Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Four Addictions

I recently read an interesting article about planning your life and the obstacles we place in our path. Tom Perry, CEO of YourCoach and author of the book Life By Design, asked some interesting questions.

He asks questions about the direction we want our lives to go. Later in the article, he discusses the Four Addictions that keep us from reaching our goals. As he says, they are very difficult to answer. Give it a shot.

1. Why are you here -- what's your purpose?
2. How do you want to show up for others -- what are your values?
3. What are your God-given talents?
4. Five years from now, how is the world experiencing you?
5. Who would you already be if you were already there?

Spend some time thinking about these questions. These are not the type of question that you can answer immediately. They are questions that require deep reflection. They probably require meaningful discussions your loved ones. Don't let that stop you, though. Get five sheets of paper and start writing something about each one of these. Write until you run out of energy and then put the papers aside. Come back a week later and think some more. Keep at it. It may take years of on-again off-again work before you are happy with the results, but it's worth the effort.

In addition to these questions, he discussed what he calls The Four Addictions. Think how much happier we would be without these addictions.

The Four AddictionsI've discovered four addictions we all have that destroy more dreams, more hopes and more lives than alcohol, drugs, food, gambling or sex combined. When I refer to addictions, I am not focused on any of these. To me, those are habitual symptoms or effects brought on by four much larger causes that are the root cause of those symptoms They are:
1) The Addiction to opinions of other people. As a society, we're addicted to what others think about us and how others' views of the world affect us.
2) The Addiction to drama. Some people are drawn to and consumed by any event or situation that occupies their thoughts and fills their mind with negativity, which often brings attention to them in unproductive ways.
3) The Addiction to the past. These people have an unhealthy attachment to events or situations that have occurred in the past. They're stuck in how things used to be.
4) The Addiction to worry. This addiction is comprised of all the negative and self-defeating thoughts that make us anxious, disturbed, upset and stressed, that hold us back in life.

There is much more in the original article at

© 2011 Eric Borreson

Friday, March 18, 2011

Yang Chen Fu – 10 Essential Points (Part 2 of 2)

Yang Chen Fu was the grandson of Yang Lu Chan, founder of the Yang style of tai chi. He created a list of 10 points, or concepts, that are essential for mastering tai chi. These concepts can seem a little obscure and are difficult to understand at first. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t understand right away. Most people spend a lifetime learning the details. Think about each point separately and together with each other point. Practice regularly. Over time, the meaning of each point becomes clearer. With regular practice, you will be able to understand how they relate to the practice of tai chi. The following is the last 5 of the 10 points with several translations and a brief explanation of each.

6. Yong Yi Bu Yong Li – Using Yi or intention and not physical strength; Use your will (mind) and not your force; Use the mind instead of force
Allow your body to relax so that no force remains in your body. When you use physical strength, your qi gets blocked resulting in sluggish movement. Using your mind (Yi) allows your movements to be light and agile and you can act as your mind directs. This helps develop your inner qi. Learn to concentrate on your movements and use your mind to direct the movements.

7. Shang Xia Xiang Sui – Co-ordination of both the upper and lower body; Co-ordinate the upper and lower body movements; Coordinate the upper and lower parts of the body
The whole body should act as a unified whole. Motion is rooted in the feet, released through the legs, controlled by the waist, and manifested by the hands through the shoulders and arms. From legs to waist, there needs to be unison of movement. Thus when your hands move, your waist and feet as well as the focus of the eyes must move accordingly. A common problem is when your hands are moving and your legs have reached their final position and are stationary.

The movements of hands, waist and legs should also be followed by the intention in the eyes. This is regarded as the complete co-ordination of above and below. Whenever there is any lack of co ordination the movement instantly will appear disjointed and will lack strength.

8. Nei Wai Xiang Ge – Internal and external in togetherness; Unify (co ordinate) internal and external movements; Harmonize the internal and external
Tai chi trains the spirit. The spirit commands and the body obeys. All movement includes substantial (hard, filled, opening) and insubstantial (soft, empty, closing). Internal includes inner force, mind, and spirit. External includes the movements of the form and posture and body. When you focus on the form, your mind and spirit unite with the external movements. It is difficult, but regular practice of the form improves your ability to harmonize the internal and external.

9. Xiang Lian Bu Duan – Continuity without breakage; There must be absolute continuity of movement; Move with continuity
Movements that use physical strength have breaks in the movement where the strength is depleted, creating a moment of vulnerability. Tai chi uses intention instead of physical strength so the movement becomes continuous without breaks. When practicing tai chi, control your movements so they are slow and continuous so your inner force can develop.

10. Dong Zhong Qiu Jing – Seeking stillness within movement; Seek stillness (serenity in movement); Move with tranquility
Tai chi emphasizes stillness instead of movement. Even when moving, the form appears to be tranquil. Therefore, slow movements when practicing and deep breaths, allow the qi to sink to the dan tien.

The tai chi classics say that tai chi should appear to be “flowing like a mighty river.” People learning tai chi need to learn proper posture and the sequence of the forms. After the form is learned, learners need to coordinate the movements into a smooth and continuous movement.

© 2011 Eric Borreson

Friday, March 11, 2011

Yang Chen Fu – 10 Essential Points (Part 1 of 2)

Yang Chen Fu was the grandson of Yang Lu Chan, founder of the Yang style of tai chi. He created a list of 10 points, or concepts, that are essential for mastering tai chi. These concepts can seem a little obscure and are difficult to understand at first. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t understand right away. Most people spend a lifetime learning the details. Think about each point separately and together with each other point. Practice regularly. Over time, the meaning of each point becomes clearer. With regular practice, you will be able to understand how they relate to the practice of tai chi. The following is the first 5 of the 10 points with several translations and a brief explanation of each.

1. Xu Ling Ding Jin – Empty Mind and Raise Head; Keep the head upright, as if suspended from above, and keep it straight; Head upright to let the shen [spirit of vitality] rise to the top of the head Maintain an upright posture, an upward energy at the top of the head, and a feeling of lengthening through the spine. Slightly push your chin back to straighten your neck. Your neck must be straight to allow your head to be vertical. This allows the shen to arrive at the crown of your head. Don’t use li, or physical strength, as this will cause stiffness and hinder the qi circulation. Try to visualize the qi reaching the top of your head. Imagine your head is suspended from a thread, or a string of pearls, from above.

2. Han Xiong Ba Bei – Hollowing the chest to raise the back; Depress the chest and raise the upper back; Sink the chest and pluck up the back Allow the chest to sink so there is a feeling of openness between the shoulder blades. This allows the qi to sink to the dan tian. Relax the chest muscles without hunching over. This keeps your body from getting top heavy. Keep your upper body straight without being stiff. Imaging your spine is another string and gently pull the string from both ends to lengthen and open up your spine. Imagine the qi moving to your back. This will tend to straighten your back.

3. Song Yao – Loosening up the waist; Loosen (relax) the waist); Song [Relax] the waist Relax the waist area, allowing the spine to twist gently. Loosening your waist increases the qi energy in your legs and establishes a firm base for firm rooting. Shifting your weight comes from the movement of your waist. Work on sinking your qi to the dan tian. Work on opening up your hips by gently stretching your hips out away from your center. A tense waist makes you stiff and blocks the flow of qi.

The waist refers to the entire abdominal area from the hips to rib cage, including the dan tien and ming men. Turning and sinking the waist stores power. Turning and rising releases stored power.

4. Fen Xu Shi – Distinguishing between substantial and insubstantial You need to be able to distinguish between substantial and insubstantial to be able to turn and move lightly and gracefully. If you can’t tell the difference, your steps will be heavy and sluggish. When you move, touch down lightly like a cat. When moving forward, touch your heel down first. When moving backward, touch your toe down first. Visualize each movement before making it to learn to make the distinction.

This essential point also applies to your hands during a form. One hand/arm is almost always leading and the other is the complementary hand. In general, keep your eyes on the substantial (yang) hand.

5. Chen Lian Zhu Zhou – Sinking the shoulder and weighting down the elbow; Sink (relax) the shoulders and elbows; Sink the shoulders and drop the elbows Drop the elbows, and allow the shoulders to sink downward and relax. To sink the shoulder is to relax the muscles and let the shoulders drop down to eliminate any unnecessary tension. To weight down the elbow is to let your elbows go down, hang loose, and drop slightly. If your elbows are raised, your shoulders cannot sink properly and the qi will rise up to your shoulders instead of sinking to the dan tian. Stretch out your shoulders and visualize extending your shoulder joints. Try to keep the points of your elbows pointing down to help your qi flow better.

You can read Part 2 here.

© 2011 Eric Borreson

Friday, March 4, 2011

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

Read Part 1 of this article here.

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.

2. Awareness of Body and QiTai chi is a martial art. You need to concentrate to develop clarity of mind, but you also need to be aware of what is happening around you. Closing your eyes during the form helps build awareness of your body, but it doesn’t help you become aware of the environment around you.

There are three stages to being able to direct your qi. These are covered in much more in my articles on “Tai Chi – Stages of Development”.

Stage One – Practice your external movements to develop the correct posture and tempo.
Without practice, our mind may not know exactly what the body is doing. For example, you may think that you are keeping an upright body during your forms, but you may actually be hunching over. You need feedback during your training so that you can develop this integration. Use another person, a video camera, or a mirror to test your posture.

Stage Two – Learn how to direct your force and follow an opponent’s force
Even the simplest forms have several (many) parts to learn and master. It is a big oversimplification, but we can say that the six things to focus on at this point are 1) what your feet are doing, 2) what your hands are doing, 3) what your waist (body) is doing, 4) what your eyes are doing, 5) opening, and 6) closing.

Stage Three – Practice focusing on moving your qi to where you want it
When you are practicing tai chi, move slowly and continuously and use intent to move beyond the physical part of the form. This helps to develop a strong mind-body connection. Qi gets stronger as it continues to flow, just like the force of water gets stronger as it flows downhill. If you stop moving during the forms, your qi also stops moving.

3. Strengthening Your Spirit (Unconscious Mind)The word “spirit” needs a little explanation. It has nothing to do with the Christian idea of the Holy Spirit. It is attitude, in the sense of “He is in high spirits.” Spirit is mostly controlled by your unconscious mind. You can be aware of your spirit and make temporary changes, but long-term change requires long-term practice. Tai chi can be a path to control your unconscious mind.

The slow movements and breathing and mental focus of tai chi can reduce stress by activating your parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of your nervous system that slows down your body after a stressful event has gotten you all wound up.

A key component of managing your spirit is using guided imagery. The imagery may have a short-term goal, such as mastering a difficult part of a form or keeping upright during a form, or it may have a long-term goal, such as improving your control of your speed during the entire set.

Mental imagery works on the unconscious mind and can be effective in ways that standard practice alone cannot be. It can help guide you to a higher level of tai chi. As a suggestion, set aside 5 or 10 minutes every day for mental imagery before practicing your forms. Use this time to work on your goal. Imagine that you do your forms perfectly. Look at the smallest details. Your unconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between visualization and actual movement. The visualization influences your following practice.

The classics of tai chi clearly recognized the use of imagery. Many of the names of the individual forms reflect this idea. We are not likely to be using tai chi for combat any more, but the creator of Chen style tai chi created a form that included the description “sky full of stars” to describe the effect on your opponent when you hit him in the head. Another form included the term “red fist”, meaning red from your opponent’s blood.

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.

For further information, see my previous posts about Stages of Development, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

© 2011 Eric Borreson