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Posts Tagged ‘life-styles’

BREAKING DOWN THE WALL

Push Hands

When you visit another culture you realize how differently other people see the world. We tend to feel that our “modern” world-view is the most correct because we are the smartest people who have ever lived on the earth. And yet, the fact that we are willingly destroying the life support system of the earth creates questions about how smart we really are. The way in which our life-style is destroying the life support system within our bodies also calls into question even our dedication to survive.

Tai-chi practice is a way of introducing into the modern world, the concept that each of us is an ecological environment, completely connected to the larger ecological environment. How we balance the internal ecology with the external ecology should be a large part of our “personal culture”. If we can experience our bodies as living and conscious, rather than just a machine that carries our head around, we can begin to restore our health.

Our modern culture is based on the isolated individual, each of us fighting against all the others. To maintain this feeling of isolation we “condense”, that is, we tighten ourselves physically and mentally, turning ourselves into a walled city. We feel that, as long as our lawns are green, the rest of the environment doesn’t affect us.

According to Tai-chi principles, the destruction of the natural world and the destruction of our own physical health, arise out of the same mind-set. When we practice the two-person exercise of push hands, for example, there is a tendency to use physical strength to push the “opponent” over. It is common for someone, being pushed, to grab the arms of the pusher to avoid getting pushed and thereby be able to say that he didn’t really get pushed.

Push Hands is a game of transformation. It is based on not using tension but fluidity. It is based on allowing the push of your partner to be absorbed by your body, the force distributed among all the muscles and joints, and then transformed to go back to the pusher. Your role is to transform the force that comes to you. In this way you learn the connection between your inner self and its connection to the forces around you.

When you learn Tai-chi forms, it is not just a question of memorizing movements. You learn to generate movement from the relationship of the hips and legs to the root (your connection to the ground). The rest of the body then expresses that relationship. So forms teach you how to express your relationship to the earth.

There is a tradition, in Zen practice, of expressing your feelings at the moment of enlightenment. One student expressed it this way, “The inside and the outside – they are made of the same flesh”.

Every time you tense up and isolate yourself, you damage not only yourself, but also your connection to the earth, and even the earth itself. Every time you set yourself against others in anger, you do equal damage.

Tai-chi practice teaches you how to live an ecological life in the modern world. Practicing Tai-chi this way is a powerful way to transform your life.

RESPECT

The relationship between mind and body should be the same as the relationship between yourself and another person. Each of you wants respect and wants to know the intention of the other. Each wants to maintain its individuality and also its connection to each other. Each wants to enjoy the interaction and benefit from it.

When you gain a skill, you reach a certain point where you have to let the body do the work (in riding a bicycle for example). You trust that the body knows what it is doing without the intervention of the thinking mind. But it is difficult for the thinking mind to let go of control.

It is difficult to accept that another person thinks differently than you. As an example, it is difficult to accept that an aboriginal culture may want to maintain their way of life, with perhaps, just a few well chosen modern advances. If there are “resources” beneath their land (oil, coal, gas for example), it seems to us unreasonable that they don’t allow another culture to come in and tear apart their land to acquire those resources.

As we learn Tai-chi, the mind thinks us through the movements. We remember all the advice from the teacher on proper mechanics. We “push” our bodies through the movements so they are done properly.

But then we learn the push hands exercise, in which there are no pre-set movements (in free-style push hands). The thinking mind could not possible keep track of all the spontaneous movements and be able to respond.

The student has to let go of the absolute control of the thinking mind and trust the creativity of the body. This creates a fear of dissolution in students whose whole identity is centered in the thinking mind. At this point it is important to examine your relationships with other people. Are those relationships based on respect of their individuality and intelligence?

If you can respect that another person can be intelligent and yet disagree with you then you can more easily accept that the body can have an intelligence that is different in its nature than the thinking mind but equally as valid. You might also be willing to accept that the body can be more intelligent than the thinking mind.

To allow the Body-mind to have equal sway in one’s life as the thinking mind is like courtship. You want the other to be part of you but you don’t really know who she or he is at first. Is she intelligent or does she just parrot what she has heard? Is she kind? Will she treat you well? You look for signs within your interactions that will answer these questions. Yet somehow, you know that for better or worse, she is part of you and you cannot grow as a human being without her. You look for ways of working together in harmony.

The point at which the student “allows” Body-mind to be equal in power to Thinking-mind means giving up absolute power. You no longer “shove” the body from move to move but yield to an inner knowing of the form. You find the Body-mind wants to do the form differently than the ideas in your head, and you yield to that. You allow them to be part of you. You actually listen to what they are saying.

More importantly you allow yourself to change, to be affected by the qualities of the consciousness of others. The two lovers grow mentally and emotionally, from knowing each other. Thinking-mind and Body-mind each grow from having to interact with each other.

So respect, a form of yielding, allows growth. Without growth we deteriorate physically, emotionally and spiritually. We engage in battles both within and outside of ourselves.

What is the degree of respect and yielding in our culture today? Are we becoming more rigid or relaxed and fluid? Where are we headed?

There is a Zen saying that “The inside and the outside are made of the same flesh”. I believe that Tai-chi practice can be a great help to our modern world by encouraging respect on all levels.

HOW TAI-CHI CAN SAVE THE WORLD

Demonstration of Chen Style Tai-chi

How can the ancient Chinese exercise of Tai-chi save the world? It transforms individuals, improving their health, eliminating stress, helps them let go of self destructive behaviors and feel more connected to their community. By transforming individual people in this way, the world can be transformed.

HEALTH

Tai-chi strengthens each cell of the body. The movements promote the movement of intercellular fluid, which brings oxygen and nutrients to the cells and removes their waste. Without the type of intricate movement you get with Tai-chi, the cells receive little nutrients and oxygen, food is stored as fat and cellular waste is not removed. The cells metabolize poorly and degenerate quickly, which leads to early aging. Tai-chi prevents these problems.

Tai-chi keeps the connective tissue flexible. This tissue surrounds all the organs, muscles body cavities and bones and forms ligaments and tendons. It tends to shrink and lose elasticity with age, which condenses the body. It is as if each part of the body is slowly being crushed. Tai-chi movements keep you young by keeping you flexible and maintaining full range of motion of the joints. You are also able to breathe more easily.

The National Institutes of Health lists many research papers showing that Tai-chi helps with arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease and other conditions as well as improving balance. If we can be healthier as a society, then we will need less medical intervention and the cost of health care will be less. Our productivity will increase because we will be more energized and spend less time being sick.

COMMUNITY

Our lives are becoming more disconnected. We interact through our cell phones and computers and less through face-to-face interaction. We don’t see our food being grown but purchase prepared, chemically enhanced, nutrient poor food, and just warm it up. We need body skills less and less, except for our thumbs for texting and so we live in our minds, considering our bodies to be “down there”. Our floors and streets are perfectly flat so we don’t even need to be mindful of how our feet interact with the ground.

Tai-chi works by first connecting our minds and bodies. We become aware of how every muscle and joint works in an intricate and beautiful harmony. Our awareness is in every part of our bodies, not just in our heads. When we step, or breathe or smile, it is with full awareness and full participation of every part of us, connected and alive. When we speak with another person, we learn how to really listen, rather than just argue. The Push Hands exercise teaches us to be completely aware of what is going on inside of another person so that we understand their behavior. This allows us to be comfortable with them and appreciate their individual spirit. Can you imagine if everyone felt like this?

We learn to move slowly and smoothly so that our attention flows like water. Rather than our minds ordering our bodies what to do, both mind and body flow together and work together. The mind doesn’t sit on its throne in the head. Each part of the body becomes conscious and consciously participates in the movements. This eliminates the master/slave relationship of the mind and body. It is said that the relationship between the mind and body is the basis of our relationships with other people. Isn’t it the mind, sitting on its throne, which argues that my way is right and yours is wrong?

Yet that very mind has been filled with attitudes and behaviors from outside influences, with their own agendas. What we take to be our identity is to a large extent, pushed into us. It is as if we were forced to wear a suicide vest as we go through life. When we practice Push Hands we have to let go of these attitudes and programmed behaviors, because that is what our Push Hands partner uses to push us off balance. Instead, we have to resort to our creativity and sharpness of attention. We learn that many of our patterns of tension just set us up to get pushed and so we learn to let them go. Letting go is a large part of the training. We even let go of fear itself by examining what fear feels like and understanding that it is just a pattern of tension.

What would the world be like if everyone could let go of self destructive behaviors? What if our identity was no longer based on our intellectual differences and fears but on realizing that the consciousness that flows inside of me is the same energy as that which flows inside of you? We may each be creative with that energy in a different way, but we are all “swimming in the same water” of consciousness. We learn this in Tai-chi.

ENDING CONFLICT

We even learn this lesson in Tai-chi-Chuan (the fighting training of this art). At the beginning we may see sparring as two opponents each trying to win. But the result of proper training in this martial art is to flow with the “opponent” so that there is only one flow. While there is action, your goal is to take control of the interaction so there is no opposition. You are always in a position of power but with no anger. This allows you to feel confident, yet not aggressive, not only in sparring, but in any interaction in everyday life. You are no longer battling your way through life as if you were always on the outside of it. Creativity takes the place of battling.

We say that we cannot take control of the sparring partner’s body – only his mind. If your mind is free and creative, as it is through Tai-chi training, it can never be trapped. As an example, if someone is grabbed, they usually tense up. This just makes it easier for the grabber to control his victim. But if you are loose you can easily slip out of the grab. And so sparring teaches you how to avoid getting trapped in life.

While most people do not learn the martial aspect of Tai-chi training, each part of the training teaches all the principles. You can learn slow forms (movements), aerobic forms, chi-gung (simple exercises), Push Hands – just learning as much as you like. You can also learn healing (Tai-chi Body-work). There is something for everyone in this system of exercise and healing.

HEALING

There are several types of healing that are connected with Tai-chi practice such as acupuncture, acupressure, Tai-chi Bodywork, herbal medicine and more. This type of healing is based on the idea that the body is an ecological community of many types of cells and organs that work best when kept in balance. There is a biological energy that flows through the body called “chi”. When chi flows evenly through every cell and organ of the body, the body is in the best health.

The healing principle “The inside and outside reflect each other” means that we are part of the ecology of the planet. When we heal ourselves we are healing part of the planet. Since each part of the planet is connected to each other part, healing our self really helps to heal the whole living planet.

Tai-chi helps to heal the “chi” that flows through all of us and through all living things, heals the relationships among people and heals us as individuals. What would happen if everyone did Tai-chi?

JOY

When we were little we found joy in movement, singing and in other simple things. We don’t do much of that anymore. Tai-chi reminds us how simple movements can bring the feeling of joy back into our lives. Some types of chi-gung are based on the movements of animals and are great fun (“Zookinesis” is one such series of animal exercises).

By eliminating habits of tension and worry and making each part of the body more aware and sensitive, Tai chi allows us to experience more joy. We can feel the beautiful things around us – art, nature and the human spirit – more intensely. The movements of Tai-chi are an art that weaves the beauty of our biological nature and human spirit into a life of joy that can be shared.

We learn to become connected to the earth, to other people, to our own spirit and body and to a great history of teachers who passed this training down through thousands of years. While originating in China, Tai-chi is not just about one kind of people or one religion or one political party. It is about how we are all part of the same consciousness and the same system of nature. It is about becoming healthy and comfortable with the great variety of life. It is about letting go of the fear that holds us back from joy.

What would it be like if everyone did Tai-chi?

GARDEN HEALING

Gardening is a powerful form of healing. Food that you grow is much more nutritious than what you buy in a store. You can make sure to fill the soil with rich compost and other nutrient rich ingredients. The gardening process is very meditative and gives you an excuse to be outside and get some exercise. And growing the food you eat gives you a psychological connection to the earth.

It also heals the earth itself. The food you eat does not need to be shipped to the store and this saves on gas. Large scale agriculture uses a lot of heavy equipment (which uses gas) and usually large amounts of pesticides and herbicides. It takes land that might be left in natural state and turns it into a monoculture outdoor food factory. The food is boxed and packaged and then removed from the boxes and packages. We could have a much smaller footprint on the earth if we grew our own food and just walked a few feet into the back yard to harvest our lunch.

Yes, it takes labor and that labor could have been used to work more so that you could pay more for buying lower quality, chemical-filled food or even more for food without chemicals. But at a certain point you should stop and ask yourself, “Does that make sense?”

Why are we in such a rush to avoid spending time with our green friends? Tai-chi practitioners not only learn a series of movements but a healing life-style and a more natural attitude.

As the sun warms us up this Spring, consider helping the earth and helping yourself by growing an organic garden. I have found a lot of tips on youtube to make growing food easier and more productive and I hope to soon start a cooperative to provide the extra food that I grow to others. Each neighbor may grow just a few types of vegetables and they can barter foods with each other. That would help bring the community closer together, another form of healing.

Please leave comments about the foods that you grow.

CAN YOU DETERMINE YOUR FUTURE?

Imagining a bright future

Our future is becoming clearer – faster pace of life, increasing distance between people, less healthy food choices and increased stress. It’s now more important than ever to understand how choosing the future of your personal life can be different than going along with the future destined for you by our society.

Recently an Australian farmer’s crops were infected by pollen from a nearby genetically modified organism (gmo) farm. This farmer’s organic status was revoked and he went bankrupt. He is now trying to sue the gmo farm.

I watched an episode of “Dangerous Grounds” yesterday. In this reality show a coffee grower visits dangerous areas to buy gourmet types of coffee beans. In one area of Brazil the farmers have to keep 24-hour guard around their villages to protect themselves against agribusiness. The farmers claim that thugs from agribusiness keep trying to sneak into their villages to shoot them to take away their land.

In many ways our food, and the earth in general, is a battleground of people who wish to live simple, healthy lives and those who want to rape the earth. We can certainly help to protect the earth by joining ecological groups but we also must protect the earth in another way.

Our bodies are part of the earth and part of the web of life. We can protect our bodies and our minds from a sort of rape by the violent patterns within our culture. We can make sure that destructive patterns, which may have invaded us (like the gmo pollen), are rooted out and discarded. The fears that make us distance ourselves from other people and groups can be recognized and the power of those fears over our behavior, dissolved.

This is what Tai-chi and Zookinesis practice do. They give us the tools to bring our original organic consciousness back. The teacher explains what has happened to us internally and guides you back to being human. The Tai-chi Bodywork quickly melts away years of tension, fear, trauma and self-destructive patterns to free you to live a better and more enjoyable life.

Learning and practicing these exercises is just as important to protecting the earth as working politically. They teach you to control your own personal future so you can better contribute to a better future for everyone.

THE KEY TO SKILL

Any student of movement struggles to make their skills automatic, so they don’t have to “think their way” through their activity. While long hours of practice are essential to develop skill, another factor is necessary for high levels of achievement and that is what this post is about.

We each have a “vantage point” – a place where we feel we exist. Usually this vantage point is in the head because that is where our eyes, ears, nose and mouth are located. We see and hear from the vantage point of the head.

In Zen training there is a saying that the five senses are like five thieves that rob us of the ability to use other senses. In pre-modern cultures other senses are recognized, so that Tai-chi speaks of sensing “chi” and other cultures speak in similar ways.

In Tai-chi training we are taught to “center our attention” in the center of our bodies, like a spider lying at the center of its web. From this vantage point we can perceive in a different way because the strength of the senses on the head are no longer predominant.

The difficulty is that we are so programmed to believe that we have no other senses that we resist even the idea that we do. Yet we learn from practicing Tai-chi that we have a proprioceptive sense – the sense of momentum flowing through our bodies and how the parts of our body line up with each other. As we practice the push hands exercise (a two person interaction), we learn that we can sense the state of balance within our partner and even how his body prepares to carry out an intention to push even though our eyes are closed.

And so it becomes easier to accept that we also have a “sense of chi”, that is, the intelligent communication among all the cells and organs of the body that keeps everything running effectively. We find that our “head-oriented” vantage point battles against the “body-oriented” awareness.

This is because the head-oriented awareness works in one dimension. It is aware of one thing at a time. The body-oriented awareness is aware of everything that is going on at the same time. It is three dimensional.

In order to achieve great skill the student must develop a harmony between these two types of awareness. You can think of it like a map of a mall. The map shows where all the stores are located and also shows where you are in that map. You need to know both in order to get to your store.

We have become a society of “where we are” awareness but have lost our awareness of the “map”. Our schools don’t teach labor history, womens’ history, art history, the history of the human mind (cultural anthropology), financial history, etc., and so we don’t know where we came from. The history of religion and its interaction with science would be too controversial to teach in schools.

We certainly don’t learn how we humans have become so stiff, so sick, so angry, so stressed, so anxious, etc. But when we practice Tai-chi we have to delve into these issues and recognize the patterns of behavior and tension that have been programmed into us. We have to recognize how they have power over us and by doing so, we learn who “we” really are.

We have to learn how the dreams we had as children have become co-opted by the agendas of those who control our society. The path to achieving great things is to let go of the ropes that bind us to the their agendas and allow your dreams to empower your life.

This doesn’t necessarily mean quitting your job. It means understanding your own behavior. Which behaviors are a reaction to your fears and which emanate from your creativity and your joy?

This is true even when practicing your Tai-chi form. Are you pushing yourself through it to feel you have accomplished something or is the form organically emerging from inside of you and expressing itself? In the latter case, the thinking mind has to sit back as the audience and allow the play to take place without interference.

In many cases it is NOT the lack of skill that holds you back from a beautifully performed form but the unwillingness of the vantage point of the thinking mind to yield its one dimensional control.

The reason I mentioned the importance of understanding our many histories is that all of them contributed to the behavior patterns that we think of as being who we are. In order to achieve an “escape velocity” to become independent of those patterns, I have to believe that there is a “me” that is more creative, more connected to feeling and connected to the world around me in a more powerful way our present society allows.

That awareness is what is achieved through the sense of chi. The world experienced through that sense is described by many pre-modern cultures in many different ways. If you have the experience then you can hear each of those ways and understand that they are describing the same thing – the world as perceived without the coercion of the prejudice of your society’s training.

It is the “you” who is part of that world who does the form, or plays music, or lives one’s life. And the form or the music or the way one lives one’s life is the path to experiencing that world. Each of these art forms is also the way of showing others that there is another way of being. So when you see someone performing a Tai-chi form you should ask, “Is he just going through the movements or is this an expression of something greater?”

Tai-chi practice is more than martial arts, more than a performance art, and more than stress reduction. It is a path to liberating the full potential of your health and creativity. It allows you to become aware of the intelligent “dance of biology” within your body and how you are connected to the rest of the “dance of life” around you. We no longer “exist” just in our heads – in our minds. We exist in the full continuum of life.

FIGHTING YOUR SHADOW

Tai-chi-Chuan Sparring #3

Tai-chi-Chuan Sparring #1

Tai-chi-Chuan Sparring #2

Tai-chi-Chuan is a strange mix of health exercises, meditation and fighting. While most people practice Tai-chi strictly for health and exercise, the “Chuan” in the name reminds you that it is a martial art. Yet there is no blocking and the movements are relaxed and fluid.

The basic principle of Tai-chi-Chuan is to shadow your opponent. Where he strikes, you move away from his strike but into an unprotected area of his body. Where he moves away, you follow him so that you are like wet clothes he is trying to get off. You exhaust him and undermine his power.

You don’t allow him one second to recover from his series of strikes. We train to sustain our attention so that we don’t need that second to evaluate the effect of our actions. We act and perceive at the same time so that at every moment we can change and adapt. If our strike is blocked, the arm just circles around and still comes in. Since the power doesn’t come from the arm, but from the whole body, the strike still has power. We remain calm and centered throughout the sparring due to our training in forms, chi-gung and push hands.

This training of sustaining the attention, adapting at every moment, being aware of the effects of our actions as they happen and the ability to remain calm and centered in the midst of being attacked, helps us in our everyday lives. It teaches us that we can’t control the actions of others or the circumstances of the world we live in, but we can control how we react to all that.

The principle is that we let the attacker move as he wants to. We don’t interfere with his actions. But we control the relationship between us. If he wants to strike our head, we move our head and go to a spot he is not protecting with our own strike. He does what he wants; we do what we want and we are both happy (except that he gets hit).

We become his shadow and our strikes come out from his actions. Which gets me to another subject – Monsanto. This company is copyrighting patents on genetically engineered food and getting the large “factory farms” to use their seeds. Since they own the seeds the farmers are not allowed to keep seeds to replant. They have to buy their seeds from Monsanto every year. The attempt is to copyright organisms and own them.

Many people think this is outrageous. If a farmer is using natural seeds and Monsanto pollen enters his fields through the wind, then Monsanto automatically owns the rights to his crops and he can no longer save his seeds to plant.

This is why I think that we all need to become farmers. Even if we just plant a few tomatoes or peas in a plant pot we are helping prevent a company from owning life itself. We also are assured of healthy, tasty tomatoes and peas.

I see Monsanto’s “ownership” of life as a sort of strike against humanity. They are trying to become God. While we certainly need to fight against that through legislation, simply planting food plants is a way of undermining Monsanto. It is a shadow form of farming that makes them less powerful. Let they try to investigate everyone who has peas growing in a pot in their window to see if it is one of their copyrighted peas. Let them exhaust themselves. Let them fight the shadow farming.

Remember to save some peas or tomato seeds for next year. Keep them dry and in a dark place. Use paper envelopes – not plastic bags – to store them.

My garden is so prolific that I weed hundreds of tomato plants each year. The tomatoes fall on the ground and the next year they grow like grass. I compost with kitchen waste, grass clippings, dead leaves (not oak!) and ashes from my wood stove. If you have a rabbit or hamsters (or a horse or cow of course), you can use their waste in the compost as well.

Let’s all be shadow fighters in the fight for the right to grow our food. It is one of the most fundamental rights of humanity.

EMOTIONS AND PHYSICAL HEALTH

Zookinesis posture - Bob Klein

There is a battle going on inside of us for control of the body’s posture. Our instincts urge us to posture our bodies for maximum efficiency and health. Our emotions try to express themselves through the body’s posture.

So if we try to push in the push hands exercise, our emotions tell us to expand the upper body and rise up so as to express power as we would imagine a muscle bound weight lifter to have power. Yet that is not an efficient posture for pushing because we would be top heavy and tense.

When I correct a posture in a Tai-chi form I have to take into account all the emotional expressions that control the body. Each part of the body is in an emotional relationship with all the other parts and as a whole, the body expresses very complex emotions.

If I were to correct only one part of the body the student would feel very awkward because he is used to a particular configuration of expression and now, one element of that expression is in the “wrong” position. So at the beginning the student doesn’t appreciate the corrections because he is still judging his posture by how well it expresses his emotions.

I have to correct as much of the emotional control of the body as possible to give the student an appreciation of how beautifully the body is designed and how good it feels to be in the natural, “neutral” postural position.

I taught a group of physical therapy students a few days ago. This workshop that I give every year gives the students a different perspective of how to bring a patient’s body back to a healthy state. While a physical therapist only works on the physical level, they have to deal with all the emotions of their patients as well. Sometimes that is the greatest challenge.

My ending point in that workshop is that in order to be effective in dealing with the patients, the therapist has to be comfortable in his or her own body. If your mind, body and emotions are not connected, balanced and centered, then your patients will certainly not feel comfortable with you and you will not be able to connect with them. Learning something like Tai-chi or Zookinesis can be a very valuable aid in working with physical therapy patients.

We also discuss how the way be breathe, walk and do other everyday activities can either help our physical condition or deteriorate our bodies. By understanding Tai-chi principles, you can make suggestions to improve these everyday activities to strengthen the patient in general. In this way you will not only be helping the particular condition they came in with but help to prevent other problems in the future.

Unfortunately, most physical therapy practices only give ten or fifteen minutes to each patient, certainly not really as much time as they need. But due to economic considerations, many practices just try to get as many people through the door each day as possible.
A good physical therapist would suggest that a patient get involved in a more thorough practice of exercise once their physical therapy sessions are over. This is why some schools of physical therapy expose their students to several exercise modalities so they can make intelligent suggestions to their patients once they are in their own practice.

The physical therapist may not directly address all the dynamics of a patient’s condition because they are only licensed to correct a physical problem in a physical way. But in a Tai-chi class (or Yoga or Pilates or Zookinesis class), it is more informal. You can work on many levels at the same time and explain how a human being works on all these levels in an integrated way. Tai-chi practice is not limited by law to only fixing a physical problem in a physical way.

I believe that our modern day culture makes us a foreigner to our own bodies and disrupts the integration of body, mind and emotions. It makes sense that we fix the fundamental problem with our health and not just patch up the symptoms as they pop up as in the “whack a mole” game. Many people get involved in Tai-chi practice because of health problems. They know that Tai-chi can improve general health and put them back on a path of general health recovery.

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.

TRADITIONAL MARTIAL ARTS TRAINING

One of the discussions going around in the world of martial arts is whether there is a value in traditional martial arts. Lately the “systems” of Mixed Martial Arts and Ultimate Fighting have become very popular. Students don’t want to go through the long process of traditional learning but would rather start fighting right away.

There are also discussions in the field of education about traditional or “classical” education vs. vocational training (just learning to do a job). On another front, students who are used to texting are having trouble being able to write essays in school or even letters.

In each case there is a devaluing of developing a student as a whole human being. It is a fulfillment of the trend begun in the industrial revolution of turning people into parts of the machine. It seems strange to me that just as we have unparalleled access to information and educational opportunities and as teachers of many styles of martial arts, exercise and healing make their training easily available, we are moving more towards a dumbing down society. The goal is just to make the money or knock out an opponent.

Traditional martial arts training teaches you to live in peace with other people and to feel part of all living things. It teaches you to consider all life to be sacred including the life within your own body so you would strive for a healthy lifestyle.

It teaches you to understand the underlying philosophy of the training and to appreciate education in all its forms. Most importantly, you learn to understand your own behavior and put it in perspective so you can grow as a human being.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t practice fighting. You certainly learn to defend yourself. You also spar as exercise and sport.

Many people recently have asked me to open new martial arts classes, but when they realize that I teach traditionally and expect a well rounded martial arts education, they are less enthusiastic.

I wonder, what is it about this particular time in our society that has changed what people have come to expect of the martial arts or of education in general.