21ST CENTURY TAI CHI
Ideas to bridge the space between thought and action
Flow is an evasive concept in Tai Chi, and one that teachers often talk about as though it will simply occur at some point, like a credit card bill or getting old. But it doesn't. Flow needs to be teased out, prised open and encouraged to play. But what is it you need to encourage and what is it you need to develop?
8 qualities to develop your FLOW.
1. Ligament Strength:
This may seem obvious, but you need to work on holding those tai chi postures, gently moving through the transitions and trying to slow down. They won't strengthen with speed, you'll need to take it easy. But that's what we are trying to encourage, so that the ligaments and tendons in the ankles, the knees and the hips will get stronger and enable you in time to glide, rather than stumble from move to move.
2. Movement and Breath:
Coordinate the two. If they are out of sync then your movements will be fragmented and you will always shift from one position to another like kangaroo rather than a dolphin.
3. Be HERE now:
Obvious really, but your teacher can tell if you are thinking about the next episode of Peaky Blinders rather than the next posture. Focus!
In order to find flowing movement, look to the quality of stillness. It may seem a contradiction, but it is only in stillness that our minds quieten and the nonsense bubbles to the surface. When it arises, let it go, let it slip slide away. Glide on.
5 & 6 Echoes of others
When the mind is quiet, and the nonsense far away, you will hear your own voice coming clearer and clearer. The nonsense that makes up the echos of our mind, and even the words of our teachers (mine too...watch out!) begin to fade when we are quiet. Once more, when you practice , just practice. Don't get distracted by that last tweet you read.
7 & 8 Laugh and Play
If we study too much, we only become stiff and unyielding. When we play, we experiment and taste the pleasures of both success and failure - two sides to the equation of learning. When we let go of "trying to be good" and just "do" we live in the moment and we laugh and we play. And in those qualities, we discover the torrent of energy within us to glide over the obstacles of life.
Enjoy the video below. If you want to learn Tai Chi in another way than through the echos of others, and discover the Tai Chi within you trying to come out, then this may be for you. The video is extracted from a small documentary on FLOW, PLAY and STRENGTH that is part of just one of the 12 Workshops on practice and theory that make up the Tai Chi Home Study Course. Find out more here.
Here are two simple exercises to help you explore and develop your sense of Spirals in Tai Chi.
What is Spiral Energy?
The energy of a Spiral can be found within our DNA, within the expression of a galaxy or the shape of a lightbulb. And that should be a clue for us to take with a pinch of salt the claims by many in Tai Chi that the use of spiral energy is something bordering on the mystic. More often than not, this is just a fanciful demonstrations of structure and compliant students rather than a special energy force generated by secret practices. Spiral movements simply prioritise actions that are curved rather than angular and they prefer to utilise the opening and closing of the joints in sequence rather than all together. In effect you get something that resembles a snapping force, like that of a whip as opposed to that of a hammer or a stick.
Irrespective of style, temple, cult of the personality of satin suit, you can work on sequencing your joint action by taking things slowly and adding movements one by one, until you feel comfortable with the technique. Take a look at the two video snippets below. They are part of a session I gave on Spiral Energy as part of the Single Whip Workshop. (Find out more below).