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Self Development Through a Strong Centre

The mind and body seem to be a connected web. When something is snagged in the mind it may affect an area of the body and similarly things in the body may affect the mind. Further the mind, when agitated and pushed beyond its ability to deal with something entirely within itself may push its problems into the body. The degree to which this is true seems to vary from individual to individual. We are all grossly the same, but each person's nervous system develops uniquely and is used uniquely. And as we have learnt through our Tai Chi practice it is the small subtleties that can make the biggest differences.

This means that each person's path to quietening, centring and strengthening the mind and body is different although we practice the same exercises. We calm and quieten the mind and body so that we can concentrate energy at our Tan Tien. The Tan Tien can be seen as your physical centre, which is about a couple of inches below your navel. This attention to the centre is practised until the power in your body revolves around it and all movement comes from it through mindfulness. Over time your centre becomes the starting point for the desire to move and what is in your mind's Intention becomes the destination. From this the Chi is invoked and the actual physical movement and physical exertion then occurs.

It is this clarity in action that attracted us to study the art in the first place. Those who have tried Tai Chi under a genuine Tai Chi teacher will probably remember the relaxed, tranquil power of their instructor. It is that first lesson that shows you the gulf between where you are in your life and where the instructor seems to be. All your subsequent work is towards bridging that gap so that you are standing on the same side of the fence as your teacher. A simple case of the grass being greener.

Through the practice I have done I can confirm that the grass is greener (and not because it is artificial). It is greener because the process you have to go through to gain clarity in mind and body is self-development. It is a process of becoming less and less each day. As inconsequential thought processes and body movements fade, the body can be itself and the mind can be itself. When the body is left alone and is no longer pulled and tugged around it is amazing how great it feels just to exist. Personally I am still amazed at how well the body can heal and how many of our supposed problems don't really exist.

So how exactly does the self-development take place? In essence how does Tai Chi function as a health art? Sigung Ip Tai Tak said that there are three essential parts to Tai Chi: Chi Kung (Qigong), The Form and Push Hands. Each of these parts presents a different challenge to your centre.

The Standing Post (Zhan Zhuang) Chi Kung that we do focuses on the following main points for easier energy flow:

  • Lifting the spirit with Tai Chi joint alignment, thus bringing attention to all areas of the body

  • Maintaining an outward focus through the eyes so that energy expands up and out

  • Letting the physical body sink and relax into the ground

  • Quietening the mind until it is solely aware of the Tan Tien

  • Bringing energy to the centre through intention.

Self development occurs through exploring that which interrupts anything within these points. For example, if when lifting the spirit you find tension and the sensation of a block in the neck it indicates a problem in that area. If after much practice there is no change it means that the problem is too deep and you need to find a way to bring that problem to the surface so that you can deal with it. That may be through your own meditation or you might find that a body or mind therapist such as a counsellor, Shiatsu practitioner, physiotherapist or osteopath may help.

Similarly you may discover that although your mind begins to feel quite centred during practice, life problems quickly step in and rob you of the benefits you gained. To go further in Tai Chi you must address the life issues that are holding you back. With the strength gained from centring practice, you will find the confidence necessary to make the positive life changes that allow you to remain centred outside of Tai Chi practice.

These are just two small examples, in reality the more you practice Chi Kung under the safe guidance of a capable teacher, the more development will take place.

The Tai Chi Form differs from Chi Kung in:

  • Keeping centred whilst in motion

  • Compressing and compacting energy in the system whilst in motion

  • Learning how to circulate energy and project it to create functional movement.

The Form looks at things slightly differently to the Chi Kung. Having gained some idea of centre and mental focus and power through the Chi Kung, it is now time to practice how to initiate 'motion' from the centre. Can we move in a prescribed way, yet be open, relaxed, calm and project cleanly from the centre?

Again anything that interrupts our ability to work freely with our energy must be resolved. Problems could be in the physical or mental levels of being. In general people find the Form easier to practice than the Chi Kung, which to a lot of people feels like standing around doing nothing. But that is the point of Chi Kung. They really do train different aspects of the centre. Both are essential. You will discover different things about yourself whilst processing their separate meaning.

Push Hands practice distinguishes itself by drawing on all that you have learnt during Chi Kung and Form practice to:

  • Keep your centre whilst another is trying to make you lose yours

  • Not lose your centre whilst making another lose theirs

  • Achieve all of this with pure internal energy concepts – listening, sensitivity, everything.

Push hands makes reality out of your Tai Chi. This is your proving ground. Can you keep a calm still mind, be at your centre and use projections of energy from your centre with no issues? Additionally can you achieve this in the presence of another human being, no matter what they are trying to do to you on a physical, energetic and psychological level?

So as you can see when the three traditional Tai Chi practices of Chi Kung, Form and Push Hands are done with the correct intention, self development is inevitable. In my own classes I do not let any of my students escape this conclusion. Hopefully within a couple of weeks it will dawn on them that they cannot learn Tai Chi at my school without beginning to confront themselves on many different levels. I have seen how Tai Chi unsticks the stuck, builds strength where there was weakness and brings clarity to the clouded many times. And all through the desire to strengthen and work from the centre!


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