Measurable Benefits of Tai Chi

Why do we do Tai Chi – what are the benefits of Tai Chi? To an outsider, it may look like we are waving our hands around for no reason. We know that Tai Chi is based on ancient Chinese martial arts, and that each movement has an application or two, a purpose for each move. There are those who have studied the movements and say that one movement will help the energy in a particular meridian. But still, some people want scientific proof of our claims.

Part of Grasping Sparrow's Tail Sequence

Part of Grasping Sparrow’s Tail Sequence

(Running scored the lowest.)This article by Dr. Pete Gryffin talks about how Tai Chi is scientifically measurably good for you. He studied various activities, such as walking, running, resting, Yang style Tai Chi, Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail sequence in particular, and Qi walking. He looked at the blood oxygen saturation of the various activities, and found that doing the Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail sequence resulted in the highest increase in blood oxygen saturation. Qi Walking, Yang style Tai Chi scored the second and third highest increases in blood oxygen saturation.

He also states that one of the major complications in cancer treatment is hypoxia, which is an oxygen deficiency in the tissues. So it is logical to conclude that by adding Tai Chi to your life will help with cancer treatments.

According to Great Grand Master Kellen Chia, Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail also benefits the eliminative organs of the body, such as the large intestine, colon, and will also treat constipation.

Come to a class soon and learn this healthy and health-ful form!

Is Tai Chi a Martial Art or a Peaceful Meditation

balancing rocks on the beachA recent conversation on a LinkedIn forum discussed whether Tai Chi should be taught as a martial art, emphasizing the fighting aspects of the movements, or just as a gentle moving meditation. Certainly it is both, but how much does one lose by focusing only on the gentleness?

This quote by Peter Stephen Williamson struck me as how the martial art can be used in our daily life, without any actual fighting. “When we talk about “self defense” could we consider it as “defense against one’s own weaknesses, ego, desire, ambitions etc? Thus, if we look at ‘self’ defense, then we become calmer, find inner self-reliance and self-confidence, and subtly exude an aura of quiet confidence which may often preempt any potential “assault” – be it verbal, psychological or otherwise.

Like wise, when we face an “opponent” who feels intimidated by this aura, and who exhausts him / her self in heaping insults, we are able to “ward off” and be non-confrontational, and are able to continue our day without allowing such “assault” to stick to us.
When we have no consideration of “win” or “lose” are we not indominatable, undefeatable?”

This correlates to my own personal growth. Without having analyzed it to this extent, I’ve noticed that I am calmer when faced with an uneasy situation. Drivers who cut me off are let go without the curse and single finger salute of my younger, more aggressive self. I am better able to see the larger picture of, say, politics, without getting sidetracked by the obnoxiousness of one character. Knowing the yin and yang of situations, makes it much easier to stay centered. Being more balanced physically, I am also becoming more balanced emotionally.

More Performance Photos – Chen Style

Master Yang’s group also did the Chen Style 56 form set of Tai Chi at the Chinese New Year Festival in Chamblee. Remember to click the image to see a larger photo.

Happy New Year!

One of my teachers, Master Yang, was invited to showcase Tai Chi at the 2017 Chinese New Year Festival in Chamblee. Her group performed the 42 form set of Tai Chi, which is a compilation of the 5 northern forms of Tai Chi, including Chen, Yang, Wu, Sun and Hao. Here’s a few photos of this form, note you can click on any image and see the photo larger:

Finger Dexterity

Most of the hand movements in Tai Chi involve the whole hands, not individual finger motion. But that’s no reason to neglect your digits. Here’s a really cool video on finger exercises, designed in particular for musicians, but it can help us all.

Take your time, don’t try to do all the exercises fast and with lots of tension. Remember your Tai Chi training, breathe slowly and deeply, move gently at your own pace, and start with just a few if your hands are tight. Come back to this video every day for a week or two to do the whole set. Make a qigong set out of this, focusing on your energy flowing to your hands and through your fingers.

Don’t feel surprised if your fingers just don’t want to do some of the exercises. Just play with them, stay calm and enjoy a laugh at your incoordination. This too will get better in time. Be patient and just have some fun. Then when you get really good, like this guy, you can impress your friends and relatives!

Tips for bettering your Tai Chi practice

White Crane pose

White Crane spreading its wings in Hawaii

Your tai chi practice will improve greatly once your body learns to move gently, your breath slows down, you stop forcing the movements and learn to feel the natural movements. Basic skills of movement, made deeper by awareness of the body. Know where you have tension, that your body is rooted yet able to move gently and smoothly. This list is a great reminder of the first steps to improving your Tai Chi.

It’s not how deep your knees bend, how low you get to the ground, or how high you can kick. I used to admire the graceful long fingers of my teachers, thinking my hands would never look as graceful as theirs. I’ve come to realize it’s not the long thin fingers, but the internal grace of movement that I was missing. Feeling comfortable within my body, feeling the energy flow through the fingers and joints, rather than stressing the muscles to move.

Relaxing the fingers doesn’t mean leaving them limp, it means allowing the energy to flow naturally. Relaxing the body doesn’t mean slumping into a soft chair, it’s loosening up the tension in the muscles and joints. Allowing the body to breathe naturally, deeply.

Start with the breath, breathe slowly, deeply into the abdomen, a gentle, smooth even breath between inhale and exhale. Move in time with your breath if you can. Don’t hold your breath, or move too slowly that your breath doesn’t feel natural. When the breath is natural, add one movement, either a step, or an arm movement. Practice until that is as smooth as silk. Let the mind focus on being calm and still, feeling the body move. Take it one small bit at a time. When you are ready to add on, take another small bit and practice that. Slowly. Or as Alfredo Rolando Ortiz says, slowlier. Your practice should be at your own comfortable rhythm. Enjoy your practice!

Out of This World Tai Chi

Tai Chi performed in space by Chinese astronaut:
Liu Yang

Six Harmonies of Tai Chi

A teacher of Tai Chi, Huang Sheng Shyan, came up with this list of the six harmonies:

Three internal harmonies
• The heart harmonizes with the intention
• the intention harmonizes with the Chi
• the Chi harmonizes with the movement.
Three external harmonies
• The hips harmonize with the shoulders
• the elbows harmonize with the knees
• the hands harmonize with the feet.

What does this mean? Starting with the external harmonies, we are to keep our hips in line with the shoulders. This means we turn from the center of the body, so that the shoulders move with the hips and not on their own. The elbows stay in alignment with the knee; as the knee bends the elbow sinks, as the knee extends the elbow opens. You can see this very clearly in the high kicks to the corner in the Yang 24 form.

The hands harmonize with the feet, also referred to as the wrist and the ankles. This one is more in-depth, as we consider the opposing statements that “If the feet follow the hands, you will never be defeated” and “there is a connection that occurs throughout the body that starts punch from the sole of the foot to the squeeze of the palm of the hand resulting in the punch itself.” When we move we start with rooting one foot to the floor, the energy sinks from the dan tien down to the floor, and returns up that leg through the body to the extended hand. The other foot moves, with the movement of foot and hand stopping at the same time. According to a post on LinkedIn by Gene Golden, “Both the sole of the foot and the palm have the unique element of many more nerve endings than occur almost anywhere throughout the epidermis. I believe it is part of an integrated communications network that inform the body of the critical element of timing. Pressure to the earth through the sole of the foot alerts the body that it is doing something, squeeze of the fist tells the rest of the body that it is where it is going to culminate. Next the energy flows through the 6 harmonies in a synchronized flow of expanding energy and finally you have punch. How well you integrate these principles and the shorter amount of time it takes place in, determines the amount of power you will have in your punch.”

As to the internal harmonies, it can also be said that the mind leads the breath, the breath leads the blood, the blood leads the power. So we start first with our mind, our intention of how and where we want to move. Our breath, and our qi, follows the mind movement which then leads the power of the muscles to move as our mind has directed. Just a note here, the Chinese do not separate the heart and brain as we do in the West, their concept is more of a heart/brain unity which leads the intention, yi.

As we combine the harmonies of each movement into a fluid form, we realize more about our body, it’s relationship with the world around us, our mind settles down into a focused state, and our energy flows more naturally throughout our bodies, giving us more physical power and greater health.

Unconditional Love

by Wu Dang Chen

When you find yourself in judgement, when you find yourself in the negative, as soon as you catch it, think to the opposite side of your emotion.

Wisdom gives hope and determination to walk the path. Where intelligence can fool you, wisdom can save you. With wisdom you can understand that the journey is walked alone. The path awards you the opportunity to practice unconditional love. Do you have the greatest expectation of your own expectations? When you don’t live up to your own expectations, you punish yourself. By punishing self, you commit chronic suicide. Allow your self to live and to let live also. Allow yourself to be different. Ask, “Do I give myself opportunity to be different? Do I allow and give myself new opportunities?” Change the tone of the word “hard” to, “it is quite a challenge.” When you approach things as a challenge, as opposed to hard, you put yourself into a more joyful and excited energy. This brings the joy. Change to a “challenge.”

Practice unconditional love with no value or judgement attached to it. Unconditional love is not victimized if love is not returned. God loves you! Say, “I love you” and mean it. I love you is different when you let the voice come from your heart with emotion. When you say it from the head, it is an intellectual love and is not heartfelt. Let the voice come from the spirit. It is merciful to see the pain in the devil’s heart. Practice unconditional love. Your own self is the first one to practice with.

When you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to ask. Only stupid people look for perfection. They think the world is designed to be one way, so all their life they look for perfection. Only when you acknowledge that the world is not perfect does it become perfect. If you are willing to honestly acknowledge that you are stupid, then you become intelligent. It is always easy to point a finger at others, but it takes great wisdom to point the finger at your own nose. Those who dare to point the finger at their own nose are the wisest people. Meng Zi, a Confucian disciple said, “Check yourself three times a day and you will become a wise man.”

Go beyond the concept of I and not I. Self and selflessness is equal to Dao. The greatest individual is the one who is servant to all. To conquer one’s self is more challenging than to take down a city. Be willing to lie down for people’s needs. Love has no need to attach or detach. Love has no ego and no emotion to entertain. The lovely dummy is humble, she does not ask for an approving expression, or a return of appreciation. He will always do the same consistently. You don’t have to live for appreciation of others, so don’t ask or look for it. I serve Dao, not a letter of approval. When you serve humanity, serve each individual without ego or agenda, if not you become a slave to that agenda. Disengage from the game; ego only becomes a trap.

Your intent is to serve with purpose and passion. Be a spiritual person and enlighten people’s drive. The reward is not worldly; it is a confirmation from Dao. In the virtue world it is a virtue exchange. Return to spirit is the motion of Dao. Adjust your original intent from that of wanting to be the greatest person others want, to one of serving yourself. Detach from the desire of getting, or losing. Serve from the bottom of your heart. A truly wise person must be a fool who lets energy pass by with no judgement to understand. With no agenda you can see the whole.

It takes a wise man to see a wise man. Live and let live. Respect others right to live. Live with integrity and without judgement, so that you can enjoy how others live. Let go of all your preconceived models. Be wise and compassionate. A heart for a heart and an eye for an eye concept only leaves the whole world blind. You live in your own heaven so why create an opponent?

Many thanks to Master Chen for his wise words and for passing on his understanding of the Tao to us. Please visit his website for more information on Daoism.

Microcosmic Orbit

What is the microcosmic orbit? No, it’s not a tiny planet orbiting around the sun. It’s a flow of energy through the body. Going from the base of the spine, it goes up the Du or Governing channel, to the head where it connects through the tongue to the Ren or Conception channel, back down to the dan tien.

This page has an excellent understanding and description of the microcosmic orbit, and how to activate it during meditation. The goal is to move qi through the body, collecting and storing it in the dan tien. This can be practiced almost any time you have a spare moment, energizing the body when you need a lift. I practice it when I’m walking, especially up hills, and I feel it does give me more energy.

The page I am linking to above has a video of the 8 Pieces of Brocade practice that is a great introduction to Qi Gong moves. It also explains the purpose of the various exercises and the qi/health benefits.