Saturday, February 26, 2011

Using Tai Chi (Taiji) to Integrate Mind, Body, and Spirit (Part 1 of 2)

Tai chi can be used to develop clarity of mind, awareness of body and qi, and strength of spirit. A key component of tai chi practice is focus. The shorter forms develop our understanding of the movements and develop our understanding of qi. The longer forms develop our focus by requiring us to concentrate for several minutes at a time in order to do the form correctly. The longer concentration develops our ability to use the universal qi.

A basic principle of tai chi is that the mind (yi) directs the qi and the qi drives the jing (internal power.) This makes it sound like yi, qi, and jin are separable and can be developed independently. However, in practice they are inseparable.

It takes a lot of practice to develop your internal power. You need to rewire your nervous system so that your mind can properly understand your body. With extensive practice, you can begin to understand that connection. There is a saying, “The first 10,000 times don’t count”, referring to the amount of practice to understand tai chi.

The tai chi classics often make statements that yi is more important than the body. I don’t think that this means to separate yi and body. They are also inseparable. They must be properly integrated. The goal is to achieve clarity of mind, awareness of the environment, and the ability to direct your qi and your force. There are three steps, or parts, of the process of integrating mind and body. They are not independent of each other. The three steps are 1) clarity of mind, 2) awareness of body and qi, and 3) strengthening your spirit (unconscious mind).

1. Clarity of MindClarity of mind comes from focusing your mind on your tai chi form. Be aware of each of the movements. Know where your muscles and joints are moving. Be aware of the intention. Dr. Paul Lam wrote an article, “Yi (the mind) and Quan (the fist or martial art).” In this article, he lays out steps to develop mental focus.

Part 1 – Jing – Mental Quietness. The first step is to quiet your monkey mind. This happens as you breathe deeply and rhythmically during performance of the forms. During the close part of a form, you exhale and sink your qi, which also helps to calm your mind. It also can help to imagine that you are practicing in a peaceful, tranquil place.

Part 2 – Song – Relax and Loosen. Song means to loosen your muscles and joints. Your qi flows freely when your body is stretched out. Imagine your qi sinking to your dan tien. Thinking of your dan tien helps you focus and pay attention to your body.

Part 3 – Mental Focus. There are 3 parts to this. Focus on the body, the martial meaning, and your internal balance.

First, focus on the body. Be aware of what is happening and where your Qi is moving. Try to get to know a little bit about the acupuncture meridians because that’s where your Qi moves. Focus on your muscles and joints.

Second, focus on the martial meaning of each form. It is important to understand the open and close of each form. Know how and where power is developed and delivered. This helps you to understand the correct posture and movement and your mind directs your body into the right movements. Focus on the movements and their intention.

Third is cultivation of your internal balance. This gives you a controlled and relaxed personality to match the controlled, slow, and relaxed tai chi form.

Dr. Lam concludes by saying, “One way to test your improvement is to be aware of your eyes or visual fields.” He goes on to say, “If your mind is focused and integrated, your eyes will be looking in the right direction and have the right energy within them.”

It is not possible to learn all of these things at once. During your daily practice, pick one thing to work on for that day. Work on that topic for several days or weeks and then move on to something new. Eventually, come back to the first topic and work on that one again. You can continue to learn something new about yourself as you continue to work.

(Part 2 will be published next week)
© 2011 Eric Borreson