Posts Tagged ‘addictive habits’


The healing principles of Tai-chi identify habits as one of the most destructive forces leading to the deterioration of the body.  These principles explain the underlying cause of those habits and how to resolve them.  We all know that drug habits and eating disorders are destructive but there are more fundamental levels of behavior that we are only dimly aware of.

One of my students recently realized that an old behavior as a child permanently shaped how he uses his attention.  He has a “lazy eye” and had to concentrate in a certain way in order to make the images in his eyes, while reading, merge into one image. This extreme focusing of attention became permanent and required a great deal of energy.  As an adult he forgot about what he had done because it just became part of who he is.  The behavior threw the mechanics of his body way off.

When beginning Tai-chi students practice “Push Hands” they tighten up their bodies and raise their centers of gravity, the exact opposite of what is required.  In this exercise each partner tries to push the other one over.  Push Hands requires a loose body and low center of gravity so that you can’t be pushed and so that your own push emanates from the ground and shoots out like a whip.

The students soon realize that they bring their energy and attention up because their eyes are at the top of their bodies.  They feel their force needs to emanate out of where they’re looking from.  This habit is subconscious until the practice of Push Hands reveals it. 

We have many ridiculous habits formed during childhood, which make no mechanical sense.  Or, the habits make sense only for limited uses but become permanent and are used all the time. 

As a teacher, I am amazed by the habits my students discover as they practice Tai-chi.  By cleaning out those habits we release tremendous amounts of trapped energy and can feel much more relaxed and happy.  We also can avoid the subconscious habits building into even more destructive habits such as drug abuse. 

The difficulty in letting go of habits is that, to a large extent, we identify ourselves as our habits.  These can be habits of movement, of thinking and of emotion.  The habits become an image of us, rather than our true, free, creative selves.  We tend to solidify our habits and defend them because we feel we are defending ourselves.  Even the groups we belong to such as political parties may be a reflection of our ingrained habits. 

This jams up our creativity, our thinking ability, tightens the body and sanctifies patterns of behavior which were created during childhood, when we really didn’t understand much.  The result can be a whole society based on patterns of behavior created during childhood and institutionally maintained. 

The greatest political power any individual can have is, as the Beatles said, “Free your mind instead”.  Examine the fundamental habits of your life and allow your creative spirit to heal you.  Tai-chi and Zookinesis practice was specifically designed for this purpose.


At a certain point any healing teacher looks back over all the clients he has healed and asks, “What are the main problems causing poor health among all these people?”  Is there a fundamental change in our lives that can heal all people at once? 

In my experience as a teacher of Tai-chi, Zookinesis age reversal exercises and massage, I have been astounded by how disconnected people are from their bodies.  Their understanding of proper body mechanics is way off and the result is that they are constantly injuring their bodies. 

This is actually very understandable.  In ancient cultures a student would learn from his teacher in an apprenticeship position.  He would be practicing his craft while the teacher taught him – learning and moving at the same time.  Action was coordinated with using the mind. 

In our culture we learn to freeze our bodies by sitting in a still position while we learn to think.  Then when we go to a gym class there is little thinking and only action.  We have learned to separate the movement of the body from the movement of attention in the process of thinking.  So when we are about to think we automatically prepare ourselves by freezing our bodies. 

When the dynamics of the body and the dynamics of attention are separated, it is as if a large knife cut you in half.  Attention normally energizes the body.  The body’s dynamics ground the attention.  The attention/body split de-energizes the body and the attention as well. 

We are left with a very different type of thinking – that of imagining that we are split into two people and one person is talking to the other.  This is the constant mental chatter that all of us are too familiar with.  Many cultures teach sitting meditation to clear the mental chatter.  When Bodhidarma, a Buddhist monk, first came to China, he found the monks there sitting all day in meditation.  Their health was very poor because they didn’t exercise.  He taught them to exercise and from these basic exercises the martial art of Shaolin was born. 

There is no point in fighting against the mental chatter because you are then just creating a battle.  By teaching the body to move and to be mindful of that movement, you are re-joining mind and body.  This mind is not the talk-chatter type of mind but what is called, “The Ancient Mind” or “Body-Mind” which is attention joined to the body.  This can eliminate a fundamental cause of illness in our society and it is the basis of such teachings as Tai-chi, Zookinesis and other forms of chi-gung, Yoga and even modern Pilates exercise.

Our methods of education are not the only causes of illness.  When I ask people in class to tense up a muscle, they can do that with ease.  But it is very difficult for them to relax a muscle.  Tensing involves sending a signal through the nervous system to the muscle.  When you relax you just stop sending the signal. 

It would seem that it is easier to stop doing something than to do it.  In Tai-chi this is called, “not doing”.  It really means “not doing anything you don’t need to be doing”.  As people learn a Tai-chi form or Zookinesis exercise, the movements are quite simple.  Yet they struggle to learn them.  The process of learning involves more of “not doing” extra, unnecessary things than it is to learn the actual movements.  You learn to do each movement in its simplest, easiest form with no excess movement or intention.  The result is an effortless flow as if you were a cloud drifting in the sky.

And yet people feel they need to whip their bodies into doing the movement “right”.  They use excess movement and tension and their thinking minds are buzzing with worry about how they look and what others might think about them. Their minds and bodies are in a great battle.  Yet when they finally learn the movements, it feels as if they are not even doing them because the body and mind are so light and effortless.  In this state the body is constantly re-energized yet relaxed.  The mind is calm yet very alert and responsive. 

As a teacher I am most excited by teaching people who want to become teachers.  I can get them involved in much more advanced training.  People ask me, “How do you have the patience to teach beginners?”  Teaching beginning classes involves going over the same basic training again and again. 

Yet teaching beginners gives me a great insight into the most basic causes of illness and the most basic problems in coaxing people into a better state of health.  I can clearly see the resistance people have to letting go of their lifetime of destructive habits.  They feel those habits as being who they are.  If I suggest that they change the habits they feel that I am challenging their identity. 

So identity is the second fundamental problem to heal on a cultural level.  After all isn’t much of the cause of war that this guy feels he belongs to one group and has to oppose the other guy who is a member of another group?  We may fear belonging to the wrong group because we may not get to heaven.  The groups fight with each other about who has the only right philosophy. 

On an individual level we may identify with our thought patterns, tension patterns and emotional patterns.  Patterns are fixed and not creative, not adaptive.  It is the rare individual who identifies with his or her creativity.  Creativity is not fixed and it is adaptive. 

When we identify with fixed, rigid patterns, our bodies become rigid.  When we go to a Tai-chi or Zookinesis class and are taught to relax and let our bodies move fluidly, this may seem like a challenge to all the fixed, rigid patterns of our lives.  It is a challenge to our identity.  This is what makes learning these arts so difficult.  We resist healing ourselves because that may undermine our habits of injuring ourselves, habits we have identified with. 

What a teacher must do is to get the student to appreciate the beauty and fulfillment of his body moving properly and his attention becoming more creative.  Rather than putting the student down for being incompetent, the teacher should take a more positive approach and show how beautiful the body can feel and how calm the mind can feel.  When you are in this state you truly feel connected to nature.  Your skin is not so much of a boundary anymore because you feel the natural energies of nature flowing through you.  Those energies then heal you. 

As a simple example, you may feel gravity as a force pulling you down.  Yet if you yield to gravity, allowing all joints and muscles of the body to relax a little, your body becomes properly aligned and your movements become easier.  If you relax both your chest and your upper back at the same time, you will notice that your head pops up into its proper place because of this alignment.  Gravity becomes a force that relaxes and aligns you and because of this, actually energizes you.  You no longer battle against gravity but use it to energize and heal you.

You can think of gravity as a masseur, massaging you.  Your muscles can fight against the pressure of the masseur’s palms or fingers or you can yield to them, allowing the muscle to relax.  Many people are uncomfortable about massage precisely because it is designed to eliminate the rigid body tensions which a person identifies with.  But the result is that your identity itself is cleansed.  You now identify yourself with the healing process of your body, with your awareness of life around you and with your creative attention. 

The type of massage I practice is called “Tai-chi Massage” or “Chi-gung Massage”.  It is not the type in which the masseur just pushes your muscles around as if to fight against their tension.  It is a gentle, slow massage which coaxes the body to relax and allows the person being massaged to become aware of the process of relaxation.  In this way that person becomes more connected to his own body and the internal battles gently melt away.

One by one, all the battles of life are transformed into sources of healing.  Your life becomes much easier and more effective.  As a teacher, I can only work with a few people at a time.  The instructional DVDs listed in the “Online Store” on this site can reach even more people. 

But I think that the real healing transformation of our culture will happen when people take the principles of Tai-chi, Zookinesis and other such training, and incorporate them into other fields.  In this way these principles can permeate into our everyday way of life.  Who knows what creative ways people will find to use their own experiences in healing to heal others?


“The Elements” are the basic philosophical tool of Taoism. It is the language by which the philosophy is described. This week, I will discuss the element of metal. It is the element of will and spirit. I can describe metal with a discussion I had with a student this week dealing with his overweight condition. He explained that many people suggest diets to him but he already knows what he should be eating. The problem is that the food (or substitute whatever addiction you may have such as excess worry and thinking, smoking etc.) has control over him.
I explained that the idea behind the element of metal is that pure metal has to be smelted from rough ore. There may only be a small amount of the desired metal in the ore and the rock ore must be burned at very high temperatures to extract the metal. Once extracted, it is shaped, sharpened and polished into a sword with a very fine edge.
The element of metal represents will. You know what you must do, yet there is a multitude of feelings inside you pulling you in many directions. It feels like walking through fire. There are behavioral habits and fears. To deal with each of these feelings would be like unravelling the Gordian’s knot. Gordian was an ancient king of Phrygia. The knot created under his reign was to be undone only by the person who would rule all of Asia. Alexander the Great “undid” the knot by slashing it in half with his sword.
Within our bodies, there is a Gordian’s knot of emotions and mental patterns. To spend our lives unravelling this knot might not be the best use of our time here on earth. We can smelt the ore of will and then shape, sharpen and polish it so that it can cut through all the inner nonsense.
This type of will is not forceful, nor is it stubborn. It is a quiet, relaxed will, like a mountain that stands for hundreds of thousands of years yet there is a vitality of life within the forest covering that mountain. It is difficult to know what will is. We look for force and aggressiveness but that is not it. We look for anger and stubbornness but that is just anger and stubbornness.
The will of metal is gentle yet powerful and that is the quality we need to look for within ourselves. Tai-chi has often been described as metal wrapped in cotton, soft and yielding on the outside yet resolute on the inside.
Can we remain on the path of eating healthy food, for example, without beating ourselves up? I find that if we are part of a training system that we understand, it is easier to exert this gentle will. Zookinesis is a very effective tool for weight control. Its simple exercises bring the attention down to each muscle and joint so that your attention is evenly distributed throughout your body. Your attention becomes joined to the feeling of health within your body more so than to those emotional and mental patterns which are based on fear.
The will you develop is the yearning for each cell in the body for health. It feels as if each cell has a sword and all the cells together constitute an army ready to fight for your health. When you practice Tai-chi sword fighting, the sword is gentle – that is, it is thin and agile. You don’t hit your sword against the opponent’s sword or your sword will break. You flow along the opponent’s sword and slice through the openings.
The will of metal relects this light, agile inner state. The heaviness of your inner fears has no effect on it. Zookinesis exercises develop this light agility which penetrates not only to your physical movements but to your inner feelings as well. This allows your “inner sword” to repeatedly be immersed in the smelting fire and come out even stronger each time.
The Push Hands exercise sharpens your will by testing against another person. If you use too much aggression, you will tense up and be ineffective. If you are too soft, you get pushed over easily. You develop an edge between these two qualities.
Practicing the animal forms is the polishing. These forms express the qualities of the various animals and gives your spirit a sheen. Before you are about to eat, remember the quality of your spirit. Smelt your sword, refining the feeling of your will out of the general chaos reigning within you. “Bring” your sword to the table. (You may even carry a little replica of a sword with you at all times to remind you of your teachings).
Then when you eat, remember that each little cell of your body, each with its own little sword, is eating with you. We all know that we should be eating good quality food but we need to create our sword of will. The elements are a way of teaching us about the many types of inner power we have and how our training develops this power. Our addiction will have less and less hold of us as our power develops. I think this is much better than switching from one food fad to another.