The Tai Chi Way Of Mindfulness
Central to Tai Chi is the study of internal energy ('Chi') for practical day-to-day use in all situations. This study is an inward journey whose gateway is mindfulness. Modern mindfulness programs are commonplace in many countries now and are used by western medicine to combat stress, anxiety and to boost a positive outlook on life. They are derived from ancient Eastern meditative practices: specifically distilled from Buddhism but also existing in many other traditions.
On investigating exactly what modern psychology means by mindfulness I came across this Wikipedia entry on 16/10/2013 on the internet:
“Several definitions of mindfulness have been used in modern psychology. According to various prominent psychological definitions, Mindfulness refers to a psychological quality that involves
bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis,
or involves paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, or involves a kind of nonelaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is.
Bishop, Lau, and colleagues (2004) offered a two-component model of mindfulness:
The first component [of mindfulness] involves the self-regulation of attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience, thereby allowing for increased recognition of mental events in the present moment. The second component involves adopting a particular orientation toward one’s experiences in the present moment, an orientation that is characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance.”
Traditional Tai Chi Chuan is based around discovery through practice. Some of the very many essential communications are concepts like:
- remain sunken and relaxed
- use mind intent
- be at your centre and move without losing your centre
To be honest no matter which Tai Chi ideas you looked at, at no point is mindfulness explicitly referred to in the Tai Chi classics, yet I am sure that most seasoned practitioners would read the above
definitions of mindfulness and realise they practice it all the time. Why? Because it is extremely difficult to make genuine progress in Tai Chi without figuring out mindfulness. In essence mindfulness occurs as one of the natural by-products of training Tai Chi.
For example the first concept of “remain sunken and relaxed” means to let go of all tension and to have a continual downward intent in mind, body and spirit. If you are a relative beginner and were to concentrate on whether this was truly happening the chances are that you will quickly discover pockets of tension all over the place and that you didn't really get much feeling of downward intent. As most tensions in the body are instructions from the mind, the next conclusion you should reach is that you have to be able to 'see' what your mind is doing in order to alter how it is using the body.
Creating an ability to watch your own mind is like anything else in Tai Chi - a skill which can develop further and further. Within the first years of mindful practice it can feel like you've really understood yourself as you have seen so much about what stops you being relaxed and raised all sorts of essential questions about yourself, your motivations and your beliefs about the world. But beware of this illusion – it's still just the beginning! Like all aspects of Tai Chi you can go deeper for as long as you live. What you should begin to discover is that your opinion of yourself moves from 'I am aware of myself' to 'I am aware of what my mind is currently allowing me to be aware of'. That in itself is being mindful of the process of learning mindfulness!
I still remember my first experience of watching my own mind and the realisations that came from it. Perhaps it's an interesting example of discovering mindfulness. As I had done traditional martial arts before switching to Tai Chi I had a daily training regime setting aside between 40mins to two hours most days for practice. So from the first lesson of Tai Chi I would practice at least 20 minutes of standing post (Zhan Zhuang) Chi Kung each day. At the time I was an extremely tired and stressed 29 year old: my first marriage was ending against my own desires, I had two young children and I was a director of a highly professional company in the insurance industry working anything up to 60 hours a week. On top of this I'd lost my father a few years before but hadn't understood how to mourn the loss and knew I was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, but believed financial success would cure all. The typical scenario of wanting to appear externally strong and 'hold it all together' whilst being internally weak.
In this state I totally believed I was everything my thoughts and feelings showed I was. I was stressed, I was tired, I was angry, I was upset. I was moving very fast in my mind and 'that' was who I was. My