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A PLEA TO TAI-CHI TEACHERS

Chi-gung (Qigong) by the stream.

Chi-gung (Qigong) by the stream.

When a baby is born it is all consciousness – all Tao. Sights, sounds, thoughts, emotions and other experiences are equally part of its identity. We teach it to differentiate the world it experiences into parts and assign values to each part. In this way we control its behavior, its experience of the world and thereby the course of its life.

Unless that programming is challenged the course of that person’s life is set. Many things can challenge the programming – traumatic experiences, emersion in a new culture, etc. A Tai-chi teacher’s primary job is to reveal to the student how his programming controls his life and even his perceptions.

It starts with revealing how a student tenses unnecessarily and how their thoughts and emotions interfere with the smoothness of their movements. The student learns how his tensions and emotional state limit his breathing to only a small part of the volume of his lungs.

As much as the student learns, he is limited in his progress by the very structures of consciousness he is using to learn. The original natural consciousness (Tao) was re-shaped to fit into the structure of the culture. Its function was narrowed and limited. This was especially true after the industrial revolution, when their bosses viewed workers as parts of the machinery of the factory.

Creative, alive people would have a hard time working in a factory. Now in our computer age, we are entering another narrowing and limiting of the full function of consciousness, even while we have more access to information. Many people know the world only through their cell phones.

The cell phone acts as a border checkpoint between the individual’s consciousness and the biological world. Every year the border wall is built higher. Is it any wonder that many Americans long for border walls to keep out the “undesirables” from the south, when their cell phones keep out their connection to the real world?

To many people, their own body is a foreigner. They live in their heads and try to keep out the “undesirable” physicality “down south”. Changes in the state of consciousness have real-life effects. The battle to keep the body consciousness subdued is projected onto national politics.

So the Tai-chi teacher is a subversive, fighting to bring students back to an experience of Tao – the original, undifferentiated consciousness. In this way the student can see which aspects of his programming are useful and which should be tossed away. If he can let go of tension in his shoulder, he may be able to let go of the rigidity of the mind. It is really the rigidity of the mind that caused the tense shoulder. Mind (thinking mind) is just the divided, programmed Tao.

At a deeper level the artificial structures of the mind causes deeper physical problems. At the cellular level, trillions of interactions take place every second and for the most part, everything works well according to the biological blueprint inherent in our make-up. This activity, and the ability of each cell to organize its activity in relation to all the others, is all thanks to a biological communications system. Part of that system is the nervous and endocrine systems. But the substrate of that communications system is “chi” – the energy that connects, sustains and progresses a person through his stages of development. It is that living blueprint of our biological and spiritual nature.

A programmed mind can impose its structure on the body, impeding the body’s natural functioning even down to the cellular level. It jams up the system of chi. When the meridians of chi are opened such as with acupuncture and acupressure, that frees the body and frees Tao.

The experience of chi (connection) is what dissolves the illusion of separateness, the illusion that one’s soul is a product on a shelf within your head. Just as chi is distributed throughout your body, you come to remember that consciousness is distributed throughout the body. That happens when the consciousness of each part of the body is so strong (through Tai-chi training), that the thinking mind is no longer able to subdue it. Just as chi is distributed throughout the living world, you remember that your consciousness is part of the entire living world. You remember that at the time when the war of the thinking mind against the body consciousness comes to an end.

Returning to this awareness is the most powerful political tool and the teachers of this awareness can play a powerful role to return our society to sanity. It saddens me that much of Tai-chi training has become just memorizing forms or memorizing philosophical clichés. Push hands has become what ten year olds do in a shoving match. The programming of the mind has turned the cure for the programming into just another program.

Before writing, Tai-chi was handed down teacher to student. There were no books. The first book in China was the Emperor’s treatise on medicine, written 4500 years ago. Until then a form or a qigong series was a book. Each movement was a chapter. The content of the chapter was the principles that led you to Tao. The same is true of push hands and sparring. Just learning the movements without the deeper principles is like just reading the chapter heading and not the chapter itself.

The great thing about Tai-chi training is that you don’t need to tell the students all of this. You are just teaching them to relax or to be more aligned, or to defend themselves. But there has always been the secret agenda of leading the student to the experience of his original identity.

The problem is that few such students complete their training and they then go on to teach without an understanding of the purpose of the teaching. This is especially true when the Chinese government is opposed to any such underlying, traditional goal of the training and they are the de-facto authority on Tai-chi.

There are even organizations now that will give you a Tai-chi teaching certification after two days of training. The same is true of Pilates and Yoga, and perhaps soon, brain surgery.

At this time in our history we need traditional Tai-chi more than ever. Fewer teachers now hold the key to the training and it is becoming no more than the packaging – another product on the shelf. When a student says, “Why should I pay you this much for classes when the next guy charges only half as much”, what can you say besides, “That sounds like a bargain. Go there”.

It makes you want to sell packaging, which seems to be far more lucrative. But this is a plea to Tai-chi teachers to provide the content, not just the packaging; to provide the chapter, not just the chapter heading.

These teachings have been handed down to us to use in times of need, and this is a time of great need.

HEALING THE PRIMORDIAL SPLIT

Tai chi as a Bridge to Healing

Tai chi as a Bridge to Healing

When we are born, we are all attention. We soon learn to divide our attention into “self” and “other”. “Self” is what we can control most. “Other” is what we can control least. This is the most basic division, on which the rest of our consciousness is structured.

A great problem arises when we place our body in the category of “other”. If we are not involved in exercise that trains us to have a connection to our body, the body seems to be just a “vehicle” that carries around our head – where we “really live”.

As children we learn about time – which is a line from past to future. We seem disconnected from both past and future and the present is very fleeting. This disconnects us from the world around us.

If we are involved in a teaching that trains us to have a connection to the natural world around us, we re-invest our consciousness in the only time we really have, which is now. Past and future no longer rob us of the richness of our experience of life.

It seems to me that the political antagonism and the violence we are experiencing in our country is a natural result of the widening of the original split. Training such as Tai chi, which specifically heals that split can be very helpful. So can gardening, working with animals and anything else that reminds us that all life on this earth is one inter-connected living being.

As much as we strive to be individuals and achieve greatness, we need also need to deepen our roots into the living earth. When a tree’s branches grow wider, the roots also grow wider and deeper to balance the weight above. Let us not, as a society, be a tree with thick, wide branches and shallow roots.

INVEST IN LOSS

"Snake Creeps Down" from Yang style Tai chi.

“Snake Creeps Down” from Yang style Tai chi.

Body alignment and posture have a profound effect on your state of health and emotions. We maintain “attitudes” within our bodies, which then affect the posture. The slumped shoulders express the attitude that we are so troubled that we are “carrying the world on our shoulders”. The prideful, arrogant attitude has the chest puffed out.

To many people, these attitudes are their identity. They are how we feel who we are. But they lock us into a set of behaviors that limit our ability to grow and be creative. Tai chi frees us from being locked into attitudes. It allows the creative person, who you truly are, to become the core of your life.

When you are locked into a posture, energy cannot flow through the body. Blood cannot flow freely. The inter-cellular fluid, which brings nutrients and oxygen from the capillaries to the cells, cannot move. The lymph, which takes waste from the cells to the bladder and lungs for removal, does not move. The body then deteriorates.

A body locked in attitude is a fearful body. It is afraid to let go of that attitude because that attitude is the only place it feels safe. Relaxing feels like jumping off a cliff. Yet if you take the chance and relax, you find that the cliff is only a few inches high.

I believe that most people are locked into these attitudes and that is destroying our health and our ability to enjoy our lives. Tai chi can be a lifesaver if you are willing to go beyond merely memorizing the movements of a form. Tai chi has been described as “investing in loss”. This means that you put time and effort into letting go of your locked attitudes. You stop investing in tightening up your muscles to express fear or “strength”.

Invest in health and relaxation. Invest in making the rest of your life the most enjoyable life you can imagine. Learn Tai chi.

TAI CHI HEALING

Tai-chi Yang Form with Bob Klein

Tai-chi Yang Form with Bob Klein

The medical field is based on military strategy. We are attacked by micro-organisms and we defend ourselves with weapons (medicines) or surgery. Tai-chi is based on a different strategy so its concepts seem strange, or low tech.

My main job as a Tai-chi teacher is to develop an even distribution of attention in the student. The modern human is trained to withdraw attention from the body and concentrate it in the head. This weakens the body and over stimulates the head. The result is an “empty cleverness”.

We are taught to rely on the thinking process to interact with our world and to depress other means of interaction. The Tai-chi teacher’s job is to remind students of their original state of attention and of the ways we can connect with and interact with the world around us, rather than just thinking about it.

When we do push hands, for example, we have to be able to feel the state of readiness of every muscle and joint in the partner and the ever-changing pattern of attention from moment to moment. In this two-person game of “pushing” each other off balance, using tension by just shoving with the arms puts you at a disadvantage. The only way we can be this aware is by keeping our own attention completely calm and even, even though we are being pushed and shoved around. We then use this awareness to easily take advantage of the partner’s inefficiencies.

The Tai-chi forms teach us to generate all movements from the center of the body, and then, like a wave, allow each joint and muscle to flow out from that wave. The initiation of that wave is a relaxation – just like a pebble dropped into still water, creates circular waves.

It is very difficult to bring the student to this natural state of attention but it is the basis of healing in this system. As long as the attention is “trapped” in the head and thinking process, all the drugs and surgeries in the world, will not bring him to great health.

Yet, even these ideas about attention seem meaningless to someone who has not experienced them. You have to be brought to that experience by a teacher in order to even understand what it is and how powerful the experience is. It has been described as feeling like you jumped off a steep cliff. We are, indeed, standing high up on a steep cliff, struggling to stay on top of it and wearing ourselves out.

It is this struggle that wears out our minds and bodies and leads to disease. Yet the student asks, “If I let go of the dominance of my mind, how can I function?” In reality it is the even balance of mind and body that is required for true creative functioning, rather than just robotic functioning.

Tai-chi practice leads you to this very gently, yet it is a tough practice – very exacting and specific. The journey leads to freedom from fear and stress and a healthy way of interacting with people and situations, which in turn, results in a joy filled life.

Suggested training aids:
The books, “Movements of Magic – the Spirit of Tai-chi-Chuan” and “Movements of Power – Ancient Secrets of Unleashing Instinctual Vitality”
http://store.movementsofmagic.com/msbose.html

The dvd series: “How to Learn and Teach Tai-chi”
http://store.movementsofmagic.com/howtoletetap.html

WHY I TEACH TAI-CHI


Imagine if liquid cement dripped onto your body every day and then dried. Every day the cement gets thicker until you can barely move. Tai-chi is the solvent that dissolves your casing of cement, allowing you to move. It dissolves the rigidity of every muscle and joint in the body until you regain your natural flow of movement and the joy of movement of a child.

This is why I teach Tai-chi. I spent twenty years as a zoologist, working with hundreds of species of animals, one-on-one. In order to work with them I had to move like them and even think like them. I couldn’t afford to become rigid. From the perspective of the degree of fluidity of animals, modern humans seem made of stone.

I believe that much of our modern health problems come from this rigidity. But another result of this problem is that we feel trapped in our bodies and disconnected from the rest of the world. The result, in some people, is anger and even violence.

I created a system of fluid movement that can be used along with Tai-chi training or by itself that dissolves the rigidity of the body. You no longer feel trapped and actually feel very comfortable within your own “skin”. You feel connected to the natural world.

These movements are called, “zookinesis” meaning “animal exercises”. It is a combination of chi-gung and movements derived from over 30 years of working with animals.

It is fulfilling to see students of zookinesis and Tai-chi discovering how they can simply let go of that rigidity and become fluid and once again feel the joy within their own bodies. Modern adults have lost that joy to a large extent.

Every piece of cement that falls from one of my students is exciting. It means another step on the path to freedom. It means more joy and less anger. It means greater health and less stress.

One day I hope rigidity will be only a distant memory in our culture. I teach Tai-chi and zookinesis to help achieve that future.

Bob Klein
www.movementsofmagic.com

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.

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.

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.

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.

IMPORTANCE OF FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT

Tai-chi and Zookinesis training emphasize the ability to move every part of the body freely. Why is this important in everyday life?

Most of the people who first come to Tai-chi classes cannot move very well. Their joints and muscles are so frozen that simple things like walking are an effort. They wear their bodies out quickly. The lungs don’t fill completely with air because they don’t fill the lungs from the bottom up. Their abdominal area is tight and the ribs have lost their flexibility so they only breathe into their upper chest. If you don’t breathe fully, your body doesn’t function efficiently and you lose energy quickly.

Physical tightness also affects the emotions, making you more rigid as a person. The emotions reflect the physical state vice versa. If you are physically unsure of yourself, if your body feels it cannot function well, then you become emotionally unsure as well. By becoming fluid and skilled physically, this gives you emotional confidence as well. You feel more comfortable in your body and so you are more comfortable around other people.

Going through life tight and rigid is like being in your self-made prison. You can release yourself from this prison by learning Tai-chi and Zookinesis Exercise.