and body together.In the fast pace of modern life we can feel very scattered. You might be planning the day ahead mentally but emotionally be caught in an argument that you had an hour before and your body is somewhere else.
I’m at three with nature!
~ Woody Allan
Anyone watching a top gymnast preform cannot help but be spellbound. The mental and emotional focus needed is matched by the demands of physical strength and flexibility. Top level gymnasts have the ability to bring the mind and body together in a way that can be breath taking, but what about the rest of us?
Just by slowing any movement that we do down our mind is drawn more sharply into concentrating on it and by regularly practicing Tai Chi this concentration becomes a habit.
The centred focus that Tai Chi creates is a mind body unity that lingers after your Tai Chi session.
Western phycology has found that there are huge therapeutic benefits to the Eastern meditation practice of mindfulness. If patients suffering from stress anxiety or depression, can even briefly fully focus on the here and now, negative thoughts loose their overwhelming energy and life becomes more simple. Zen, a form of Buddhism, puts a great emphasis on being completely mindful of the action that you are performing right now. A lot of Japanese culture, from the tea ceremony to swordsmanship are all different ways to develop mindfulness. Therapists are finding that stripped of their religious or cultural wrappings meditation techniques such as mindfulness can have huge benefits.
The fact that when practicing Tai Chi you are becoming very aware of your posture breathing and balance means that you are practicing mindfulness.
Flow and the unstoppable mind.
To us westerners ‘unstoppable mind’ would probably conjure up an image of a runaway train thundering through all that stood before it. To the Japanese swordsman unstoppable mind meant a mind that never became frozen even for a brief second in a life threatening situation. A top swordsman would keep flowing through one attacker after another, never hesitating never distracted. We may never more than partly reach the focused flow of a top swordsman, or ever need to, but a bit of it would be good!
How do we move in the direction of unstoppable mind?
The first step towards developing this quality is to have a regular practice or training session were the body and therefore the mind is moving in a flowing way, both the silk reeling exercises and the tai chi form achieve this.
The second step would be to become aware of when we become mentally frozen in our daily lives even for a moment. The other side of this particular coin are the times when we over react to something too quickly. The word responsibility means our ability to respond to something, this means dealing with situations in life smoothly and appropriately. If living up to this unstoppable mind sounds like a tall order that’s because it is! We can all give it a go and try at least but remember not to beat yourself up by judging yourself. Just by observing how we can be taken aback by a sudden challenge is the first step in melting a habitual response of freezing up.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step ~ Chinese saying
Silk reeling is a term that you may come across in Tai Chi, it is a concept that probably will need no further explanation if you are Chinese. Silk was once a luxury cloth who’s method of production, the silk worm, was a well kept Chinese secret. The method of extracting the silk from the silk worm, when it was done by hand before modern machinery , required a smooth continuous action that was a skill in itself. A similar smooth continuous movement is sought in Tai Chi and the foundation training in Chen style Tai Chi is actually called silk reeling.
The three great advantages of the silk reeling exercises are the following:
- They are very easy to learn compared with a Tai Chi form.
- They don’t require much room as they can be done on the spot.
- A beginner can immediately experience the feeling of the Tai Chi form without having to learn more than one move.
Hard and soft mind.
Hard and soft mind is a useful concept to describe the mental state that we want when doing Tai Chi. Hard mind is the feeling we have as we battle through the rush hour or worse, cant find the car keys in the first place! Hard mind has a heavy and intense feel, while soft mind has a light relaxed and playful quality about it. An example of soft mind might be sitting on a River bank on a hot day in summer with your feet in the water, eyes closed and just feeling the sensation of the current pulling your feet. You could say that hard mind is always trying to get somewhere else and soft mind is just exploring where it is.
Silk reeling induces soft mind and for this the slower that it is done the better.
When things are young they are soft and pliant, however with age they become hard and unbending. To slow down this hardening effect we would do well to practice silk reeling and soft mind. Even finding just a few minutes each day can make a difference over a period of time. We can all get caught up in a busy fast pace life style to the point that we forget, apart from maybe on a holiday, that there is another mental state other than hard mind. With regular practice silk reeling can make it more easy to switch into the soft mind way of being.
Agile into old age.
The effortless silent glide of your modern car can have a mood enhancing effect compared to driving an old banger. The more agile smooth and effortless that we can be in our movements and posture the more our mind can flow free. In our image obsessed culture people worry unduly about how young they look but is ant it better if you look your age but can move like someone ten years younger or more? As with many things it all starts in the mind, a calm relaxed mind. By practicing Tai Chi as a moving meditation, you will be improving yourself both mentally and physically at the same time.
It is often older people in the west that like to do a crossword puzzle every day and it becomes as much a part of their routine as having breakfast.
In the East many people when they retire have more time to practice Tai Chi, maybe we have something to learn from each other?
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