Posted on

On the Matter of Tai Chi

Avoiding the debate on the validity of the force in question I will refuse to weigh in on my opinion or experience. Instead I want to focus on the practical takeaways from this article.
The seven secrets mentioned here are, in essence

  • belief
  • attention
  • relaxed sensation
  • orientation
  • breathing
  • imagination
  • and efficient movement.

Again I will ask no one to believe or disbelieve in Qi, Ki, Chi, Prana, or Vitalism. Instead, keeping it universally practical, let’s worry only about believing the technique. Don’t be hesitant in attempting a technique. Honestly this goes for T’ai Chi, weight lifting, running, or eating soup. Don’t cheat yourself by not getting the most out of any exercise, whether because of doubt, fear, or laziness. This would still, in practice, prove consistent with the eastern exercises in question since in literature Qi, like gravity, doesn’t really care if you believe in it or not. However Qi, again like gravity, can be used more effectively if you understand the techniques to use it, belief or not.

Regarding attention, I’m pretty certain I’m on record stating “attention” as the most important activity of being alive. At the very least be aware. Any exercise that attributes its effectiveness to Qi, Chi, or Prana is like a mini science where you shift weight, pressure, and balance and constantly correct until you get it. It won’t work if you aren’t fairly present or in the moment. The same goes for anything you want to perform excellently in.

Relaxed sensation. This goes hand in hand with attention. The trick is to pay attention without the “tension” part. Don’t strain, put intention into each movement, and stay aware of your entire body and environment. Not only is this an amazing exercise by it’s own, it will help ensure you improve, execute each movement correctly, and don’t injure yourself.

The article refers to “grounding and skying,” but let’s just call it orientation. Plant your feet, stand straight up, align your posture, balance you hips, and stretch. Take up some space. Then soften your knees to a bend, keeping your back straight and take up just a little less space. Be grounded, and with the previous states of accepting, relaxed, attentive awareness, take note of your position in space.

The previous steps were like outwardly radiating states of conscious awareness. The next three steps are more about time and motion. The first of these is breathing. I cannot put enough emphasis in the importance of breathing in all activities. If I tried I’d only waste my breath. Instead, I’ll simply say to focus on breathing deep and full from your belly, fill your lungs until you feel your torso shift inside of itself a little. Be aware of that feeling, then release slowly. Continue doing this steadily. Make a slow, relaxing rhythm. Respiration, that is breathing, is the process that accesses all of the energy you can chemically produce in your body, and it’s the same for every other organic cell on the planet. It also comes from the word roots “Re-Spirit” as nearly every ancient culture empasized the importance of air as being part of the spiritual ether. From Adam recieving the breath of life to vedic Prana, there’s no disconnect to the importance of breathing. Go without eating, die in a month. Go without drinking, die in a week. Go without breathing, and your count is minutes. Breath *is* life.

Imagination is the next one. The article mentions visualization and the ability to re-create visions in the mind. It also goes into some abstract visualizations, which is why I rehabilite the term myself with “imagination.” To imagine is a bit more than merely visualizing. It’s part of the process that even gets to vision. What do you want to accomplish? What do you want to look like? How do you want to feel? Some of these are hard to visualize, but easy to imagine. Start with the idea and make it more real.

Efficient movement. This is part of the realization of that idea, but specifically speaks to the effectiveness of how we realize it. In any exercise, physical or otherwise, make your movement count. Control and contain your body, your limbs, your torsion, etc. Keep elbows tucked when running, keep knees evenly spaced when boxing, keep hands over home keys when typing, and so on. This should all prove fairly easy after being aware and oriented. Each micro efficiency not only adds up to save a maximum amount of energy, but also gives you more energy to put into the movements you actually intend to do. Stay effective.

All that being said, I love T’ai Chi, despite having been exceedingly bad at it and found this article interesting, particularly in building a list of lifestyle tools for success. Whether you rely on Qi or chemicals to power you through it all, I think that this breakdown should be equally useful for anyone who wants to put some active mindfulness in their work or workout today.