What we teach here at AFC716 helps people stay healthy, active, mindful, energized, slimmer, calmer, and more relaxed. It helps people improve their balance, mental focus and improve their happiness! It helps people develop an integrated mind/body/spirit approach to exercise and their health. As this is developed it will spread into other areas of our lives, and benefit them too.
While training the body will help people stay active, build balance, stay energized and become slimmer, it leaves out other aspects of what we’re helping people achieve. The body should be strong, but it is not where we stop. It is where we start.
Training the mind will build mindfulness, help us stay calmer and be more relaxed. This helps balance the the training of the body. With the mind being strengthened alongside the body discipline, responsibility, patience, respect, integrity, and self confidence are all built up. The mind can be seen as a muscle which needs to be strengthened too.
Training the spirit completes this trifecta. With all three being developed we become healthier and happier. The body working with the mind is a powerful force able to achieve great things. When we train our spirit with them though, we are able to take a step beyond physical strength, logic, will power, and move towards truth, and freedom. Towards creating the art in martial arts.
When we learn Tai Chi and Kung Fu, we receive knowledge from our instructor, and practice that. We do this over and over until we have it ingrained in ourselves. Ingrained in our bodies, so we don’t think about what to do, we just do it! This is called body knowledge.
We as students will hear from our teachers, and sometimes struggle (sometimes not) to incorporate what we’re learning. We’re all the same in this… We all learn differently and at different paces. One of the best teaching techniques that I’ve learned is to just let the student learn… they have the puzzle pieces before them, they just need to put them together. A teacher will get the student started, but at some point the teacher has to back away and let the student finish by themselves.
As a teacher, this can be a difficult thing. however, it is essential for each student to learn, not just for the instructor to teach. We’ve all heard the aphorism: you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink. We each have our own paths in life. Even when we share very similar paths (i.e. students in a Tai Chi or Kung Fu class), we all take different things from it. We all incorporate different things into our lives and practices.
A teacher cannot force a student to learn. We can only bring them to the water. We as students need to be thirsty enough to drink though. We as students need to put the puzzle together. We need to take an active role in our learning. It is for ourselves that we are learning Tai Chi, and Kung Fu. We should create, in the learning process, a path to what we want to learn. Let us work towards making this learning process body knowledge… We don’t think about it, we just learn!
Most people have heard of Yang and Yin (light and dark, initiating and receiving, advancing and retreating; respectively). What, however, is the point of knowing about these opposites, without being able to apply it to your life, Tai Chi and/or Kung Fu practice?
Too much yang in ones life, they can be too aggressive, too intense, pushing through their daily activities without hearing or receiving what others are trying to tell or teach them.
Too much yin in ones life, they can be too passive, too sedentary, being too much in thought, and not enough in action. These people can talk themselves out of doing what needs to be done.
With opposite energies of Yin and Yang, we should look for ways to balance them in our lives. Too much negativity can overpower us and bring us down, so we need to counteract that with positivity.
Being aware and noticing what is happening in our lives is Yin. Reinforcing and affirming the positive aspects of what we noticed is Yang. This is our action, advancing towards more of what we want. Noticing and being aware of when we’ve had enough of one thing though is also essential. This is Yin again, and turning our attention and action towards something else beneficial is Yang again.
It is a constant back and forth dynamic. Learning to ride this wave is essential to success in Tai Chi or Kung Fu. This is definitely applicable to our daily lives outside of the the martial arts.
What is one way in your life where you’ve balanced these opposing energies? How did it feel?
Usually when we worry we have an issue, or a problem to solve. However, worrying just gives us one more thing to overcome. It only adds to our problem, or issue.
Giving into the negative energy of worry starts this self perpetuating cycle leading down into despair and overwhelm.
We can probably all totally relate and agree with the above, but how do we stop ourselves from worrying?
Not allowing yourself to worry is like building any muscle, or skill. It takes time, discipline and effort.
It starts with awareness. Notice when we’re worrying. Where does our attention go? To our fears, to what could go wrong, to what can be worse than our current situation.
When we notice this process, we then possess a remarkable power, the power of detachment… When we’re detached/separated from that emotion, this worry, or fear no longer has a hold of us.
We need to use this power when we have it though. We need to then take our attention and place it on something positive. We need to then place our attention on the successful outcome of whatever situation or problem we face.
If we’re faced with hiking a mountain, imagine yourself on top of it, with a giant smile on your face! Your friends are congratulating you for a tough accomplishment, and you return the congratulations to them. See yourself stare in awe at this remarkable view in front of you… it was worth every step. The warm sun on your face, no wind, just sitting on a rock on this still clear day, enjoying every second. You did it!
In Tai Chi practice our intent is to move and breath together as one. This creates a sensation of harmony and balance.
When we shift our weight back, we breath in. When we shift our weight forward, we breath out. This is the start. This is where we notice the connection between our body and breath.
We follow the lead of the breath’s initiation, and respond. We harmonize our movement with our breath, as a guitar responds to the beat of the drum. The breath takes charge with a slow steady rhythm, and our movements responds with its actions.
As only repeated practice can provide, we start to learn the song. Sooner or later our breath and body start playing together as one. That is, they sync up and we don’t hear the individual instruments. Our bodies, and our breath know the tune, they just play together.
There is no initiation and responding anymore. They work together so effortlessly, that we cannot distinguish which is leading, and which is following anymore. This is the beauty of the health form of Tai Chi. The union of body, breath, and mind.
Even though there was no discussion of mind here, it cannot be removed from this band. It is the Maestro, the conductor, or the band leader. The one which has the overall picture of the song in mind the whole time. Even when we don’t notice it. When we are familiar with the song, and it’s parts well enough, we start jamming as a whole. This is the fun part!
Hiking Basin mountain in the Adirondack’s was not a low impact exercise. However, Tai Chi is. FYI, going down the mountain is harder than going up on your knees.
A low impact exercise is easy on our joints, particularly our ankles, knees, and hips. Tai Chi is done standing, so there’s no need to bend, or contort yourself in any way, which is great for your back and neck. One of the first things taught in Tai Chi is proper posture.
Yet while being low impact, Tai Chi is still an exercise. It has been written that an hour of Tai Chi burns as many calories as walking for 45 minutes.
Tai Chi goes further than being just a low impact physical exercise. Tai Chi works on strengthening your mind’s concentration and attention. In the Martial Arts, the mind is another muscle that needs to be worked. By focusing our minds on the many different aspects of practice, like balance, coordination, or timing our movement and breath, we work our minds.
Tai chi, then, is a low impact physical exercise designed to help us become holistically healthier.
This beautiful photo I took at Heart Lake in the western high peaks region of the Adirondack mountains.
Settle like a pristine lake, with mountains surrounding it.
Most of us want this calm mind. Keeping the body active while maintaining that calm mind helps with balancing our emotions. Mountains around a lake provides protection from the winds, which allows the waters to settle.
How do we use our Tai Chi practice to provide ourselves the calm mind, and balanced emotions that is so necessary in today’s world? Focus on our relaxed movement. Watch how our body and mind connects itself into one whole. Our minds will settle, and our emotions become balanced. If we become distracted, just repeat the process… it gets easier with practice.
To me this connection of mind and body is enormously beneficial and is the source of Tai Chi’s rejuvenation.