Tag Archives: investigation

Remain Patient, Be Present, Get Playful

Reprinted from an annual retrospective, written for students of the Tai Chi Center of Chicago.

I’m always delighted to be writing for TC3 as we round the bend on another year, full circle. This is the first one that requires two hands to count out our anniversaries, and it just occurred to me that we have students who have been with the school for four, five or more years. Where does the time go?

I want to take this opportunity to share some personal insight here, because it was about that time in my study of Tai Chi that I felt as though I was hitting a plateau. I wasn’t feeling as refreshed by or engaged with my practice as compared to those first couple years. I was maintaining a regular schedule, and I knew that Tai Chi was good for my health and well being, yet restlessness and frustration continued to surface as I searched for something else that the form could teach me.

At best, it felt like treading water. At worst, a sense of stagnation began to settle in. And from a Tai Chi perspective, that’s just unacceptable, right?

If your practice is still rainbows and unicorns right now, that’s awesome. Move along to the next post; just remember to put a bookmark here should anything (dare I say it…?) change down the road. However, if this issue sounds remotely familiar, read on and we can look at nipping this thing in the bud together.

One remedy for boredom and frustration is to (perhaps not so) simply remain patient. Slow the form further, or try to soften more. Listen. Be more receptive, and soon you just might notice something that can carry you to that next level.

However, if your expectations and restlessness cannot be dissipated with patience alone, consider a more proactive approach. Choose one thing to observe, and give it your fullest attention for the duration of the form. This could be anything that will help you maintain a sense of playful engagement: Is my yang foot truly rooted with every step? Is there enough room in my foundation to adequately shift my weight? Are my shoulders as relaxed as possible? Can I follow my breath as I shift attention between my tan tien and the yang hand?

Keep at it, and you’ll find places in the form that are in need of more more attention. From there, you can dig deeper, either on your own or with the help of an instructor. The lesson here is to not look for what the practice holds for you, but rather consider bringing more exploration to the table. Get playful and mix it up; then do it again. Check in with an open mind on a regular basis. This is where the investigation becomes personal — and truly passionate.

So make the most of these last few Dragon days: get creative, and before too long you’ll have some nice juicy homework to keep you tuning and refining for the next year.

 

The Importance of Alignment

My investigation of Tai Chi Chuan really took off when I began approaching my practice with alignment in mind. Whether you come to this study for its health benefits, martial properties, or as a form of personal expression, working toward proper alignment on a regular basis will bring great returns with respect to flow, balance and internal strength.

Take the simple analogy of a water hose: if this conduit is left open the water continues to flow along the path; if the hose is bent, however, the output is hindered or completely blocked.

“Well,” you might say, “I’m a wee bit more complex than a tube… how does this apply to me?”

Tai Chi Chuan means “Supreme Ultimate Fist” or “Supreme Ultimate Form.” This is not a declaration of ego (quite the opposite), but rather a reference to the relationship between the Taoist principles of yin and yang. For a moment, think of the joints of your body as gates that allow energy to flow. When these gates are working in unison, energy flows freely in the direction of your intent. However, if a gate is closing (yin) when it should be opening (yang), the flow is compromised. Likewise, if a gate is opening when it should be closing, energy is lost.

As we listen to and work on alignment, our practice can’t help but improve. From a health standpoint, we become more efficient on many levels and relieve excessive body strain. From a martial perspective, we learn more about the transfer of energy and the dangers of over-commitment. Artistically, we will find ways to be more expressive and communicate with more clarity.

Over the coming weeks we’ll look at ways to get a better understanding of alignment and methods to improve it. Stay tuned.

Welcome to Great Lakes Tai Chi

The mission of this site is to help practitioners of Tai Chi Chuan get the greatest benefit from their investment of time and energy.

It is important to understand that the study of Tai Chi is not an end in itself. Indeed, how could a lesson on the ever-changing Tao really be complete? Whether you have been practicing for five weeks or fifty years, there will always be room for refinement. Being mindful of this during one’s practice will reveal Tai Chi Chuan as an invaluable method of investigation, leading one to continued growth and transformation.

Principles will be presented on the blog here to aid you in that investigation. Most of these relate to the alignment and mechanics of the body and are therefore applicable to any Tai Chi form. So explore and experiment with what you find here.

Study with patience; enjoy your practice.

Sunrise Over North Avenue Beach, Chicago