Posts Tagged ‘fitness’


Bob Klein

These training tips for Tai-chi practice are the result of over 45 years of training and teaching. My students at the Long Island School of Tai-chi-Chuan in Sound Beach, N. Y. have told me these are the tips that are the most useful.

1. The first thing you are taught is to relax. Relaxation though, is not as easy as it sounds. After many years of being tense most people have not only forgotten how to relax, they have forgotten that they are tense. The key is to understand that to relax any part of the body, there needs to be “space” under that part of the body to sink into. If your chest and ribs are tense and you try to relax your shoulders, the shoulders have no place to sink into. First relax the muscles of the feet so they sink into the earth like wet clay. Then relax the knees, hips, ribs, etc. Allow each part of the body to sink like sand sinks into a hole you dig in the beach. The sand sinks into the hole from the bottom up.

2. When you shift weight from one foot into another, don’t push yourself into the front with your back foot. Allow the weight to sink into the front foot as though sand was sinking into the front foot from the back foot. This releases the back leg, making it “empty”.

3. When you step, don’t use the muscles of the stepping leg. Use your sinking and turning to move out the stepping leg. You can slightly straighten out the stepping foot to make the heel land first. Keeping the stepping leg off the ground is done by relaxing the rear of the pelvis so that it tilts slightly forward, slightly raising the stepping leg.

4. Keep the eyes gazing forward or at a slightly raised angle. Never look down. Imagine you are a waterfall and the water comes towards you, flowing down your eyes into your belly and then your root. You are receiving energy and NOT grabbing with the eyes.

5. Each movement starts from your center and NOT from the top of the body, head, arms or legs. Make sure that at the beginning of each movement, the middle moves first as if someone were pulling your belt. Then each joint of the body follows in sequence.

6. “Whole body movement” does not mean you keep all your joints locked. Even if you move your whole, stiff body smoothly, this is still not Tai-chi. Each joint should move, in sequence, from the bottom up and each should relax in sequence from the bottom up. Watch the way animals move. We have joints for a reason.

7. When you breathe in, your diaphragm pulls downward. So the initiation of an in-breath feels like breathing down into the ground. The bottom of the belly (below the navel) expands downwards. When the maximum downward breathing pressure is reached, then the breath expands forward and the upper belly expands (above the navel). Finally the breath then fills the upper lungs. So breathing in also begins at the bottom (at the root). When you breathe out, you relax the bottom of the lungs first, then middle and upper lungs.

8. The arms, legs and head move as a result of the breathing and the sequential expansion and relaxation of the joints. They don’t move by their own muscular power. But of course, you have to hold the arms and legs in particular positions according to your postures. You use the minimum energy possible to hold the arms in their positions, just enough so that if you used just a little less, the arms would fall down.

9. If your front expands, the back relaxes. If the right expands, the left relaxes. If the bottom energizes downwards, the top floats upwards. Each part of the body counter-balances its other side. This gives rise to the expression “power is a directed relaxation”. This means that relaxing releases power, but that power does not just dissipate. The breath directs the power. If you breathe downward and forward, for example, the power roots and from that root, moves forward. If you breathe into the right side of your lungs, the energy moves right. But if you first breath into the upper part of the lungs, the energy pulls you up out of your root.

10. Imagine you are sitting on a diner stool with wheels. You can move forward and back, left and right, but you are still sitting on the stool. To stand up you press your foot down, energizing your Achilles tendon and quadriceps, relax your back and breathe in. Try sitting down and standing up in a chair and keep your chest and back straight. Don’t bend forward. This requires that you stand up from the bottom up and you don’t pull yourself up from the top.

I will provide more if these tips in the future if you are interested. Hundreds of such ideas are in the dvd series “How to Learn and Teach Tai-chi” available at:


The feet are considered to be the “gateway to consciousness”. The condition of your feet as it steps, affects the response of the rest of the body to that step. If you do not have awareness in your feet, and you fall into your step, the rest of the body will be jarred.
During most of the evolution of our species, the ground we walked on was uneven and unsure. The next piece of ground could be soft. If you stepped onto it with full weight your leg would fall right through. Each step had to be made carefully and the pelvic area had to adjust to the alterations in elevation of the ground. This led to a great deal of flexibility in each joint of the body to let the entire body adjust to the irregularities of the ground.
Those irregularities were formed by the geology of the area as well as by the trees and other vegetation. Their root systems create a lot of the structure of the earth. When you walk on such uneven ground, you are participating in the evolution of that area. You are becoming part of the biology and ecology of the area.
Every joint and muscle tunes into how you walk, how the structure of the earth is connected to the geology and biology of the area. When we walk on flat surfaces, we become disconnected from nature and our bodies become less responsive.
The key is the feet. If you step with no awareness you will remain deadened. Step as if you are stepping on living earth. Step as if your feet were petting a cat. Allow each muscle in the foot to settle onto the ground. Allow each joint of the body to adjust to how the foot settles.  Step with no weight and then gradually shift weight into that leg.
This is the proper stepping for the Tai-chi forms.  Find any joint in the body which does not participate in the shifting and sinking of weight or to the springing up of the forward leg to take the next step. Each joint should be springy and should be affected by the activity of the body. Even though a Tai-chi form may be in slow motion, this springiness should be apparent.
Allow the back to participate intricately in the springiness. The back is not made out of a solid piece of wood, though to watch some people, it seems that way. Each joint of the backbone and the ribs must participate in the movements. 
Yet, during all this, the top of the head is lifted and this allows proper alignment rather than slumping. The hip area in most people, is rigid and does not allow for the momentum of the body to pass from the legs into the upper body and vice versa. So each step jars the internal organs. By loosening up the pelvic area and becoming aware of how momentum passes through it. the entire body will become connected to the feet. Thus the condition of the feet, including awareness, relaxation and intricacy of movement will affect the condition of the rest of the body.


“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.


Tai-chi Massage is a form of acupressure that is part of the Zookinesis system. Physically, it uses finger and palm pressure as well as muscle and fascial stretching. With the Zookinesis background, the masseur is able to apply a pressure along a very narrow channel through the outer muscles and into interior muscles, thus achieving a great depth of effect.
The most unique aspect of this massage is that the masseur can connect his own attention directly to the attention and internal energy of each muscle. Within the chi and attention of the muscle lies the mechanism that is tensing the muscle (by causing the nerves to agitate the muscle fibers). The masseur lines up his attention and chi with that of the person being massaged (the client) and uses his own will to “convince” the muscle to release.
The initial pressure applied is very light. As the muscle lets go of its tension, the masseur then adds pressure in the direction that the muscle is already releasing. He does not force a release or simply practice a pre-set technique on the client’s body. Much of the action is internal as the masseur convinces the muscle to release, and only then is there an “external” action of applying more pressure.
If the muscle stops releasing, the masseur stops the extra pressure. In this way the client can perceive how his own muscle relaxes. He can perceive that “on/off switch” of tension/relaxation, within his own body. Gradually, the client learns how to use that switch and learns to release his own tension.
In this way, he gains awareness of the consciousness of the muscle itself and gains a direct connection to his own body. The depth of relaxation is much greater than with other types of massage. You can penetrate much deeper with the pressure because the muscles willingly relax to create a path for that pressure. They “get out of the way” as they “see” the pressure coming.
The body doesn’t resist the pressure because it “knows” that the pressure will stop as soon as the muscle doesn’t want to release any further. So the body develops a trust in the massage. Clients feel that there are many layers of tension within each part of their bodies, developed over their entire lifetimes. This massage peels away these layers so the tension can be released permanently.
To do this, the masseur must have developed the senses of chi and attention. He must be able to perceive the intricate dynamics of those energies. Usually, the body is a twisted, mangled mass of chi, attention and physical tension. He must be able to see exactly how to best unravel this mess to bring the quickest results.
When the client emerges from the massage, he literally feels as if he were floating in the air. He is then able to enjoy every moment of life instead of feeling combative and defensive. When we are relaxed we are better able to handle any situation because we are clear about how to respond. If we are tense, we feel jammed up and the solutions to everyday problems are hard to find. If you look back on your life, how much of it is lived in a relaxed, joyful way? If you only have a few moments of joy out of each week, that is certainly no way to live.
The bills and problems of everyday life won’t disappear but if you are in a more relaxed state they won’t bother you as much and you will be able to solve them more easily. And to be simply more aware of your own body is a joy in itself. To many people, the body is just a big lump under the head. They don’t feel the beauty of the skill of each joint and muscle.
The Zookinesis exercises provide this skill and the Tai-chi Massage gives you the relaxation to bring your attention within your body. If you make the inner skills of your body beautiful, you will become beautiful. The beauty you perceive within yourself will shine outwardly for others to see.
When someone looks at you, part of their eyes look at your outer appearance but a large part of their eyes looks directly at your inner spirit. How they see you is a combination of both. I feel it is more important to release your tension and to become more aware of your body than to use the proper make-up or to have large muscles.


My students say that the most important effect of Tai-chi and Zookinesis training for them is that it helps them to understand other peoples’ behavior. They can understand the turmoil going inside other people and can see their outward behavior in context. They understand that if someone is aggressive towards them, this behavior probably has very little to do with the students but is just an outward manifestation of the other person’s inner problems.
If they then react to that person as if that person were actually not aggressive, the student can calm down the situation. Most people are so unaware of their own behavior that they judge their own behavior by other peoples’ reactions to them. If you act as if they were not aggressive, they may come to believe they are not being aggressive and will calm down.
The student has the confidence to calmly face the aggressive person because they see the situation clearly and, through Push Hands and self defense training, they know they can protect themselves if the other person does become physically aggressive in spite of the student’s efforts.
In order to develop the ability to “see through” other people into their inner workings, you must first see into your own inner workings. You begin by discovering every instance in daily life where you use too much physical tension to accomplish a task. I advised one of my students last week to notice how he holds a pen. How much physical tension is actually needed to write? He discovered that he tensed up his hand and his whole arm as he wrote, using a tremendous amount of energy. By keeping his arm relaxed he was able to stop fighting against himself as he wrote.
Many students realize that they hunch their shoulders during the day. They get better and better at catching themselves doing it. Then they simply stop hunching. There are many behaviors we do during the day that don’t make sense. Once you discover the many ways you are fighting against yourself by using excess tension, you can see that same process in others.
There is another benefit to discovering these unneeded behaviors inside yourself. As you peel off these behaviors you notice that some of the behaviors deal with purposefully ignoring experiences of life. You purposefully tune out these experiences. One of the reasons we all do this is because our culture does not recognize some experiences. One of these is the sense of chi (internal energy) and the dynamics of attention itself.
As students of Zookinesis and Tai-chi, we need to develop a great awareness of these experiences. In many Tai-chi schools, you are told that the experience of chi is like a tingling in the fingers. Actually that feeling in a beginning student is the blood moving through the fingers as you move them. When the momentum moves through the body, it stimulates blood to flow.  And indeed, the word chi is sometimes used as a substitute for the word blood.  
The clue to really experiencing chi is that it is easiest to experience as it moves out from the body and connects with the chi of the environment (like tentacles moving out and feeling things). It is the release of energy from the body that is the students first true experience of chi. In order to achieve this release, you must stop fighting yourself. If you are filled with internal tensions and battles, the chi is locked by these battles.
As you end your battles, the chi naturally wants to flow out and connect with the environment. You can then exerience your environment by more than looking and listening. You can vividly feel everything around you. This is not done through purposeful exertion but by letting go of the unneeded internal battles. This process of simplifying your internal behavior allows you to perceive realms of experience you may not even know existed. The result is that the world is greater and makes a lot more sense.