Sunday, August 17, 2014

How to Learn Tai Chi

White Crane Flashing Wings
I have been studying tai chi for a number of years now. The more I learn, the more learning I have to do.

Most students, myself included, run through our forms and call it our daily practice. This weekend, I did something a little different.

I spent one hour practicing Leisurely Tying Coat and then one hour practicing White Crane Flashing Wings. I experimented with the timing of the weight shifts, the waist rotations, the motion of the hands, etc. I worked one hand over and over until it seemed correct. Then I worked the other hand over and over. Then I combined them and fine-tuned. Repeat as necessary.

I kept asking myself questions like, “How is the force generated here?”, “How is the force transferred to my hands here”, "What is the timing on the weight shifts?", and similar, over and over.

Then I combined the two forms and worked on the transition. Over and over. It's amazing how much I didn't know.

The more I learn, the more learning I have to do.

© 2014 Eric Borreson

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

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Tai Chi Improves Ability to Perform Complex Tasks

A recent study shows that tai chi practitioners are more able to perform complex tasks that combine physical and cognitive challenges than non-practitioners. The study looked at older experienced tai chi practitioners and healthy controls. The practitioners were mostly in their 70's.
The first challenge was to step down from a 19 cm (7.5 inch) platform and maintain a single-leg stance for 10 seconds. After that challenge was evaluated, the participants were asked to perform the same step while responding to a cognitive challenge called an auditory Stroop test. They were required to respond to the tone of voice regardless of the actual words. The primary outcome measure was postural stability, with other outcomes also measured.
There was a significant difference in the measures between the two groups. The authors said, "… the auditory Stroop test showed that Tai Chi practitioners achieved not only significantly less error rate in single-task, but also significantly faster reaction time in dual-task, when compared with healthy controls similar in age and other relevant demographics. 

Similarly, the stepping-down task showed that Tai Chi practitioners not only displayed significantly less COP sway area in single-task, but also significantly less COP sway path than healthy controls in dual-task. These results showed that Tai Chi practitioners achieved better postural stability after stepping down as well as better performance in auditory response task than healthy controls. The improved performance that was magnified by dual motor-cognitive task performance may point to the benefits of Tai Chi being a mind-and-body exercise."
The study was published in: Eur J Appl Physiol. 2013 Mar 14. By Lu X, Siu KC, Fu SN, et al. from Dept of Rehabilitation Sciences, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, China. 
© 2014  by Eric Borreson

Sunday, April 27, 2014

World Tai Chi & Qigong Day 2014

World Tai Chi & Qigong Day group photo
World Tai Chi & Qigong Day
World Tai Chi & Qigong Day is an annual event celebrated all around the world to raise awareness of tai chi and qigong. We had a great event this year at Bird Park in Kankakee, IL USA. More than 40 people braved the cold wind to get together and celebrate the event.

We had demonstrations of Sun style and Yang style tai chi and several qigong forms. We practiced as a group starting at 10 AM to participate in the Global Wave of Healing.

Thanks to Gary P for organizing the event.

How was your event? Let us know in the comments.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

What Happens When You Practice in the Wrong Place?

I usually practice my tai chi in the same space at home. I always face the same direction. I recently learned that this practice places limits on my practice.
One day recently I faced the opposite direction to start my forms. Sometime during the forms practice, I lost track of where I was. I stopped and tried to figure out where I was and how I had gotten there. It took a little time, but I finally figured out that I had made a wrong move somewhere along the line and ended up facing the wrong direction.  
Tai chi sets often contain the same forms repeated several times but they move through those forms into something different. Somehow my mind had realized that I was facing the "wrong" way. I ended up moving into the wrong form after one of the repetitions so that I was facing the "right" way.
Maybe I need to change things up more often. How do you deal with this?
© 2014  by Eric Borreson

Friday, April 4, 2014

Understanding Too Soon

Have you ever thought about your teacher, "Why does he keep teaching this stuff? I already know it." Maybe you need to rethink your position.

One of the most famous and quotable writers to ever use the English language was William Shakespeare. The things he wrote in his plays are often quoted and have become part of the language. If Shakespeare had never lived, the most famous author would likely be Alexander Pope.

"Some people will never learn anything because they understand everything too soon." ~Alexander Pope*

I think children are better at this. They know they don't know anything (at least until they become teenagers when they think they know everything). We are often unwilling to admit that we don't know something. This brings us back from the edge of true understanding. It keeps us from the breakthroughs in understanding that make learning truly enjoyable.

Think about it. Have you ever thought that you knew more than your teacher? How has that prevented you from learning?

© 2014 by Eric Borreson

*This quote is widely attributed to Alexander Pope. However, I can't find where it originally came from. Does anyone know? Leave a comment.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Keeping Track of Time

Have you ever been engrossed in something interesting and lost track of time? Sure you have. It happens to all of us. Our conscious awareness of the flow of time keeps changing.

When I am sitting and not paying much attention, I breathe about 15 times a minute. When I am practicing my tai chi, I usually focus on my breath (among other things). I usually breathe slower, about 10 times a minute.

If I don't focus on my breathing, an interesting thing sometimes happens. I completely lose track of time. I don't know if my forms take 7 minutes or 12 minutes. And I never know the difference until I am done and look at the clock. It seems like time moves at a different speed at different times.  
 “I avoid looking at the clock, fearing the slow passing of time that will only seem slower if I watch its progress.” ~Michelle Zink, Prophecy of the Sisters
 Has this ever happened to you? Please leave a comment and tell me what you think about this. ©

© 2014 by Eric Borreson
Photo © Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tai Chi for Falls Prevention

According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 1 in 3 US adults over 65 fall each year. The treatment cost for falls in the US is about $20 Billion each year. Scary, isn't it.

The CDC issues what are called "evidence-based practice" recommendations. This is the highest level of recognition in the medical community because there is evidence that the practice works. The Tai Chi for Arthritis program developed by Dr. Paul Lam is evidence-based practice for reducing falls.

"…the fall rate among Tai Chi participants was one-third lower and the rate of multiple falls was 46 percent lower than the rates for participants who did not take Tai Chi."

Voukelatos A, Cumming RG, Lord SR, Rissel C. A randomized, controlled trial of Tai Chi for the prevention of falls: The Central Sydney Tai Chi trial. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.2007 Aug;55(8):1185-91.

That's a jaw-dropping result! The fall rate dropped dramatically for the people learning tai chi. There are no guarantees for individuals, but this is an official endorsement. Tai chi is a method proven to help empower people to take control of their health.

"Tai chi is especially useful for improving balance and preventing falls—a major concern for older adults. Studies have shown tai chi to reduce falls in seniors by up to 45%, Dr. Wayne says. It can also improve balance in people with neurological problems. Tai chi helps improve balance because it targets all the physical components needed to stay upright—leg strength, flexibility, range of motion, and reflexes—all of which tend to decline with age."
There are three main tai chi practices that are helpful in reducing falls.

1) The practice of being aware of full (substantial) and empty (insubstantial). A substantial foot means that all (or most) of your weight is in that foot. For instance, if the whole body's weight is on the right foot, the right foot is substantial and the left foot is insubstantial, and vice versa. Read more here.

Most often, people fall laterally (to the side). The side stepping of Waving Hands Like Clouds develops improved strength and balance. When we place our foot empty and then shift our weight, we are moving with muscles instead of using momentum to move us. This strengthens the muscles and joints in the legs and helps with balance. In addition, stepping this way is a mind-body practice that builds awareness of posture and balance.

A bent knee stance and movement works to strengthen lower limb muscle, particularly the quads. However, don't overdo it. Always work within your comfort zone. If a bent knee stance is too difficult, then do the movement without bent knees.

Tai Chi addresses gait problems by teaching correct movement of the lower limbs. This is done by lifting lower limbs from the knee rather than the foot and lifting lower limbs without misaligning the pelvis. Tai chi also teaches to place heel down first when moving forward and toes first when moving back.

2. Moving as if against a gentle resistance. Visualize doing your tai chi in water and lower your center of gravity. This increases the load on lower limbs and over time increases sensation and awareness of lower limb movement. It develops a mind-body connection and builds strength. Body awareness means that you are more aware of what your body is doing and helps keep you out of unstable postures where falls can occur.

3. Coordinate the movements of the upper and lower body. Be aware of your posture. Keep your shoulders over your hips and move from the hips (center of the body) to remain vertical. Read more here.

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.

© 2014 by Eric Borreson

Friday, March 14, 2014

How Do We Become "Good" at Something?

I recently read an article that discussed difference between having an innate skill and the hard work to develop skill.

Here is what the authors say (Click here for entire article)
Talents that selectively facilitate the acquisition of high levels of skill are said to be present in some children but not others. The evidence for this includes biological correlates of specific abilities, certain rare abilities in autistic savants, and the seemingly spontaneous emergence of exceptional abilities in young children, but there is also contrary evidence indicating an absence of early precursors for high skill levels in young people. An analysis of positive and negative evidence and arguments suggests that differences in early experiences, preferences, opportunities, habits, training and practice are the real determinants of excellence.

OK, that was hard to read. The last sentenced was the most eye-opening. Certainly some children display unusual abilities in specific areas, although many of the reported cases are entirely anecdotal. However, there is considerable evidence that suggests training and practice are much more significant causes of displayed talents than any innate skill.

What does this have to do with tai chi? What's the secret? Simple. Practice and you will get surprising results. Get feedback on how you are doing and you will get better at it.

Here's some free advice to help you with it. There is a technique called Directed Practice that helps us develop skill. You can read more about in an article I wrote some time ago. Click here.
Deliberate practice also involves monitoring one's performance - in real-time and via recordings - continually looking for new ways to improve. This means being observant and keenly aware of what happens, so that you can tell yourself exactly what went wrong.

© 2014 Eric Borreson

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Sun Family Tai Chi (Part 2)

Last week, I posted a video of Sun JianYun performing her family tai chi form. This week, I found a video of Sun Peng, a grandson of Sun LuTang. It looks like a Spring day, with the snow starting to disappear.

He is obviously pretty old here. I am amazed at how his movements just flow from one form to the next.

Here is last week's video of Sun JianYun again for reference. 

It appears that YouTube has deleted the original video. This link to the following video no longer works.

It's obvious that they are both doing Sun style tai chi, but they clearly have modified parts of it so that it seems like they are doing something completely different. For example, look at the Brush Knee early in each video. Sun Peng brings his hands down together and then out. Sun JianYun quickly extends her hands out.

This difference really emphasizes the difference between how they interpret the idea of open and close/yin and yang in the forms.

I would love to hear your thoughts on these two videos. What other differences do you see?

© 2014 Eric Borreson

Saturday, March 1, 2014

LinkedIn Endorsements?

Like many people, I have a LinkedIn account. I don't use it much, but I would like to hear from people that use LinkedIn Endorsements. What is the purpose here? I know what LinkedIn says, but what they say doesn't seem to match reality. I have been endorsed for many skills I don't have by people that don't even know me.

Strength training? I don't do that. Anyone that has ever seen my non-bulging biceps would realize that I have no skills here and can't possibly help people with this.

Reiki? No experience with this.

Nutritional counseling? My advice is simple: Don't eat any food that is advertised in a TV commercial. Beyond that, I can't help you.

Yoga? I took a few classes about 5 years ago. Does that mean I should be endorsed for this?

Operant conditioning? I don't even know what that means. Why did 2 people endorse me for this skill?

What is going on here? Does anyone use these endorsements to make decisions about people? I can't figure out any useful purpose to this.

Help me out. Put something in the comments.

© 2014 Eric Borreson

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Taiji - Sun Style (Sun Jianyun) 孫式太極 孫劍雲

Sun Lu Tang was the creator of Sun style tai chi. He had several children. One of them was a daughter, Sun JianYun. I am embedding a video here of Sun JianYun performing the family style of tai chi. This is the 97 form routine.

There are a few points here that I want to emphasize. First of all, she moves very quickly, but every step is precise. The follow steps are always placed in the same place. She barely touches her foot down before she is moving it again. This doesn't happen by accident. It takes years of practice to make this happen.

Second, she is very flexible and limber. She does a kick at about 5:00 into the video where her foot goes about chest height. I don't know exactly how old she was when this video was made, but she must be well into her 80s. That flexibility is what a lifetime of tai chi can do for you. It's not immortality, but it is great health into old age.

Third, she demonstrates the Sun sword forms beginning at about 6:20. Note the Bagua footwork here. There is a lot of "slicing", but not much "thrusting". I have never seen this before. Really interesting.

Starting at about 5:20, she demonstrates something else that I can't identify. Can someone help me out here and tell me what she is doing?

© 2014 Eric Borreson

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Three Simple Rules for Beginning a Tai Chi Life

Does it seem too complicated to learn tai chi with all those movements happening? One arm going one way and the other arm going another way, stepping somewhere else, all at once. It's not hard. There are three simple rules you should know as you begin a tai chi life.

1) Stop Worrying. Worry doesn't do any good, so let it go. When you worry, you can't calm down. When you can't calm down, you can't relax. When you can't relax, you can't do tai chi.

2) Don't think about too many things. You can't improve if you don't focus. Focus on one thing and let everything else go.

3) Enjoy your practice. You have to enjoy it to want to make the time for tai chi in your life. Think about how good it makes you feel after practice. Think about how you get mentally refreshed from your practice. Have fun with it.

That's enough to get you off to a great start.

© 2014 Eric Borreson

Here is another list that you may enjoy: What I Wish I Had Known at the Beginning

Sunday, February 9, 2014

I Have No Former Students

I have been thinking about my teaching quite a bit lately. I started some new classes at the beginning
Tai Chi Beginner
Tai Chi Beginner
of the year. That's the busiest time of year for new classes because of all those New Year's resolutions. Like all other tai chi teachers, most of my students only take a few sessions of a tai chi class before they disappear.

What are we to conclude from that? Am I a terrible teacher that drives students away? I don't think so. The students that do stay with me seem to enjoy class with me. I need to change my thinking about this.

Maybe the students are failing me. Is that the right way to think about it? Again, I don't think so.

Do I have a lot of "former students"? This seems to be the key question. I think a better way to think about this is to say that tai chi is only a small part of the life of most new students. They have work and family to balance. They have kids that need a ride to after-school activities. It's hard for a tai chi teacher to admit, but tai chi just isn't the most important thing in the lives of many people.

I occasionally meet a former student somewhere else in town. They remember me and want to talk about class. They often tell me that they loved learning tai chi, but they are too busy to continue. This is especially true for younger students. The most "reliable" students tend to be older. The children have moved out and they now have more time for themselves.

I am adopting a new motto. I have no former students. I have students that haven't made time in their lives yet for tai chi. In fact, some of them have come back to my classes lately.

© 2014 Eric Borreson

Saturday, February 1, 2014

It Takes Time -- The Hand Pump

Tai chi is not a 30-day medical cure. I often tell students that it takes time for changes from tai chi to
Hand Pump
Hand Pump
express themselves in our bodies. It typically takes 8 to 12 weeks of practice for changes to become noticeable. New students often have unrealistic expectations about what to expect from tai chi.

I've been searching for an analogy to help explain this. We need to reach way back for this one. Younger students may not recognize this one, but most of the older ones will. Tai chi is like one of those old-fashioned hand-operated water pumps. It takes many strokes of the handle before the water starts flowing. If you give up too soon, you don't get any water.

Tai chi works much the same way in the beginning. There are simple benefits, like calmness and relaxation, that appear fairly quickly. The long-term sustainable improvements take longer to achieve. Tai chi takes commitment to practice. The results are so worth it.

"It Takes Time" should be a mantra for all new students.

© 2014 Eric Borreson

Saturday, January 25, 2014

How Do We Properly Tilt the Pelvis (Revisited)?

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article called "Tilt the Pelvis". I had an interesting conversation with a friend about the terminology I used to describe this movement. She graciously explained a better way to describe it (thanks Kate!). You can read my original article here.

We agree that the phrase "tilt the pelvis" is often misinterpreted and used to put students into an unnatural position. I have used the word "grotesque" to describe some of what I have seen.

Kate prefers to use the term "gently round the tailbone" and says that it is all about opening and closing the kuas. As we sink and deliver energy at the end of a tai chi form, the kuas close. This works to gently round the tailbone, or tuck the tailbone. As we start to open up as we move into the next form, we open the kuas and our posture changes. Combine this with the idea of sinking the qi by our breath and we develop a natural movement that gently rounds the tailbone.

I found another interesting explanation online in an article by Tu-Ky Lam. You can read the whole article here. In that article, he says,
"If we can pull our lumbar spine in correctly (for only 2mm – 3mm), we can feel that it connects our upper body to the leg that supports our body weight more. When we move, it moves as well – from the substantial leg (that supports more body weight) to the insubstantial one. It firms up our body at the start and the finish of a move, (moves back to its normal position in the middle), and makes our movements relaxed and yet strong. We need to pull in our lumbar spine in this manner to produce more power. If we can feel that our skeleton is firm and well connected and our strength is greatly increased, we have got it right. Without this feeling, we are not there yet. If we have lower back pain or strain in our knees, we are overdoing it."
As always, let me know what you think.

© 2014 Eric Borreson

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Tai Chi for the 21st Century

What happens when a poet also practices tai chi? These are not my words. They are from a video by my friend, Paul Read, the Teapotmonk. He kindly allowed me to share this here. 

 Grace & Strength
In the Tai Chi Form

Just as the space between words shape the phrase...
Just as the space between musical notes shape the song...
So too, we crave the presence of space

In time, we learn that it is the emptiness between the postures that defines them.
So... before you begin...
Before anything else...Feel
o Feel the air circulate between your fingers
o Feel your weight fall to the soles of your feet
o Feel your joints open
o Feel your muscles soften
o Feel your breath move...

Then, and only then...Let
o Let the outside step in, and let the movement begin by itself
o Let what is inside reach out
o Let your arms ride the waves...

Night and Day
o Enjoy the Yang
o But remember the sweet taste of Yin
o For in nature...

... in nature there are no straight lines
o They serve no purpose here...
o Where everything is circular
o So... Find the curve and join with your breath

Follow the cycles of your breath
o Follow the curves of nature
o Follow the breeze
o Follow, follow, follow
o ... and learn that...

When you rise up, sink down first...
o Turn left before moving right
o Step back before moving forward
o Let your body do the work...

o When you really need to be hard
o When softness has completed its turn
o When the Yang in you surges to the surface...

Look Deeper...
o For strength comes not from tension
o But from the interplay of opposites
o The embracing of contrasts
o From silence and space and ...

Balance & Breath
... there is tremendous strength in grace

You can see the video directly on YouTube. Click here.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Blogging Update (I Need Help)

Now that we are beginning a new year, it's time to look back on how we got here. I have been blogging for about 3 1/2 years. My goal since the beginning has been to help people find ways to change their lives. I am happy to say that my reach is continuing to grow.

I am really interested in starting a dialogue with my readers about the direction you want this to go. I need some help developing my blog to make sure that I am delivering what people are looking for. I placed several questions at the end. Please comment below or contact me directly.

Blogging sites provide reports on the top articles and demographics on page visits. Here are some of the things I learned from the latest usage reports:

Top Articles
I have posted nearly 200 articles since I started writing. The top articles, ranked by pageviews, are:

Here are two articles from 2013 that didn't get many readers the first time around. I think they are worth a few minutes of your time.

Readers use many different platforms, browsers, and operating systems to reach my blog. Most of that hasn't changed very much since the beginning. However, there has been a large change as the use of mobile devices, like smart phones and tablets, has increased in 2013.
Year                 Desktop          Mobile
2010                95%                 5%
2011                96%                 4%
2012                92%                 7%
2013                85%                 15%

The change has been really dramatic in 2013. A quarterly breakdown of the data shows that mobile usage has more than doubled from 9% of page views in the first quarter to 19% in the fourth quarter.
Year                 Desktop          Mobile
2013 (Q1)            91%                 9%
2013 (Q2)            86%                 14%
2013 (Q3)            82%                 18%
2013 (Q4)            81%                 19%

I started blogging regularly in July 2010. I have seen steady growth since then. My blog has served 73,736 pageviews (through the end of 2013).
Year     Pageviews
2010    618
2011    8310
2012    26,487
2013    38,321

I have had visitors come from 135 nations. I am so happy to be able to share this with so many people all around the world. The most common nations of the visitors are:
US              56.1%
UK             10.5%
Canada       5.8%
Australia     3.2%
Singapore    2.2%
All others    22.2%

About 85% of the visitors found my site through a Google search. I am continually learning about how Google search works. For about 3 years, I posted a new article about every week. Late in 2013, I ran out of time and energy for a while and started reusing articles. Google noticed. The number of people finding my blog through a Google search fell by almost half from September to December. Don't mess with Google.

About 5% of the visitors came through another search site, from an email update, a news feed, or a permanent link on someone's web page. The remaining 10% find my site through some kind of social media link.

Of that 10% that find my articles through social media, the top sources are:
Facebook     62%
LinkedIn      20%
Twitter         17%
Google+      2%

These numbers reflect the amount of time and effort I place into each. I spend more time on Facebook than the others so I get more visitors from there.

Help Me, Please
I am considering adding other social media sites, like Youtube, Tumblr, or Pinterest. I would love to hear from anyone that has experience with these. Please leave a comment or contact me directly. What kind of viewership do you get? Are they effective at reaching people? My time is limited. Where are the best places to find readers?

Do you have any ideas on whether I should make changes to my blog based on the increase in mobile readship? How can I make the content or presentation different?

I have seen other blogs that place a Paypal link and ask for donations. What do you think about this practice? Would you be offended if I asked for donations to support my training expenses? Is this effective? Do you have any ideas on this topic?

If you are interested in submitting an article for for publication on this blog, please let me know. We can discuss content and my editorial policy. Contact me at

Looking forward to another great year in 2014. A big thank you to all the people that read my blog and especially to those that comment on the blog or provide other feedback.

© 2014 Eric Borreson

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Lucky Eights

Tai chi is full of circles and spirals. It's not obvious to beginners because they are accustomed to working linearly. They try to get from here to there in a straight path. There is nothing like that in tai chi. This week, I am writing about what is called a Figure 8 movement of the waist and dan tien.

Start by standing with your feet apart, about the width of your hips or your shoulders. Push off with one foot and shift your weight to the other foot. Keep your body straight and don't turn your hips or your waist. Push off and move to the other side. If you pay close attention to your body, you can notice that only way to move in this linear, straight-line direction is to keep your hips tight and tense. You have to tighten the muscles to move in a straight line. This is not tai chi.

Back to the beginning. Bring your attention to your hips, pelvis, and waist. Relax and loosen the muscles around the hips and pelvis. Let yourself sink. Tighten up the muscles and feel how it changes your posture. Relax and sink again. Play with it a little and get comfortable with the feeling. You are relaxing both left and right sides, so you should be sinking straight down.

This time, start with all your weight on your right leg. Relax and sink into the weighted right leg. Pay close attention to the feeling and stay relaxed. You should feel a small tug or pull that pulls your right hip back so that your hips rotate clockwise relative to the floor. You may have to nudge it a little to start to feel the sensations of rotating. Try it on the left side and play with it.

After you feel comfortable with sinking on each side, start to add in a weight shift. Starting on the right, sink as before. This time, as your hip rotates back, push off with the right leg. Shift your weight across to the left. Sink onto the left leg and let your hips continue to rotate. This time, the rotation is counterclockwise. As your left hip rotates back, push off with the left leg. Shift your weight across to the right until you are back where you started.

Now rotate your waist relative to your hips. I talked about this last week. Read it here. Combine this with your other movement.

Do it again and pay close attention to the movement. Your lower abdomen (dan tien, belly button) should trace out a path in space shaped like a figure 8. This is very similar to the idea of spiral force that I have written about in the past. Read more here.

© 2014 Eric Borreson