Saturday, June 14, 2014

How Can We Use Technology to Connect?

This is a presentation I gave at Dr. Paul Lam's annual Tai Chi workshop in St. Louis, MO. See the notes at the end.

Good morning. I am very happy to be here at the world's biggest and best tai chi family reunion. We really are a family here.

Dr. Lam asked me to talk about Harmonizing Technology. I have absolutely no idea what that means. So I decided to ignore it in the hope that it would go away. It didn't. Eventually, I couldn't ignore it any more.

I still had no idea what to talk about. How can I talk about technology? It changes every time a new phone or tablet comes out or whenever a browser update comes out. It changes every time Facebook changes their privacy settings. Again.

I thought about this for a long time before I finally understood that I was missing an important point.

It's not about the technology itself. It's about how we USE technology to help us meet the goals of the Tai Chi for Health Institute. It's about how we USE technology to empower people to better health and wellness. It's about how we USE technology to connect with each other, to learn, to teach, and to empower.

Let's talk about learning. Dr. Lam has worked very hard to promote medical studies to show that the Tai Chi Health program is an evidence-based program with proven benefits. He sends out a monthly newsletter where he summarizes progress in this important effort. That is very simple and effective technology. He has articles about how people overcome obstacles to improve their health and the health of others. You can also learn about upcoming workshops where you can learn about tai chi and learn about teaching tai chi.

Did you know that he has a Facebook page, too. And a Twitter account. Ask him a question online. He will answer.

The US-based Tai Chi for Health Community has a Facebook page, too. We share news articles so we can all learn about recent medical studies of tai chi, and we share stories and pictures of local events. This is all to help us learn. We also have a quarterly newsletter for members. I asked Jim to share this in my introduction. The newsletter is full of information to help you learn. It's one of the benefits of joining the Tai Chi for Health Community.

Let's talk about teaching. All social media include a method to share news. On Facebook it's called Share. On Twitter it's called a Tweet or a Retweet. You can teach others by sharing news with them. I write a blog about tai chi. I share it with everyone that is interested. Teachers share schedules and news with their students. We have a regular column in the TCHC newsletter about developing an on-line practice where we feature web pages. This newsletter column is to show you how to create your own online presence.

And most important, let's talk about empowerment. Dr. Lam talked earlier about how fear holds us back. I want to empower you. I want you to get more involved. Get online. If you are already online, I want you to do more. I want you to learn more. I want you to teach more.

I want to see a world full of dedicated teachers that are working together to accomplish our goals. Individually, we are limited. We are powerful when we use technology to work together.

Thank you.

Note 1. This is a script that I spoke from. It isn't a transcript of what I actually said. I am sure that I drifted away from my notes a little bit.
Note 2. I omitted a little bit from my original script. I had only 5 minutes to deliver this presentation. When I had 1 minute remaining, the MC gave me the signal that the hook was coming. I do not include that omitted material here.
Note 3. This presentation was recorded. If Dr. Lam puts it on YouTube, I'll post an update and link.
Note 4. The June issue of the TCHC is online and available free for everyone. Click here to read it.

© 2014 by Eric Borreson

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Four Ways to Improve Body Awareness

One of the things that seems to confuse tai chi beginners is body awareness. They really don't know
what their body is doing in space. They try to move their arms and hands in a certain way and the movement doesn't look at all like they tried to do it. Even worse, they don't even know that they don't know what they are doing. How can we teach body awareness to students?

I have four suggestions. 
The first is the idea of “First Separate, Then Combine,” sometimes called “Directed Practice”. There are so many things going in even a simple form that beginning students can't keep track of it all. Separate and then combine means to separate out a principle or a movement or form, practice it separately until it becomes second nature. Then separate out a different part of a form and practice it. Then combine those parts and practice them together until they become second nature. Then separate out another different part and practice it separately. Then combine it with the others.

A second idea is to teach awareness in layers. Watch and follow the instructor. Practice by yourself. Watch the instructor again. Practice with a group and help each other. Visualize the movements. Practice by yourself. Repeat as needed.

A third idea is to teach awareness through Body, Mind, and Breath. Move your body as best as you can. Visualize the movement in your mind. Pause during the forms and check that visualization against what your body is really doing. Breathe slowly and use your breath to calm your mind and body.

A fourth idea is to teach awareness by pausing. Wherever you are having difficult learning a form, stop several times in the movement before the point where it's not working right. Check to see if you are where you expected to be. Breathe deeply. Don't rush. Correct any mistakes before moving on.

Try them and tell me how it works.

© 2014 by Eric Borreson 

About the Author: Eric Borreson, author and teacher, uses his writing to teach and his teaching to write. Why not circle him on Google+?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Yield to Yield

(This is a guest post by Arthur Lopez)

Yield” has been one of the most difficult Tai Chi concepts for me to learn. After 16 years of regular practice, I sometimes still find that I am not yielding when I should. I wondered why this is so? In researching the definition of the word, I realized that the concept of ‘yield’ in our western thinking is quite a paradox. An idea may have contradictory meanings yet still be true. In essence, to yield can mean to give forth and to give in. Both ideas share the root term ‘to give’; but produce different results. If you look at the definition from a Western mind set, both negative and positive connotations abound. One such example is “yield” to your opponent or “yield” a bountiful harvest.

The Tai Chi way of looking at the term combines both elements. By yielding to an incoming force, there is a natural letting go, which results in less conflict resulting in increased balance, peace and harmony. The Ying and Yang symbolizes the synergy of the concept of yield. It is a circle striving for perpetual balance. Ying yields to Yang; yields to Ying yields to Yang. Endlessly, they seek harmony. There is no gain or loss; only balance.

As a Westerner, I have been taught directly or indirectly that victory is an ideal that must be embraced. However, in order to have victory, there must be loss. Yet, I have not been taught to embrace the idea of loss. In our culture, it is anathema to loose. You can clearly see it in the expression of many of our sports heroes who lose a competition.

So, as I studied the martial art of Tai Chi Push Hands as taught by Sifu Yeung Tu Ho, he would often admonish me not to resist. Of course being of a Western mind set, my tendency was always to “push” and to “get the other person off balance”. Hence, win. Hence, Sifu Ho would admonish, “you are using force, do not use force”. At one point I latched on to the concept that there is victory in loss - thinking that I had a fundamental grasp of a Tai Chi principle. Was I wrong? I was still stuck on the victory part and not the loss part.

We know that in Tai Chi there is neither victory nor loss. A fundamental principle is to always realign to what is natural and balanced. The net result of this balance is harmony in mind, body and spirit.

This is easier said than done, especially if you are in an earthquake or hurricane. How do you find this harmony in the midst of a tempest? How do you calm yourself when we have evolved to either fight or flee and adrenaline flows? Recently, I had an insight as I was participating in a TCA 2 Training conducted by Master Trainer Robin Malby in Fresno, CA. She used a term that triggered the beginning of a deeper understanding and later more comprehension of what we mean by “yield”. In teaching rooting techniques, instead of saying “shift your weight or transfer your weight into the rooted leg” she said, “relax your weight.”

I tried it. This was a new experience for me. I used my mind and consciously relaxed my weight and lo and behold, I had a completely different sensation. I found that my body felt more song and at the same time much more nimble. As I continued to practice this technique, I stopped thinking about doing it and just did it, which enhanced the suppleness of the flow of movement.

This ‘letting go’ sensation was not necessarily new in my life. I realized that I had experienced it, for example, when sitting in front of camp fire and just losing myself in the flames or looking out into the rolling waves of the ocean and becoming one with its rhythm. The difference is that in the Tai Chi movement, we have disciplined our bodies to move in certain patterns and rhythms.

We engage our minds and at the same time we let go, becoming song, actively relaxing the whole body including the joints. In this state of engagement and letting go, “yield” transcends being just a goal and becomes the actual state of being. I like to use the metaphor that when we are song, the body, mind, and spirit are like jello - soft, supple, firm, connected, and yummy. Well, that’s another essay.

Sifu Ho had often talked about the feet and the legs being as relaxed, or song, as the hands and the joints of the upper body. But not until I heard the term “relax your weight into the supporting leg”, did I comprehend what he meant.

A few weeks later, I pushed hands with a friend and I found that if I relaxed my weight into the supporting leg and at the same time tried not to resist the incoming force, my movement was much suppler at the waist which translated into more relaxed breathing and mental and physical harmony with my practice partner.

Relaxing, rooting, and springing through the feet, legs, waist, and hands began to feel as one flowing movement. We practiced for at least half an hour and I found that I was very relaxed at the end of the session, even though we were moving continuously. I was starting to ‘yield’ to yield!

I was somewhat anxious about using the term with the TCA participants thinking that with those with severe hip, knee or ankle arthritis, relaxing into the leg might be difficult or unsafe. Hence, I decided to approach it with those that were in the intermediate class which includes TCA 1 and 2 and the Sun 73 class. To my amazement and joy, after doing some simple rooting exercises and queuing with the term “relax” into the leg, all the students did very well. I am exploring using the term with our beginning class using the commencement movement and the students also are doing very well. However, I remain very vigilant in reinforcing the principles of leg, ankle, and foot alignment along with modification.

Is it remarkable that when we learn to yield, we yield such a bounty of rewards?

© 2014 Arthur Lopez