This is a blog about t'ai chi, specifically how we can apply the teachings of this ancient practice to our contemporary lives. How do we navigate an icy sidewalk? What is the best posture for that dreaded job interview? There are the eternal problems, of course, of back pain and creaky knees. My intention is to have a place to share ideas about t'ai chi methods of caring for our spirits and bodies in today's complicated world.
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ruminations on posture
Standing with head gently erect, eyes straight ahead. Why is it so hard?
Wherever you take a t’ai chi class, from whichever teacher in whatever town or village in the world, you will hear at some point, imagine a long thread, stretching from the crown of your head, to the sky. it’s almost always something I say at the beginning of each class (after all the other postural instructions, starting from the feet).
it’s quite an image, though, your crown attached umbilically to the heavens, and we may struggle a bit trying to visualize it, let alone to enact, and then to stay like this throughout the one hour class! Don’t feel discouraged. I tell my class that it’s probably the hardest part of the pose and the form — keeping your eyes focused ahead, your head relaxed on the stem of your neck. A teaching: Hawkes, my erstwhile teacher, would tell us, you can kill with your eyes! You can't though if your eyes are cast down, searching the floor. Kill with your eyes.
out on a limb
What makes it hard to hold our heads up and aim our eyes like daggers, fiercely , yet calmly enough to slay an opponent? I'm not sure I know. But I do know that it's very common for my students, as we go through our qi gong exercises, to let their heads begin to droop and face the floor as though there are jewels enbedded in the floor boards. In addition to some ill-defined concerns about their t'ai foot positioning, my students are engaging in a gesture that says don’t bother me!
Here's the perfectly executed t'ai chi head -- it's not a lofty posture, there's a bit of relaxed neck in it, there's the tiniest downward slant, as though Master Cheng were watching a boat out on an imaginary horizon. But you'll see -- Master Cheng's eyes are focused straight ahead.
Cheng Man Chi’ing -- founder of the Yang short form
Taoism, a philosophy as well as a religion Came across an interesting article in the NYT recently about Taoism’s perspective on what it means to be human and what it means to die. Tai chi as you may know is the movement embodiment of Taoism, and I’ve been curious for most of my time studying this Eastern art to understand what Taoism is all about. But aside from the amazing writings of LaoTze -- a must! -- I've been somewhat disappointed. there's precious little on the books. (Though ask me about the few t'ai chi stories that you come across now and then, including the one about the man at the drive-through Starbucks!) ALL JOKING ASIDE, I’ve found only simple one sentence references to what Taoism is — like being in sync with nature, or yin-yang. ho hum. Glibly said, easily forgotten. So when I came across this article the other day, titled A conversation with the religious scholar Brook Ziporyn on Taoism, life and what might come after. I was delig
This morning, in my qigong class, I introduced the classic t'aiji image -- a needle in cotton -- that like so much of t'aiji and qigong, is delightful and mysterious. What it signifies to me is -- is nothing less than becoming t'ai chi. what I mean by that is that you will change and in a magnificent direction. One day -- after years of waving your arms around gently and stepping firmly and turning your waist as instructed, one day, you will feel this odd new ... connection. Your breath enters and leaves, you might feel a tingling in your wrists and suddenly your limbs are weightless. It's so hard to convey. I feel I"m not succeeding and I'm not sure that this writer, Danny Dreyer, does the job much better but I"m going to let him try. I'm excerpting from his book, T'ai Chi Walking, to better explain it “NEEDLE IN COTTON: GATHER TO YOUR CENTER AND LET GO OF ALL ELSE A fundamental principle in ChiWalking that has be
I just discovered an extraordinary t'ai chi artist or warrior or dancer (or all three), Sifu (or master) Cheung Kwok Wha. He's doing a form I haven't seen, Needles in Cotton, or Pak Hok Pai. I believe its roots are in ancient Tibet. Anyways, Sifu Cheung's movements are so precise, so centered, so ... exquisite. I watched him performing the form straight through barely breathing. Click on the highlighted part, and enjoy!