Friday, September 27, 2013

Tai chi and Meditation

Tai chi is often discussed as a meditative practice. Meditation does not mean the same thing as relaxation. It does not mean achieving a state of blissful calmness. Meditation is all about intention and focus. With practice, we can develop a calming focus to our movements. However, that calm focus does not come easily. Our mind resists it all the way.
There are two aspects of our mind that are involved in our practice. The first aspect of our mind is the heart mind (Xīn, 心 脏 ), or monkey mind. This is the active, emotional part of our mind. It is the part responsible for the random thoughts that distract us during our practice. This part of the mind is very strong in beginners and is the cause of considerable emotional stress.
The second aspect is called the one-pointed mind (Yi, 意 ), or intention. This is the part of the mind that pays attention to the fine details of the movement. It notices the opening and closing of the kuas, the slow shifting of our weight, and all the other fine points of our movement. This part of the mind may be very weak in beginners. It can be strengthened through practice.
One of the goals during practice to use our intention to calm down the monkey mind and to focus on the movement. This is a form of meditation. Meditation is much more difficult that it would appear. A lack of focus is something that all tai chi practitioners must deal with at some point. In fact, it can be quite frustrating to deal with a wandering mind during forms practice.
One way to deal with monkey mind during forms practice happens during repetition in the form. We should not simply be moving through the forms. We should be focusing on our movement. The sets are sometimes designed with extra repetition of some of the forms. The individual forms in a sequence may be repeated, but the sequence of the following forms may be different.
It is easy to reach a point where our minds forget where we are in the sequence. It takes focus and intention to keep track of where you are in the sequence and what comes next. With practice, the practitioner can focus on all the forms during a set.
For example, the Sun 73 set that I usually practice includes 7 Single Whip movements. Each repetition is followed by a different form. Each repetition is an opportunity to lose focus and fall out of sequence. This serves as a reminder that focus is necessary. The forms sequence can only be completed correctly when the intention is there and the monkey mind is under control.
The regular repetition of the Open Hands and Close Hands provides some extra help. Each time we pause for these forms, we have an opportunity to pause, recenter, and refocus. As we develop in our practice, we learn to tame the monkey mind. This makes our practice a form of Meditation in Motion.
© 2013 Eric Borreson

Saturday, September 21, 2013


There are times when the little devil on my shoulder tries to persuade me to be lazy and to put off doing the necessary things. "It's OK to skip practice today. What's one day? It won't matter."
devil on shoulder

I depend on routines to help me through these times. I have set up my home and my schedule to do certain things at certain times: "It's morning. I'm out of bed. I have shaved, showered, and brushed my teeth. What's next? It's time for tai chi."

That usually works pretty well for me. However, there are some days where I get out of my routine. Recently, I had to leave early for work. I had several options to get my tai chi done.

First: Get up early. Not a good choice. I wake up earlier than I want to far too often as it is. I am not going to deliberately wake up any earlier that I need to.

Second: Omit taking a shower in the morning. Not a good choice. My coworkers may not be happy with me.

Third: Omit my morning tai chi and do it later. Not a great choice, but better than the others. I planned to do my tai chi that evening when I got home from work.

Unfortunately it takes more than good intentions to achieve good results. I sat down for a nice dinner with my wife. Then it was time to check my email. I thought to myself, " I have plenty of time. I'll do it later." Then it was time to check Facebook. I thought to myself, " I know that this isn't a good use of my time, but I still have plenty of time. I'll do it later."

One thing led to another and I wasted a couple of hours of my time and had not accomplished the only important item on my schedule. I finally found the willpower to push myself away from the computer and to do what I had been looking forward to doing all day.

I did the warmup exercises and I could feel my joints and muscles creaking in protest. I had been sitting too long. Then I started my forms and all of a sudden a wonderful feeling come over me as my mind and body responded to doing the forms. I was so happy to be moving and breathing. The rhythm of the steps, the shifting of the weight, the breath following the opening and closing movements of the forms.

Was I perfect in my forms? Of course not. I have never been perfect. I teetered and leaned into some of my kicks. I was off balance a couple of times. But it didn't matter. I was doing what I was supposed to be doing and it felt great.

I came very close to yielding to the little devil on my shoulder that was trying to get me to skip my practice. If I would have given in, I would have missed the great experience that I did have.

Stories like this usually have a moral. For this story, it's pretty simple. Use your routines to help you remain on task. When the routines fail, you are left with willpower to accomplish your goals. Willpower is not reliable, but sometimes it's all you have. Do the best you can and realize that life is not perfect. Focus on what is important and do the best you can.

© 2013 Eric Borreson

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Tai Chi Helps With So Many Things

This week, I just wanted to let someone else talk. Bill Douglas is a well known author and teacher of tai chi, qigong, and meditation. He put together a video that summarized recent studies on the health benefits of tai chi. 

Bill presents studies and stories that say that meditation and tai chi help to
  • Increase brain size
  • Control symptoms of type 2 diabetes
  • Improve standing balance after a stroke
  • Reduce balance impairment from Parkinson's disease
  • Improvement multiple symptoms of multiple sclerosis
Watch the video (It's about 12 minutes long).

To see the video on Youtube, click here

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Breathe, Scan, and Relax

All styles of tai chi begin with wu ji posture. The details of the posture can vary slightly for different styles, but it should be there. It's important. Wu ji is not there just as a place to begin your forms. It has much more meaning.

The next time you are ready to practice your tai chi, take a moment to pause in wu ji. Take a deep breath or two. Let your mind scan your body, starting at the top. Look for any tense muscles. When you find them, visualize your breath moving to that area. Exhale at those points and feel the muscles completely relax.

Bring your mind back to where you were. Move on to the rest of your body and continue your scan. After scanning your entire body, bring your mind to your posture and make sure you are ready to begin. Take as long as you need to complete this, but it should go fairly quickly. This is not intended to be Standing Post practice. (If you are not sure what that means, you can read about it here.)

Breathe, scan, and relax. Now begin your practice with a calm mind and body.

© 2013 Eric Borreson