Open and Close

Open and close – Open and close your body and movement like a flower in the morning and evening. Give out to the universe and focus back in on your core.

Open and close

Yin and yang

In Tai Chi we try to constantly flow and change between Yin and Yang. We borrow some energy from the universe, work with it and give it back again. We don’t want to keep it, else it would become stale and harmful.

We switch from moment to moment between strong and stable and then flexible and agile, between expanding out into the universe and then sinking back deep into our core. In the ‘walk of the hero’ we switch from proud to humble to confident within just a few movements.

Your mind follows your body

It takes a long time to develop that state of mind, to feel the flow between the different opposing states and to finally achieve the merging of them. A way to practice is by letting our body express those states and then just watch, listen and learn how that feels.

“Your body follows your mind. Your mind follows your body.”
Hilmar Fuchs

When practicing your movements, try to make a distinction between opening and closing. Between embracing the universe, giving out all the energy you have and then sinking into your center, retracting and storing the energy for a moment.

Imagine to be a flower

Turn yourself into a huge energy pump for the universe. Turn your body into a flower, that opens its petals in the morning, showing all its beauty to the world and soaking in the sunlight and then goes back and closes for the night to recharge and preserve energy.

Make your movements big and open, contract your back muscles and open your chest and then reverse, bring your movements back to your center, contract your chest muscles and stretch your back.

Practicing open and close will help you to gradually understand the flow between Yin and Yang. It will open your eyes to our role as big energy pumps in the universe (not energy hoarders or energy drains) and it will gently loosen and stretch your torso and limbs.

Take Notes

Our ultimate goal in class is to give students the foundation, structure and principles to set them on a path where they can advance their own learning and discovery (Shu Ha Ri – How We Learn). In order to do that, a student needs to get to the state where she doesn’t need to see and copy the teacher to perform a form or to remind her of a principle.

So there is a lot of stuff that you eventually need to remember as a student.

In my experience the most effective way to do that is through active learning. Personally I cannot remember a new form from doing it two or three times in class once a week. So I take notes after each class. I often only remember one new sequence, but I will write down how I get into that sequence, how the transitions work and anything that seemed counter intuitive to me at first (i.e. I won’t remember it at home). Over a few weeks those sequences will add up to the whole form.

That active learning also helps me to process and with that solidify the lesson that I have learned. I make it ‘my own’ and reinvent the technique or principle in my own mind rather than just letting the teacher entertain me.

Learning requires active engagement with the content. It is hard work (Why Aren’t More People Practicing Tai Chi?), but making the content your own is so much more fun and rewarding.

“Learn and forget. Make the technique a part of your own before you move on.”
Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido

Cut the Strings

Cut the strings – There is only one string left at the Bai Hui point (crown point), everything else drops. Everything above your neck rises, everything below drops.

Cut the strings

When we practice Tai Chi we want to relax and lower ourselves down into the center of our body. How do we achieve that?

Puppet on a string

One way is to imagine that we are puppets on a string.

Visualize all the strings that pull you up. The strings on your shoulders, elbows, hands, neck, everywhere… Feel how that pulls and tightens up all the wrong places.

Now imagine how you cut those strings one by one. Cut the strings on your hands and feel how your hands relax and drop. Cut the strings on your elbows and shoulder and feel how you let them relax and allow gravity to pull them down to a natural tension less state.

Cut all the strings except for one last string that remains: the string from your Bai Hui (百會) point or crown point on the top of your head. This one last string, or golden thread, pulls your head up and keeps your spine and body straight.

Let your head rise, let your body drop

The other way of visualizing the same principle is to think about an imaginary horizontal plane that sits at the level of your neck.

Now let everything that is above that plane (your head) rise up, while you imagine everything below that plane becoming heavy and relaxed and dropping down like water drops or like heavy weights falling off your body.

Straighten your spine, open your joints

Both visualizations help us to relax our muscles by visualizing how everything drops down, straighten our spine by having the golden thread pull up our Bai Hui point and ‘open up our joints’ by creating tiny spaces between the bones in our joints.

All of that greatly improves our relaxation, agility and energy flow.

Let Your Imagination Soar

Just go ahead and let your imagination soar

I always ask my Tai Chi participants to let their imagination flow. Feel the wave pushing you back and forth while playing with your balance. Imaging the fresh air flowing into your lungs, pushing a tiny wheel behind your Qi Hai and then pushing the negative energy out of your body again.

It does not really matter what you imagine and the possibilities are endless. Think about playing with an energy sphere between your hands which you can pull and push, or you pull it apart and then it pulls itself back together again.

It can be a round ball made up of swirling energy, you can add some colors, or even sparkles and then throw it in the air to create a rainbow glittering above your head in the sky. Imagine the slime all kids love and play with it, if you need a more tactile picture.

Play with the energy and play with your visualization

Part of this is working on your focus. Kids often start understanding their own bodies by imagining little workers inside of them fighting germs, they make up stories or have imaginary friends. I think it is sad that we lose a lot of that freedom of our imagination along the way of growing up. In Tai Chi we can focus on this imagination, feel the energy flow within and use whatever image we want to without even having to tell anyone about it.

One of my favorite movements taught to me by my teacher Hilmar Fuchs is a super simple one. The walk of the warrior. Be proud by lifting up both arms and shifting forward, but also be humble by bending over when shifting backwards. Stand back up and be strong and push both arms forward and shift forward. Let everything go and shift back again and be nimble. Repeat to the other corner.

Change it up a bit! Greet the sky and greet the earth, be the human in the middle and the air/wind around us. Or just focus on your breath if your rather feel the air flowing into your lungs.

Tai Chi can carry us into never ending castles in the sky and at the same time help us focus on the being here in this moment. Feeling and seeing the energy flowing around us.

So go ahead and let your imagination soar. 

The Form Is Just A Container

Most students try really hard to remember the form(s). Which is good, it helps us train our memory and it enables students to practice at home and not be dependent on watching the teacher.

However you should not get frustrated if your progress in memorizing seems too slow to your own standards. Remember that the form is just a container. It matters more what you put into it!

Like with a cup, the container is not the key thing (although some cups are beautiful), it’s more important what you put into it. A cup or container can bring back strong feelings and memories, but those memories or feelings always come from the content or what’s associated with the container, rarely from the innate object itself.

In Tai Chi we’d rather have you strive to understand and feel the principles and energy flows, what you put into the cup,  than to memorize the form.

Focus on the content, not the container.

Focus On Your Eight Points

Focus on your eight points – Always have firm contact to earth with at least 8 points. Be rooted.

8 pointsOne of the first lessons we teach beginners is to focus on their ‘eight points’. By eight points we mean the eight points of the foot that firmly sit on the ground. Five toes, the balls of your foot, the side of your foot and your heel.

Focusing on your eight points makes you grounded and rooted to the floor. Being mindful about feeling all eight points also prevents you from raising your toes, tilting your foot or lifting your heel when you push forward.

Many times we are connected to earth through 16 points and we’re firmly rooted. Some positions only give us 14 points or 9 (you know which ones I’m talking about). As we transition, we temporarily only have eight points. However, it’s never less than eight.

All movement is rooted in your feet, then legs, hip and then the upper body. Losing touch and stability in your eight points compromises the strength and stability of your entire movement.

Children are perfect with this. As we get older, our mind gets more anxious and we start stiffening all sorts of muscles, leading to raised shoulders, aching lower backs and, yes, curling up toes, tilting feet and lifting heels. Rediscover your inner child and remain firmly connected to earth.