“Much, much there is, grasshopper, about this tai chi…”
In perusing the new popularity of tai chi it could be said that people think of it as a system of kind-of-complicated movements devised to be performed verrrrrry slowly to teach concentration and breathing meditation which will give lots of related health benefits.
Well, guess what? This is actually just a small part of the story. Tai chi is an ancient, very complex system of developmental teaching which, as it is embodied in the movements, holds it’s secrets very well.
Approaching its comprehensive teachings you should understand that tai chi is an incredibly sophisticated philosophy and system of training with an amazing history spanning centuries of evolution through warlords, feuding families, esoteric monasteries and hidden schools of martial arts. A synopsis of this history is quite well described in Waysun Liao’s Tai Chi Classics, and his respect for the tradition coupled with the sincerity with which he conveys his knowledge are admirable.
Here we want to talk about a practical thing, about turning your tai chi practice into a daily, hourly, minute to minute affair of very beneficial mindfulness practice. Master Liao helps us by giving the following exercise (here he is talking specifically about coordination):
“For example, each time you go to answer the phone, the entire body moves forward to pick up the receiver. As the receiver is lifted from the cradle, you should imagine that it is very heavy and fragile and so requires your full attention and the entire strength of your body to lift it. The same type of practice can be applied when you use your silverware at meals and so on. Moving the body as one complete unit aids in the free unobstructed flow of ch’i. Therefore constantly practicing in this way will serve as a reminder to your mind and body systems and will increase natural coordination and consequently the awareness of ch’i within the body.” p.43
Liao talks about relaxation, shoong, just as descriptively. To practice tai chi one has to learn to be completely completely relaxed as if the muscles in the arms, for example, didn’t work at all. Feel as if the arms are completely useless…unable to move, totally heavy. Feel the shoulders drop. Feel how deeply relaxed that is. This approximates the total relaxation of a tai chi practitioner, who keeps this feeling active even while he is moving.
“In tai ch’i meditative movement practice, relaxation means to give yourself up completely both mentally and physically.It means to yield: yield totally to the entire universe, yield to the infinite.“p.31
Bringing this sense of awareness and relaxation to everyday tasks – this is the real practice. Stay mindful. Use your warrior’s perseverance to continue with your efforts despite the fact that you will inevitably forget time and time again. This is tai chi in every day life.