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IS TAI-CHI DYING?

Is Tai-chi dying? Are there still teachers teaching the intricate mechanics, the physics, the dynamics of mind and energy that underlies the beautiful movements? Or are we playing “Simple Simon”? Simple Simon says, “do this”; simple Simon says “do that”.

Are we, as teachers, worried that if we actually ask students to learn the principles that they will leave our classes and switch to a simpler form of exercise? Has Tai-chi become a collection of “techniques” or is it still a transformative experience?

These are the questions I ask as I look around at the practice of Tai-chi as it is today. I see push hands players standing in tense, misaligned positions and knocking their arms around. I see people doing forms with all their energy bound up in their heads and upper backs, with locked hips.

I hesitate to bring this up because each Tai-chi teacher feels he or she is doing Tai-chi the “right way”. It is just those other people over there who are doing it wrong. We should be open minded and allow for variations of practice, I am told.

In this post, I am asking other Tai-chi teachers this question, to answer just within yourself. Do you feel that you are aware of, feel and practice the internal practice? Is your mind connected to each muscle and joint? Is your mind evenly distributed throughout your body or can you pay attention to the body only from the head? Is each part of the body independently conscious and is it in a creative relationship with each other part of the body or is this question meaningless to you?

Tai-chi is a practice designed to lead you to an experience of, and healing of your internal state which then affects your relationship to the rest of the world. Has it been that for you and have you found ways of transmitting that experience to your students so they actually feel it?

What do you feel is the state of Tai-chi practice today?

TAI-CHI AND THE BIG BANG THEORY

How can the big bang theory and other scientific concepts be used to illustrate principles of Tai-chi? Both science and Tai-chi principles can be difficult to grasp but if they are compared, then both become clearer.

In this example I use the big bang theory to explain an advanced aspect of Tai-chi training. The scientific theory of the origin of the universe begins with nothing – no space, matter, energy or time. The universe exists as a “singularity” and then explodes, creating space, matter, energy, and time. As it progresses, the individual stars, planets and other heavenly bodies evolve. The question is, will the universe keep expanding until its energy gives out and then die out? Will it expand to a certain size and then shrink back to a singularity? Will it reach a steady state? These questions are worked out mathematically and I don’t attempt to out-think the physicists and astrophysicists but just use their attempts to understand the universe to clarify our attempts to understand Tai-chi.

One of the most difficult aspects of Tai-chi is that you have to become aware of every joint and muscle of the body and how each operates at every second of your movements. This requires a type of attention that is everywhere at the same time. Yet our attention is fixed and located in a specific place (the head). It doesn’t have to be so, yet our culture created this condensation of attention in the head.

In my studies of animal behavior (I was an ethologist), and work with thousands of animals in the field and in captivity, I have found that their attention is more evenly distributed throughout their bodies. Human athletes also have this quality of attention.

For a student to be able to function with precision and grace, he has to go through a process in which the attention is allowed to individuate (to be located in each joint and muscle of the body). The head cannot direct this attention by the thinking process, because thinking is slow and awkward.

In order to have the attention individuate (seep into every part of the body and function there), the fixed point of the attention in the head (the singularity of attention) has to empty. Every increase in individuation of attention requires an equal emptying of the singularity of attention in the head.

If we look at the big bang theory, this would mean that as the universe individuates, the singularity must continue to empty. So the singularity doesn’t cease to exist, rather, it is in a balanced relationship with individuation so that its emptying is equal to the evolution of the universe. The existence of the universe doesn’t end the singularity but is one side of the whole while the emptiness is the other side.

Again, I am not trying to be a physicist but just trying to illustrate a Tai-chi principle. So what is this concept of “emptying”? In Tai-chi it is relaxing, letting go and not fixating on anything. Our attention is usually so weak that it can easily be grabbed by our senses, thoughts and emotions. Most of us are at the mercy of these sensations and have no independent existence. Any form of meditation helps to develop the “passive observer”, a state in which the attention is vibrant but cannot be grabbed.

If your attention is not in this state then it is very hard to concentrate on many things at once. The very idea of “you” concentrating on something else means that you are in a state of fixed attention in the head or in the thinking process. If attention is more individuated the individual parts of the body have more say over how you do your form or your push hands and it becomes more creative and spontaneous.

The attention in the head and thinking process does not have to end in order to allow the body to be filled with attention, but rather it has to “empty”. It has to move toward the “passive observer” state, which we call “Yin”. Yin is not the absence of “Yang” but the balancing of “Yang”.

Yin attention is not “held” and can seep into every part of the body and function there. It can seep into your surroundings as well. When it seeps into a natural area, in which randomness predominates, the attention can easily stay Yin. When it seeps into our modern world, with its geometric, fixed structures, the Yin attention turns Yang. We order the world around us to maintain a fixed Yang attention, which is why it is so hard for us to flow in a Tai-chi form or to relax in everyday life.

If we then use these ideas in Tai-chi to understand the big bang theory, then we have to look for a process of “emptying the singularity”, which again does not lead to an end state of but is a continuing process that balances the evolution of the universe.

This is a very difficult achievement for Tai-chi students – to realize that letting go is not a goal with an end but is a continuous process. It is the letting go that initiates the movement. Tensing does not initiate a movement. One of my students realized that he keeps putting breaks into his letting go. He lets go a little and then stops because he feels he has “achieved” the letting go.

In astrophysics there is an increasing understanding of how “black holes” help in the evolution of the universe. These holes are really matter that is so dense and has so much gravity that nothing can escape them, not even light. It is like attention that is so settled into the body that it cannot be disturbed and grabbed.

When a person is comfortable within their own bodies and relaxed, this draws other people to them, just as a black hole pulls matter into itself.

The real question for Tai-chi students is, once this individuation is achieved and each part of the body becomes conscious and functional, then where does the intention come from to do anything? If all the attention is dispersed into each cell, organ, muscle and bone of the body and there is only a “passive observer” at the “helm”, then how can things get done?

In Tai-chi theory, it is the balance of the individuation and the passive observer that allows creativity to flow. That creativity is the cooperative conscious activity of every part of you combined with the flow of consciousness through you. The “flow of consciousness through you” requires further explanation.

In ancient cultures consciousness was not considered to be just the activity of nerve cells in the brain. That is a modern idea. Consciousness was considered to be a natural energy, just as as gravity or what we now know of as electro-magnetic force and subatomic forces are natural forces. Each creature lives within these forces and adapts to them. We have joints and muscles to provide leverage to counteract the force of gravity. In the same way, our brains use the flow of consciousness to function. Since this is the understanding of the culture that Tai-chi evolved from, we have to take this into consideration in our training in order to make sense of it.

The state of balance between Yin attention (release) and Yang attention (holding) is the proper state to achieve creativity, not to mention health. But to be willing to “empty” the condensed state of attention in the head is the most difficult task of the Tai-chi student.

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(This is a technical aside for those familiar with these ideas. If you are not involved in the technical aspects of Tai-chi, please skip this paragraph). Yin is often used to denote “condensing” while Yang is used to denote “expanding”. In this case I am using Yin to mean release and Yang to hold. Yang attention is likened to grabbing a bird to see it. While you can see it, the bird is frightened and unmoving and all you can see is its external appearance. Yin attention is when you release the bird. You can see it until it disappears in the trees but what you are seeing is its true behavior, not just its appearance. When Yin is released, it is said to turn into True Yang or expansion. When that True Yang connects, such as the attention connecting to other parts of the body, the connecting is called True Yin. You can also see that holding or Yang (such as holding attention in the head) results in Yin (condensing). This interaction of Yin and Yang where one generates the other shows their interdependence, but you do not need to know this to understand this blog post; I’m just injecting it here for technical clarity. Now back to the blog post.
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The teacher has to use his or her teaching creativity to guide the students to that state. The feeling of this type of letting go (of the singularity in the head) has often been compared to jumping off a cliff. If the teacher has helped to develop the body consciousness (“Body-Mind”), you will have something soft to fall on when you jump off that cliff. You will find that the cliff is only two inches tall.

This brings me to an important point. In each culture the dynamics of the culture are expressed in terms of their cosmology. Their description of how the world started and what is really going on within it is a reflection of the dynamics of their culture. Whether their explanation is of the interaction of the Gods or the mechanics of science, these explanations change as cultures change.

It seems to most of us that science is in a different category than other cosmologies because we strictly test all our theories. But the very structure of our minds is what gave rise to the scientific method and re-enforces it. As someone trained in the sciences, I am dedicated to the scientific method and believe strongly in its effectiveness to reveal “truth”. But I also understand that to some degree, culture affects how we perceive the world around us.

This is clearly shown in Tai-chi training. It is shown in how students interpret what the teacher says, for example. It is difficult for them to accept the teaching in its most simple form because their minds are not ready to receive the ideas and their bodies have not experienced them. And so they interpret teaching in odd ways. A typical example is that in Tai-chi we use “whole body movement”. This means that every joint and muscle is in continuous movement appropriate for what it is doing at that moment. This results in fluidity. Yet many Tai-chi students (and teachers) interpret this to mean that you keep the body stiff, with no movement whatsoever in the torso but the body as a whole moves slowly and smoothly. This latter understanding is clearly absurd yet it is commonly followed.

I was teaching a student to “release your attention out the back as much as you move your attention forward”. He interpreted that to mean that he pay attention to his back (the back of his torso).

We can only understand what our minds allow us to understand. As the dynamics of our minds change through time, our relationship to our bodies and to the environment changes. And then our cosmology changes. Just think what the changes to our attention, caused by our addiction to electronic devices will do to our cosmology in the future.

Tai-chi students must understand the relationship of the dynamics of their attention to their perception and seek to maintain a dynamic, balanced and alive attention, consistent with what is required by the body to maintain health and joy. When you learn to let go, you find that tremendous energy fills you. How would our modern cosmology be affected if everyone practiced Tai-chi?

If every part of our body is experienced as being alive and conscious, then the world around us is experienced the same way. We no longer look at animals as dumb, but filled with consciousness, just of a different nature than ours.

The big bang can be seen as the birth of a living organism and its growth as the growth of that organism, including the growth of consciousness. By making ourselves more alive and conscious as individuals, we are participating in this evolution of the living organism, the universe, just as each cell in our bodies participates in the evolution of ourselves as individuals. And just as the death of one cell of our body is not seen as our own death, the death of individual people is not seen as the end of life but as part of the growth of the larger cycle of life.

If consciousness is a force that flows through us, then the death of an individual is not the death of consciousness. On the other hand when we block the flow of consciousness within us as when our bodies are deadened with our unhealthy life-styles, this is more like a death.

THE TAI-CHI MIND

Tai-chi has a powerful effect on the way our minds work. We are used to using our minds linearly, as you would when reading words in a book, one word after the other. We are trained to use our minds in this way and cannot stop even in our everyday lives.

So when we practice Tai-chi it is very difficult to allow all our joints and muscles to move at the same time. We can only concentrate on one thing, then the next, etc. You may see Tai-chi forms in which the body is held stiffly but the arms and legs move gracefully. This shows the limitation of how many things the student can pay attention to at once.

The goal of Tai-chi practice of course, is to have no such limitations but to allow each part of the body to pay attention to itself, in coordination with all the other joints and muscles. This requires our thinking mind, delegating authority to the body. Yet the thinking mind thinks it is the only thing that can perceive and react to things. It can barely conceive that the body is intelligent.

The Gnostics tell a story of Sofia (representing the seeking for wisdom) trying to find God. During her journey she gave birth to the demiurge (lesser God) and then continued on her journey. The demiurge looked around and realized he was the only one there and thought he was God.

This is a way of saying that the thinking mind is not the King – that each part of the body is a center of intelligence. Tai-chi allows us to achieve this decentralized attention so that we can be better coordinated, healthier and have better relationships with other people.

If our attention is isolated in our heads, as if in a box, then all perception is related to the head. We feel isolated in that box and perceive other people as being boxes. Each of us wants to be a bigger box, or a more powerful, or smarter or braver box. Our identity is related to our isolation.

With decentralized attention, our identity is related to our connections – to other people, to nature, of the mind and the body, etc. We don’t feel opposed to others but connected to them, part of them.

Imagine if everyone in the world had a mind like this. Their very identity would depend on their connection to everyone else and every other living thing. How would the world be different? When a Tai-chi teacher teaches, he or she not only tries to improve his students’ health, but is laying the groundwork for a more peaceful world.

The body requires an even distribution of attention in order to maintain its health. When attention is locked up in the head, the body is starved of the energy of attention. Notice how you feel after finishing a Tai-chi class. Your body feels empowered and connected, relieved of stress. You feel more open to other people and to nature.

You are helping to heal the world every time you take a Tai-chi class or spend time practicing. Remember the principle: “The inside and the outside reflect each other.”

TAI-CHI LESSONS FROM OUR MONTHLY WORKSHOP

The smallest changes in how we use our bodies can lead to much greater health, physical skill and longevity. In our last monthly Tai-chi workshop we learned important lessons that will help in our Tai-chi practice and any other sport.

Rotation of the joints: We often mistake moving a joint around in space for moving the joint itself. For example if we wanted to push we might thrust our hip forward rather than rotating it in place. The sequential movement of the joints within the body, along with the even expansion of the breath, leads to greater force than just throwing your joint at the object you want to push.

But it is hard to feel the difference between these two actions, let alone to sequentially move the joints in the proper order to perform the task. This issue is at the heart of learning any sport or activity. The human body is designed to be very powerful in the intricacy of its movement. We tend to substitute brute physical force for the lack of fine motor coordination.

Your attention needs to be within the joint itself to move it properly. To often we think of a joint as “over there” because our attention is in our head. Human beings are capable of moving the center of our attention within a part of the body to make it function properly. This is an essential part of Tai-chi training.

Movement of the low back: I call the low back the “control panel” because its flexibility is essential in initiating any movement. Even the sacrum, whose bones are fused, should be flexible and the coccyx bone (last bone of the spine) should be very active in your movements. But most people have frozen hips and low backs. All their attention to movement is in the upper body.

In Tai-chi movement begins at the center of the body and then emanates out into the rest of the torso, legs, arms and head. It is like dropping a pebble into a calm lake. Waves then ripple out in all directions. This keeps the movements centered and the body stable. We pay attention to the central area of the body first, especially the low back and create the movement there so that this part of the body moves first.

Our chi-gung system, “zookinesis”, is very effective for developing awareness of and flexibility of the center of the body. There are many exercises that create specific patterns of movement or vibration at the center, which you then allow to flow out through the rest of the body.

Relax the abdomens: The degree of relaxation and tension of the abdomens is vital for proper movement. As an example, when you begin to step, the abdomens (on the side of the stepping leg) relax at an even pace. This relaxation helps to extend the leg. You do not extend the leg by using the muscles of that leg. Stepping is a result of the rotation and relaxation of the opposite hip and the relaxation of the abdomens on the same side as the leg.

Pelvis as shovel: When you shift from back to front the pelvis acts as a shovel. It first circles back as you shift back, then digs in towards the ground as you begin to shift forward (breathing out). Then it lifts as you finish the shift (breathing in) as if you were throwing the dirt from the shovel on a pile in front of you. This rotation of the pelvis during shifting energizes the center of the body and provides grounding in push hands.
It also allows the energy from the torso and legs to interact so your efforts are more efficient. Even walking becomes easier.

We learned much more but you will need to come to the workshops to get the full depth of training.

TAI-CHI HEALING WITH THE ELEMENTS

The modern idea of healing is to cure a disease or injury when it occurs. Tai-chi represents an older, more traditional approach to healing and that is to keep the body healthy so that it can resist disease and injury.

The idea that your body must deteriorate as you age is a modern idea. Those who practice Tai-chi know that you continue to strengthen as you have more years to practice Tai-chi. It is common to see people practicing extreme Tai-chi forms well into their ‘90s.

Tai-chi Tiger Form

If you read this blog you know that Tai-chi training consists of a variety of exercises (forms, chi-gung and push hands) and healing practices (massage, herbal medicine and acupuncture). There are simple principles to all of these practices and they are expressed in the teaching of “the elements”. This set of principles is common throughout the world. A version of “the elements” can be found in Native American, ancient European and other cultures.

There is great variety in how the elements are explained but in the following description I hope to specifically convey the principles of healing.

Earth
Earth is the physical world. It represents how we need to make sense of the world around us by trying to create a coherent story of who we are and what is going on around us. Our society provides this story to us. Within that story we can find ideas that limit us and ideas that free us. The social movements throughout human history are an effort to change the story of the society about who we are and where we came from. They attempt to fashion a story that frees our creativity and allows us to fulfill our potential as human beings.

Earth also represents simplicity. We are encumbered by fears, patterns of habits and tensions, regrets as well as by “stuff” (junk that we buy and don’t need). By simplifying our lives we can remove the ball and chains we are dragging behind us. We can also learn to let go of negative people who are pulling us down and have no intention of really helping themselves to heal.

Earth is also the food that we put inside of our bodies. That food is sacred. When we shovel pre-made, chemically infused who-knows-what into our bodies, we not only injure our health but break the bond between us and the earth. Simply growing some food that you eat repairs that bond. Eating organically, healthy food helps to repair your body.

Earth is the center as our bodies are the center of our consciousness.

We could go on much further about earth, but let us continue to metal.

Metal
Metal is transformation. It is creativity, the ability to allow yourself to change and to see things differently. We take base ore and melt it in heat to extract the metal. In the same way, you (base ore) go through the fire of life and of your training to become the shining pure gold that you are capable of becoming.

And then this metal is turned into useful implements, swords for example. Do you just live your life to take up space or is your life being used to help the world around you? To help heal our world, you must first become transformed in the smelting process and then become fashioned into a healer of some sort. Simply by having been healed, your presence, by example, can help to heal those around you.

Metal is also the element of “animal consciousness”, or the natural “body-mind”. This mind is contrasted to the “clever mind” of modern times. Not that there’s anything wrong with the clever mind – it has produced technology. But the natural mind is the common sense and sensitivity to the natural world that lies at the base of our consciousness. It becomes aware of imbalances in our lives and pushes our behavior to correct those imbalances. In contrast, the “modern mind” seeks the extremes.

When you wake up in the forest and breathe in the beautiful scents, your natural awareness is awakened. Metal is associated with the lungs in Chinese medicine.

Wood
Wood is the element of life itself. It is the way nature unfolds and provides energy to all its creatures to promote the consciousness of metal. It is wood that provides the fuel to transform the metal ore.

Wood is the tree whose branches and leaves reach towards the sun to absorb energy and whose roots reach deep into the soil to absorb water and nutrients. It is an example of the balance of “heaven and earth”.

If you are not rooted well, the events of your life will throw you over easily. To be rooted in an understanding of your personal history and the history of humankind is essential to really know who you are. To be rooted in a love of the natural world and therefore a love of your own health will strengthen your body and soul. To be rooted in your family and community will balance and empower you.

“Heaven” does not refer to the mythological place we go to when we die (if we are good). It refers to yielding to the forces of nature around you so that your life can be lived in harmony with the promotion of the living world. It means accepting that you can become greater than you are now and yielding to teachings of all kinds so you can continue to grow (towards sources of “light” which means knowledge). Wood allows you to become transformed for the better (as it is burned to transform metal ore) while remaining rooted in the real world (earth) so you don’t become an air-head.

A tree provides a home for birds, monkeys, insects and others. It provides food for everyone. It provides the raw material for homes and furniture. It holds the soil to prevent erosion. Wood takes care of the basic needs of life to make our lives easier. Is your life like a tree?

Fire
Fire is the energy of enthusiasm. When you let go of the encumbrances of life, the bitterness, resentments, self-righteousness and anger and learn to appreciate the simple, sacred beauty of the world around you (natural and human), they you can be enthusiastic about life. That enthusiasm goes a long way to healing you and it can be considered to be the result of healing.

Fire is what gets you up in the morning because you love your life and want to live it. It is the heat in relationships that makes you want to interact with other people. Yet it is earth that moderates that heat so you don’t become too aggressive. In this way the elements balance each other and the job of the healer is to find out which element is too strong or too weak. It is the balance that leads to health.

Fire gets you involved in practices like Tai-chi because you appreciate the beauty of the teaching. In this way it transforms you as fire transforms metal ore. Fire is the movement of the exercises, like the dancing flames of the campfire or fireplace.

Fire is the energy flowing through your body when you release the blockages to the flow of chi or when you let go of sorrow. When your muscles let go of their tension through Tai-chi Massage, you feel energy flowing through your body. While you feel very relaxed, you also feel cleansed and energized. Fire has burned up the fear stored in the muscles and released the energy.

Water
Water connects. It is love and compassion. It is the end of the feeling of isolation so that your spirit can “enter the world” and become part of it. Yet it is balanced with earth, which establishes clear distinctions and boundaries, so that we don’t lose our individual identity.

In any relationship there is the fear of losing oneself, yet the desire to lose oneself in the relationship. The balance of water and earth allows both to happen.

Water cleanses. When you release sorrow or physical tension and feel a rush of energy through your body, the element of water then cleans out the debris (like tears cleaning out sorrow). The body is mostly made of water. The lymph cleans out lactic acid and carbon dioxide from cellular metabolism. The intercellular fluid transfers nutrients and oxygen from the blood vessels to the cells.

Yet these fluids have no pump other than the movements of the body. Each muscle of the body must be used, in fluid movement, in order to move the lymph and intercellular fluid. Otherwise the nutrients and oxygen won’t get to the cells to be metabolized and the cells will be bathed in waste. Your food will wind up as fat and you will be tired because your cells are not metabolizing well.

Water conforms to the shape of the container. It is what allows us to be “invisible” during push hands or fighting because we flow with the movements of our partner. It is the principle of not opposing force but flowing around it to continue to come in and accomplish our task.

Water is strategy as it is so adaptable. It allows us to “shed” our fixed patterns and become more creative. This is called “shape shifting” in some cultures. We identify more with our creativity than with our fixed patterns of behavior and thought.

Meaning of the Elements
This is just a hint of the levels of meaning of the elements, their interactions and use in Chinese Traditional Medical Theory. It is a holistic approach in that it considers the body, mind and spirit and the relationship of all aspects of our lives. Each element is associated with a season, a direction, a color, an organ-system, etc.

And so you can discuss the elements in diagnosing an ailment as well as in how you live your life. It is a set of principles based on balance that is useful in every aspect of your life. The way that most people start to learn this system is through Tai-chi practice. The teacher explains how the elements are used to explain aspects of the movements of your Tai-chi form, chi-gung exercises, push hands, massage and, if you go further, the self defense.

This training strengthens each individual from the inside out. It strengthens not only their bodies but their lives as well, allowing them to live full, productive, long and fulfilling lives.

HOW DOES TAI CHI WORK?

Zookinesis and Tai chi promote health.

We hear that Tai chi exercise is much more healing than other types of exercise. It strengthens the internal organs, makes you more flexible, improves the flow of blood, lymph and intercellular fluid, improves the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs, sharpens your attention and strengthens your immune system. How can a simple exercise do all that?

We hear that it has something to do with improving the flow of “chi” energy but for most of us, that means little. The idea of chi is not part of Western culture and we don’t have a feel for what it means. In the almost 40 years of teaching Tai chi and Zookinesis (a type of chi-gung exercise) I have found ways to explain how these exercises work beyond the benefits of other exercises and offer an explanation below:

We modern people pride ourselves in being somehow superior to animals. We think great thoughts. Our behavior is not controlled by instinct. We feel that our superiority is demonstrated by our technology. We have advanced drugs and surgery that save lives.

Yet our general health and feeling of well-being may not be superior to people of older times. In fact our world is filled with emotional stress and chemicals, which stress the body biologically. Heart attacks and other heart disease strikes earlier and earlier in life and the rate of cancer has greatly increased.

How does Tai-chi strengthen the body’s health and calm our emotions so we are resistant to stress? I have proposed in my writings and classes a simple theory that can make the logic behind Tai chi and Zookinesis more understandable.

In our modern world our basic instincts are almost irrelevant. We don’t live in natural surroundings for the most part and our instincts have been molded by natural environments. So we now rely on our minds, which tell us how to work our devices and how to tell time so we won’t show up for work late. This requires a subduing of natural instinct which hasn’t had time to evolve to function in the world of computers, cars and cell phones.

Yet our bodies still have to function biologically. The molecules and cells within our bodies aren’t controlled by computers. In fact, the entire body is a sort of biological computer, with its trillions of molecules all containing a kind of information as to how to function and adapt to varying situations within the body.

If the thinking mind imposes its patterns on the body’s functioning, there is a conflict. The body has to function one way in order to be healthy but the mind is sending signals into the body to behave quite differently.

With instinct the information in the biological computer moves upwards to control the organism and make it behave in order to achieve maximum health. With the thinking mind the control moves downwards to subdue the body and even its biochemical activity.

When we practice Tai chi, especially in the push hands exercise, we have to yield our attention to the body. We train each muscle and joint to respond with ease, precision and intention. At the beginning this requires the thinking mind (to learn our forms or the principles of push hands, for example). But then our minds have to let the body go and the movement of attention must be from the body’s individual body parts upward to the organism as a whole. The thinking mind could not possibly process all this information in real time.

We get to such a degree of precision that the decisions of movement are not made by a muscle as a whole, but rather, each nerve energizing a part of the muscle must act independently so that the muscle contracts in a wave. The smaller and smaller you can get in this precision the better. But even more importantly, you need to allow each tiny part to “make its own decisions”. If you are still making those decisions in your head, you counteract the precision of the body.

But, you might ask, if the thinking mind is not controlling all these precise movements, then what is? Now we get to the question of “chi”. The experience of chi is that of a communications system other than the thinking mind, nervous or endocrine system, that coordinates all this activity.

The real secret of chi is that it is a conscious energy that works from the level of the very small, upward into the body as a whole. Unless we cultivate this “chi consciousness” (known as “Body-Mind”), the body loses its precision – not just in practicing a form, but in staying healthy in general. The movement of consciousness from the tiny to the large must not be dampened by the movement of consciousness from the large (the mind, the feeling of ourselves as an identity) to the small.

To allow the movement of consciousness in both directions allows us to remain intelligent and also healthy. Each movement of the Tai chi forms or the Zookinesis exercises and each principle of movement of push hands, promotes this upward movement of consciousness, that is, of course, if it is done correctly.

Simply memorizing a Tai-chi form or pushing someone will not have this beneficial effect. Only a legitimate teacher can explain and teach you how to practice Tai-chi in the proper way that promotes this healing effect. This is why even teachers keep learning from other teachers to understand the best ways to practice their Tai chi to promote this effect.

Few people in modern times have experienced the upward movement of consciousness emanating from within each part of the body, let alone how this movement of consciousness is completely connected to the natural environment. When you live in a simple and natural way you soon can feel how the cycles of nature promote similar cycles within your body, which then promotes adaptive behavior on the chemical level and on the level of how you live your life day to day. You feel very connected to your environment.

The disconnected way we live our lives now leads not only to poor health, but also to a feeling of isolation, which then reverberates into the fabric of our society. We do not feel as connected to other people or other living things. That disconnection leads us to order our society in such a way that we can easily ignore the suffering of others or of the earth.

Tai chi practice has the potential of transforming our society, our health and our happiness by restoring the natural flow of consciousness that rejoins us to the earth.

CHI MEDITATIONS

Breathe in and ignite the sun within your belly.
Breathe out to release its rays to join the sun in the sky and the earth below.
Center your breath and relax your body to the four directions.

Expect to receive energy from everything you see and feel.
Leave space inside of you for that energy to move.
Allow the energy to continue on in its journey.

BREATHING TO HEAL

The breathing process is essential to understand in order to promote healing. Proper breathing organizes the posture and functioning of the entire body.

When you breathe in the diaphragm pulls downward. This inflates the lungs. When we practice Tai-chi, this pulling down of the diaphragm towards the feet not only aligns the body, but also provides some of the power of the movements. Breathing in requires relaxation of the abdominal muscles, which then promotes the relaxation and sinking of the entire upper body. As the neck and shoulders relax, the head can sit comfortably in its position. Breathing becomes easy and full.

The downward pull of the diaphragm also coincides with the broadening of the bottom of the foot through relaxation. As the foot relaxes and the diaphragm presses down, this creates a pressure that connects the feet to the ground. This and the general relaxation of each joint and muscle create the “root” that makes your stance solid yet your body loose and flexible.

Each in-breath creates a pulse of downward pressure into the root, which creates a wave of energy through the body upward. It is important to maintain the downward pressure even while the wave of energy moves upwards or else the wave will pull you out of your own root.

As your diaphragm pulls down, the lungs fill up from the bottom first, and only towards the end of the breathing in do the upper lungs fill. If you fill up the upper lungs too early you stop the downward pressure and the whole process of generating the wave of energy.

Imagine that your lower abdomen is a clamshell and that as you breathe in the lower part of the clamshell opens downward and presses into the ground. The breath then flows forward (as you are still breathing in) out of the opening in the clamshell.

Advanced Tai-chi students learn to breathe precisely so that the way the diaphragm presses down varies in order to create certain effects in posture and movement. In this way the form and push hands are really controlled from the abdominal area downward with the upper body just responding to the dynamics of that area. The result is that an intricate complex of “waves of energy” are created to give the form more substance and to make the push hands more effective.

Unfortunately most of our attention is in our heads and it is difficult for us to work with the dynamics in the lower area of our bodies because that area is “so far away”. So we say that you have to “live in your legs and pelvic area”. This means that your attention is not stuck in your head but can fill the lower area and operate from that area. The lower area of your body becomes the “home” of the attention just as much as your head is its home now.

For most people the attention is stuck in one location like a king sitting on a throne. In order to achieve the high level of health and awareness required in Tai-chi, the attention has to be able to move and flow just as the body moves and flows. The attention must be like water, not like a king on a throne. Achieving this change can be frightening. We are so used to the attention being frozen in place that we usually cannot even imagine it moving. Yes, we can pay attention to one thing and then to another, but the “seat” of the attention remains frozen.

This frozen attention then freezes the entire body down to the organ and cellular level and inhibits the activity on those levels. When we practice Tai-chi the fluidity of the body influences the fluidity of the mind and the fluidity of the mind releases the body.

It all starts with understanding Tai-chi breathing (natural breathing) and its role in “melting” the frozen mind and body. This can only be accomplished by working with a competent teacher. Make sure that your teacher understands these principles so that your Tai-chi practice will be truly a healing experience.

VINTAGE FOOTAGE OF TAI-CHI MASTERS

I am going through my old archival footage and finding gems of Tai-chi masters demonstrating their skills. The videos are going up on our youtube.com channel which is called zookinesis49. Plug in zookinesis49 into the search bar.

Here is an example of my teacher, William Chen, performing his Yang style form with voice over. It is very old footage and the video quality is not the best. But it is really worth watching.

INDIVIDUAL CONSCIOUSNESS (INDIVIDUAL TAO)

The concept of “Individual Consciousness” or “Individual Tao” in Tai-chi theory is very important to understand in order to practice properly. Individual consciousness is like a wave in the ocean, from origin to its end on the beach. Universal consciousness is the ocean.

If you can detect the universal consciousness within yourself, you will understand the point of view that there is no real birth and death. Waves flow across the ocean all day and night yet the ocean is not depleted by this action.

When we grab for things, ideas or even for an imagined perfect emotional state, we are like the wave, racing to reach the beach. In meditation we are like the calm sea.

When we practice our Tai-chi form we sustain a wave of momentum through our bodies. It may change angles, circle around in different directions, sink into the earth and rise into the heavens, but its course is even and steady. In this way the momentum of the form is like a wave in its movements and like the calm ocean in its slow steadiness and depth.

When our daily interactions are fully intricate and effective yet not rushed, we have brought the principles of Tai-chi into our lives. We can enjoy the things in our lives without desperately grasping. We can appreciate each experience no matter how simple.

Recognize your identity as the life force of nature and you will be able to let go of fear. When you let go of fear no one can manipulate you. Even your habits of tension and patterns of thoughts won’t be able to control you. You will become creative and be able to appreciate beauty more deeply.