Posts Tagged ‘ceremonies’


In many cultures the circle is a symbol of power.  The circle can represent seniors giving their lifetime of knowledge, wisdom and skills, back to the next generation.  In our culture, the emphasis is on constant change, and the knowledge and skills of the past are not as valued as they used to be. 

The circle also represents the constant renewal of the life-giving properties of nature.  The ceremonies of many cultures welcomed each new season and celebrated the cooperation of human and nature.  Imagine spending time welcoming each new day and each new season, rather than plunging headlong towards each year’s vacation or towards retirement.  Celebration of the cycles of nature becomes an important part of the culture, as important as inventing faster computers and new cell phones is in our society. 

I think we have all noticed that in one generation, people have become faster, louder, more frantic and less fulfilled.  While we are told that fulfillment depends mainly on improving the economy and inventing even faster and more powerful equipment, we can also examine how repairing the cycles in our lives plays a part in our psychological and physical health. 

One of the purposes of the Tai-chi forms is to allow the body to move in smooth, unbroken circles.  This heals the “rush, rush, rush” modern attitude, and allows us to feel comfortable and relaxed in our bodies.  I have noticed, in my years of teaching Tai-chi, that most people do not feel comfortable in their bodies.  When you do not feel comfortable in your body, you do not feel comfortable among other people.  You feel unsettled and not centered. 

The smooth, flowing Tai-chi form also heals the attitude that life consists of always rushing to finish the next project.  We have to run faster and faster, to get more and more done, so we can be happy at some unknown time in the future.  The form gives us a few minutes each day to just be relaxed, happy and content in the beautiful feelings of the body, mind and emotions flowing with the cycles of nature.

In a society dedicated not to the cycles of nature, but to constant rushing, the form, or the Zookinesis exercises (or whatever similar practice you are involved in) becomes the daily ceremony reminding you that everything is alright because you are always part of nature.  It reminds you that the ancient wisdom of our connection to nature is still relevant and in fact, is vital to our physical and psychological survival.  By keeping you healthy in many ways, these exercises keep the circle unbroken.  They remind us that it is often the simplest things in life that are the most fulfilling.


Do you feel that work and the responsibilities of life are tearing you apart?  Are you exhausted, more due to aggravation and worry than physical work?  Tai-chi and Zookinesis explains why this is so and what you can do to avoid getting torn apart.

One day I went to a lake at a nearby park, armed with a bag of healthy, whole wheat bread for the ducks and geese.  I got there early and was apparently the first person to feed them.  At least 75 ducks, geese and swans surrounded me, demanding bread and I soon had nothing left.  They kept coming at me, biting my hands, hoping to at least get a crumb.  I had to leave in a hurry to get more bread.  At one point I thought my life might end by getting pecked while surrounded by white feathers. 

When I returned to work, there were calls from customers, calls to suppliers, computer work to do, video editing, packing orders etc., etc.  I felt that I was still being pecked to death but this time by my work (video production and distribution).  But I had one advantage.

My training in Tai-chi and Zookinesis helped me to stay centered and calm and just do what I could.  I didn’t rush or get aggravated.  I thought, “What about people who do not have this training?  They must feel like they’re really getting pecked to death!”  I understood why, in these frantic times, Tai-chi and Zookinesis training is especially important.  If you can devote fifteen minutes a day to a Tai-chi form or a series of Zookinesis exercises, you can remain centered throughout the hectic day.

In most ancient cultures, the purpose of the culture was to help people enjoy and understand life.  Children went through initiation rituals to help ease them into each new stage of life.  Ceremonies, timed to the changes of the seasons, became the binding force of life of the community, helping people to live in harmony with nature.

In our culture the purpose is to work hard in order to buy things.  As we enter into this season of ceremonies (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Yule, Kwanza and the rest) we have time to reflect on some of the important things in our lives that we often neglect – family and community.

On a smaller scale, our Tai-chi and Zookinesis practice is a daily custom that reminds us that our health, mental and physical, and our connection to nature is so important, that if we neglect these things, we will be miserable. 

Remember that people and circumstances around us are always ready to take from us – whether our money or energy.  Most people are frantic and unbalanced because of the effects of our hectic culture.  Without a means of protection and renewal of our inner strength, they will surely tear us apart.

These practices connect your mind and body so you are aware of how each situation affects you on all levels.  By remaining centered and relaxed you not only prevent your own deterioration but become more effective in your work.  Much of what goes on in the workplace is politics, rather than actual useful work.  These politics are the result of a lack of self awareness, self esteem and the lack of a path in life.  Most people just frantically try to grab for as much as they can get before they die.

By practicing your exercises each day, you remind yourself of the principles behind the exercises – self awareness, living in harmony with your surroundings, staying calm and healthy.  You realize that the behavior of another person is their behavior and not yours.  You don’t have to play into their patterns. 

You cannot gain this awareness just through the mind.  While each of us may know these ideas are true, putting them into practice is another matter.  The exercise of Push Hands, for example, teaches you to deal with another person’s aggression without tensing up but just letting the force flow by.  Yet it may take a couple of years of practice to be willing not to tense up when pushed.  Tensing is such an automatic reaction that it is hard to break.  You know that tensing is exactly what you should NOT do, but you just can’t help yourself.

The teacher explains, in excruciating detail, how each part of your body has reacted and how your mind and your attention have reacted to the push.  He explains exactly why you are reacting in this way – what concepts in your thinking, drive your body to react ineptly.  He explains the proper way to react in order to neutralize the force.  Yet you seem to have no control over your own body.

It is the same way in everyday life.  You say to yourself, “Why did I just do that?”  It is as if you have no control over some aspects of your life.

Zookinesis teaches students that the reason we have no control is that we don’t have training of the attention as part of children’s education.  We teach children to memorize and to calculate.  We do not teach them to be intricately aware of each part of their bodies and how they work.  We do not learn to pay attention to many things at once, as you do in Push Hands, so your attention can be more efficient.  We certainly do not teach them to remain centered and relaxed as threatening situations surround them.  And they don’t learn the importance of proper breathing.

When you are properly trained you can really see “inside” the other person.  You are aware of the dynamics of their attention and what is driving them to their behavior.  This allows you to see their behavior in proper perspective. 

The strange thing is that when you react to another person’s frantic behavior, with your own centeredness and relaxation, they can feel how you are in control of yourself.  They come to think of you as someone who cannot be fazed and who can be trusted to take care of situations.  They feel safe around you and trust you.  It improves your relationships.

Luckily you can just learn a simple series of movements (such as the Zookinesis “Laughing Dragon Exercises”, the Tai-chi Yang Short Form as in the “Tai-chi for Beginners” program, or the “Spirit Breathing Workouts”) and practice these a few minutes a day.  With these simple exercises your life can be turned around.  Imagine if you were no longer “torn apart”, if you no longer got aggravated but just dealt with each situation as best as you could.  Imagine if you didn’t even come down hard on yourself for not being a superman in every situation. 

You could actually enjoy your life! 

The winter is a great time for asking yourself, “What am I doing with my life?”  Set aside a portion of your life to learn a centering exercise and to practice it every day.  You can have fun by learning different exercises.  One of my favorites is “Chair Exercises for Seniors” (even though I don’t consider myself a senior) because it is easy to do while sitting at work.  I can do a single exercise for two minutes here and there and stay flexible.  Even if I do that only four times a day, by the end of the day I don’t feel drained. 

What could be worse than, once you finally get some time off, being too tired to enjoy it?  We all deserve to enjoy our lives.  Devote a few minutes a day to yourself!


 We quickly get caught up in the everyday “struggle” of life and try to organize our lives into routines. These routines allow us to function automatically to get our daily tasks done efficiently. Yet the routines also make our lives robotic and drain us of the adventurous spirit that we may have had at a younger age. That spirit gave us energy and vitality.
How can we re-capture that spirit while our lives are filled with many routines? Learning a practice like Tai-chi, Zookinesis or any other subject can provide us with a life-time of discovery. My mother went back to college when she was 65 years old. Many people asked her why she needed to go to college at that age. She explained that she needed her mind to be challenged in order to feel alive. My father used to say that when you stop learning, you die.
Do you feel that you have learned as much as you need to, in order to live the rest of your life repeating cycles of routines? For many people life is a dulling process. Your spirit becomes duller each year until you die. Yet you can add an adventurous practice to your life at any time. Even if you spend just a few minutes a few times a week at your study or physical practice, it will add the spirit of adventure to your life. You don’t even have to excel at your practice. Simply being involved in it can change the “flavor” of your life.
At many points in our lives, we often say, “I should have” learned this or that. Remember that today is a point in your life. Imagine what you would like to do. Think of what skills and other tools (such as knowledge) you would need to accomplish your goal. Then patiently acquire those skills and tools. Your life will begin to organize itself around your dreams instead of around your routines. This is the key to maintaining your vitality.
Most of my students come to the school to learn a Tai-chi form or to reduce stress. They have a limited goal in mind. As they set about to accomplish this goal they discover the great depth of these training systems. They find that these studies are a path to self-discovery and a way to revitalize their bodies and minds. As their skills deepen, their goals deepen. The surprising thing to many students is how much self-discovery there is in every class. Breakthroughs in skills and understanding become so regular that they feel they are on a speeding train of self-discovery. And this is true no matter how many years they have been coming to class.
There is simply a great distance for all of us to go to really develop our potential. It is the thrill of wondering what discovery awaits around the next corner that keeps them coming to class. Life becomes thrilling even in the midst of your everyday routines, which of course, you still have to do.
One of the most important roles of culture in tribal societies was to unite the “sacred and profane worlds”. This means that in the midst of the everyday chores of life (the profane), our connection to nature (the sacred) had to still be the focus of our attention. Many ceremonies were carried out at regular times throughout the year to commemorate our connection to nature. These ceremonies were “routines” but ones that changed peoples’ focus from everyday problems to thankfulness to nature. We were reminded that the miracle of being alive overpowers any aggravations and sadness we may have.
The dullness that has overtaken many of us is so profound that we are not aware of how much feeling we have lost. After I give a Tai-chi massage, the person usually says, “I feel like I’m really alive!” If I had asked them before if they felt alive they would have surely said yes. But after the massage they realize how much feeling they gained. Every little part of the body wakes up and is eager to participate in life. It is the difference between not wanting to get up in the morning and wanting to jump out of bed to start the day.
The Zookinesis exercises are specifically designed to develop feeling and skill in each joint and muscle of the body. They are imitations of animal movements. Connecting your mind to your body is another way of making your life “sacred”. Many peoples’ minds spin all day. This uses up a lot of energy and doesn’t accomplish anything. Connecting mind to body ends this useless spinning, which is just mental routines that have gotten stuck.
When the mind functions in endless, repeating routines, our lives duplicate the patterns of the mind. By connecting mind to body, we become more creative and our lives more exciting. Many people feel that their lives are exciting because their routines exhaust them. They feel that if they are tired at the end of each day, that’s all the excitement they can take. Yes, routines can be exhausting but they are depleting to the spirit as well.
Somehow the excitement of learning new things doesn’t deplete you. You may be so worn out after Tai-chi sparring practice, for example, that you fall down to catch your breath, but within a minute you are ready to get up for more sparring. I often used to be tired when I began to teach sparring but after two hours of sparring, I was invigorated. It is an illusion that you are too tired for your practice.
Practicing Tai-chi, Zookinesis, Pilates or any other such activity refreshes you. Whatever time and energy you put into it is more than re-paid by the energy you get out of it. I have often thought that living a life of routines is like spiraling down a funnel into death. Life can be a spiral upward towards more vitality, skills and knowledge. It doesn’t even take much time each day. Starting a practice or study can change the entire nature of your life.