Tai Chi is a superb ‘discipline’ for your coming elder years; and come they will, before you know it. It also serves as a balancing compliment to Yoga by giving you ‘space and time’ to attend to your sense of dynamic balance and perhaps watch the void. Balance is such a serious issue, especially as you age; old age and a declining sense of balance creep up on everyone as they age. Balance, like flexibility, decline so gradually (yet inexorably) that folks fail to notice it before it’s too late. Is this going to happen to you? What ever your physical problem may be today, be assured it will only get worse. We all seem to notice age related physical decline in other people, but oddly we have difficulty realizing, in a timely manner, that the same fate awaits us. Tai Chi, probably more than any other activity, is a moving meditation, which carries with it the benefits of sitting meditation… plus it offers us the opportunity to become more body-aware in movement.
Learning Tai Chi
Video’s of Tai Chi seem to be filmed ‘as is’, and not as a ‘mirror image’. The Ching Ma Cheng book recommended here (see below) shows the movements in mirror image and describes what to do in detail. The following Tai Chi Videos work well with Mr. Cheng’s book.
Tai Chi Video (mirrored and frontal image)
Mirrored image is best seen as though one was doing the Tai Chi (in unison) facing me. Think of this as though you are doing the practice in front of a mirror and I am your reflection.
‘Frontal’ image is best seen as though one was doing the Tai Chi (in unison) behind me. Think of this as though you are doing the practice directly behind me and doing it with me (and not in a mirror).
The best way to teach yoga when facing a class is to demonstrate the mirror image of the yoga posture. The class can easily following along because they are seeing the posture in ‘the mirror’. This should naturally hold true for Tai Chi.
A classic, well laid out with each posture described well in ‘mirror’ image style.
Though a little hard to use with Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s ‘mirrored’ illustrations, this DVD is still a good tool for learning T’ai Chi on your own.
Subtle yet Essential Point to Keep in Mind
Consider Tai Chi a life long process. Begin by repeating a few movements as best you can until you have a general sense of where the feet (especially) and hands go, and then ‘chew off’ a few more movements. Take a few years to learn the general movements. As confusion wanes you can begin keeping the following points in mind. ‘In mind’ is misleading ; I should say ‘in feeling’. Perhaps the Chinese word xin describes it best, i.e., 心 xin: the heart; heart; mind; feeling; intention; centre; core. Gradually integrate the following into your practice over the years… over your lifetime.
- Imagine you are a puppet suspended from the sky by a string attached to your neck, holding you up by the back of your neck,
- Flow through the form as smoothly and evenly as possible. Imagine you are pulling a silk thread from its cocoon without breaking it.
- Keep knees well bent and body low with the pelvis thrust forward when possible.
- Feel your shoulders heavily laden, with the weight pulling you down low.
- Feel yourself swimming in air. Imagine the air being thick and viscous enough to resist your movement.
- If you mind wanders, slow down. Slow down to the point where your mind can’t wander. Slow down to the point where your mind notices every nook and cranny of your body’s flow.
- Breath evenly and loosely synchronize the breath with the movements. If you have running water like the surf or a stream close by, use the sound as a ‘metronome’ to keep a rhythm-less rhythm.
Note: Although not ‘mirror imaged’, Terrence Dunn’s DVD (recommended above) is a good learning tool. You can always turn down the volume on the directional dialogue, put the player on slow-mo and just imitate what you see. Of course you’ll be doing it ‘backwards’. This isn’t a problem for you will want to learn to do it on the ‘other side’ anyway, after you learn it on the first side. Doing Tai Chi on both sides is more in line with Yoga. Apparently Tai Chi is often taught the same way as a martial art’s kata, i.e., only one side.
By the Way
I offer this video as a tool to help you learn the general form. It is not meant to represent the ‘right and best way’ to do Tai Chi. There was no video editing or second takes to make it perfect. It is good enough for its intended purpose. While I’ve done Tai Chi for decades, I’ve never seen a video of myself doing it. I notice lots of little details to polish up, and so I suggest you video yourself at some point see what needs polishing. My wife expressed interest a few years ago in learning Tai Chi which suggested an experiment. I wondered if it might not be possible for someone to learn Tai Chi by simply watching a ‘mirror image’ video over a few years to learn the forms sufficiently to free up one’s awareness enough to heed the subtle yet essential aspects that set Tai Chi apart from other activity. I can report now that this approach has worked well for her. She knows the form and is now plunging deeper. Tai Chi, at least as presented here, is especially effective because it is not competitive. In not being competitive, or promising quick results, it draws upon your deepest level of self honesty. It is just you and your life stripped to reality’s bone. Naturally, that stacks the odds against you being able to persevere. Go ahead, prove me wrong 😉
T’ai Chi Tips
Lighten Up—We are Children
Our tendency to notice differences makes it harder for us to discern how similar things actually are. Thus with we end up making a mountain out of a ‘similar’ mole-hills. Lofty ‘adult’ notions of ‘chi’ may create mental images which hinder just being natural. As ‘adults’ we become terrified of making mistakes. What is the difference between an adult and a child? Children know they are playing a game; adults believe the game is real… so who’s the ‘child’? Seeing ourselves as children, regardless of age or experience comes closer to how we actually are than notions of who we think we are, or wish we were! Why is this important? If we see ourselves as children we lighten up and give ourselves a little more slack.
Be patient with yourself!
Plan to spend a few years to get the general sense of what to do. You’ll have a whole lifetime to work out the details. Thus, if you get a loose sense of the movements… enough to go through the motions, more or less, you can get a feeling for it. Then, little by little you will become more aware and coordinated in your movements. There is much too much emphasis on doing it ‘right’. If our parents emphasized ‘right’ when we learned to walk or talk, we would probably be doing neither today. Relax, take your time and make plenty of mistakes!
Learn Tai Chi with Another Person
It is helpful to learn Tai Chi with another person; you can check each other out, even if you are both rank beginners. Of course this is especially helpful if you are not learning with a teacher. You can also have your Tai Chi partner watch the video while you do the movement, and he will attempt to notices what you’re missing. At some point you could also video tape yourself doing Tai Chi and upon playback you’ll notice all manner of things to ‘touch up’.
Sing Tai Chi
You might say Tai Chi is a ‘body song’, thus do it as you would sing a song. A song has words, phrases, and a melody which contains it all. Once you know the words to a song and its melody, breathe brings it to life. The same goes for Tai Chi, only takes a little longer to learn the ‘words and phrases’, i.e., the individual movements. I suppose the sense of flowing emptiness in Tai Chi is its ‘melody’. And breath is breath. Noticing such similarities with other, seemingly different activities can deepen knowing.