Go Outside

Whenever you can, try to go outside for your Tai Chi practice.

Connect to nature

Tai Chi is a great way to connect with your inner core as well as with the universe around you. Practicing outside is a shortcut to the latter one, breaking down the walls that normally separate us from nature.

Connect with nature and heal. Inhale the fresh air, focus on the smell of flowers in spring and the sweet flavors of fruit in fall (we always smell blackberries around here). Take in the salty sea air or the fresh mountain breeze. Experience dry deserts or cooling forests. Listen to bird songs and nature sounds.

Be in the moment and be connected to nature!

Make it real

The other benefit of going outside for your practice is that it adds a whole new layer of sensations and complexity to your practice.

While our inside training rooms are perfectly levelled, with smooth floors and air condition, nature is much less predictable. The ground is rough with sudden holes, the sun might shine in your eyes and blind you, the wind might tickle you and the bugs might annoy you.

That means lots of stimuli and lots of distractions. Learn to deal and eventually to work with it. Life is messy, learn to manage your arts within that messiness. If your art only works in controlled environments, it actually doesn’t work at all.

Work with and embrace distractions. Learn to do perfect your Tai Chi in an imperfect setting.

Learn To Be In The Moment

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Tai Chi is often called ‘meditation in motion’. Like meditation it keeps our mind focused in the here and now. Achieving that focus in Tai Chi actually comes easier to me than in meditation because I have more things to focus on (the movements) and my mind is less easily distracted by other thoughts. I simply don’t have the bandwidth to think about other things.

In Tai Chi we focus on our breathing, the specific movement, the sequencing in the form and the underlying principles. Most days that is enough to chase away other random thoughts, like what we still need to do at home, the person on the street that really bothered us, or any number of other distracting things.

Being focused in the moment and on what we are doing right now calms us down. It restores our mental balance.

Through practice we learn to enjoy the NOW. To relax, to keep your sanity and not to fret about the past or obsess about the future.

Tai Chi is no magic cure, but it helps us practice that focus and calmness, and to bring it over to our day-to-day life one step at a time.

Train Your Brain

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Train your brain and keep it sharp!

Your brain is just like your muscles. Use it or lose it. You train it and you will keep up its performance, or you get lazy and it will degenerate.

It’s proven that both mental exercises but also physical exercises help us keep our intellectual capacities. Tai Chi gives us both stimuli.

We often say that we learn the forms to not get bored. That’s only half of the truth though. Learning the form also forces us to stay alert, to listen and watch with focus, and memorize complex sequences.

Tai Chi stimulates us through physical exercise. It teaches us to focus on one thing and one thing only and get the most mileage out of our mental capabilities. It also keeps our brain engaged by keeping up and memorizing all the things that our teacher throws at us.

Practice Tai Chi and stay sharp!

Improve Your Balance

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Don’t lose you balance

One of the big longterm benefits of Tai Chi is that it helps us improve our balance. Especially as we get older, it becomes harder and harder to maintain good balance and if we don’t deliberately focus on improving it, we will lose it. That leads to a higher rate of falls which, together with lower bone density, leads to more fractures and secondary health risks.

Improving balance in Tai Chi is not about standing on one leg and kicking – although we occasionally do that as well. Much more than that, it is about building a stable base on the ground from which all other movements originate, whether we are practicing a form or just going about our daily lives.

Push into the ground

To improve the balance of our stance, we start by getting rooted. Rather than struggling to balance the upper parts or our body, we try to push our feet into the ground. We remember the eight points and we try to sink them into the ground as deeply as we can and get ‘rooted’.

An extreme example of this is when we try to balance on one leg. Try focusing on your upper body and balancing that, and you will find it pretty hard. Then try to forget about your upper body and instead focus solely on pushing your standing leg down as much as you can (while lowering your hips) and you will find balancing a lot easier.

If you want to go up, you need to put your focus in pushing down!

Like a pyramid

Once you have laid the foundation through rooting, the second important piece is to build a strong base to stand on.

Make sure that your knees are in a straight line with your toes at any time. You can visually check this as you practice. Your knees need to be pointing straight to your toes or just be covering them visually.

Now make also sure, that you have a little outward tension on your knees. Don’t let them drop inside. Feel like you have little rubber bands that pull your knees outward. You want to feel like a pyramid, that has a pointy top and then consistently grows outward and larger towards the bottom.

Think of tent lines. The first step in pitching a tent is to firmly lock it to the ground with the base tent nails. That still doesn’t provide maximum stability though. In the second step you now need to take the lines on the tent skin and pull them outwards where you fix them in the ground to maintain proper tension.

Be a tent that has proper tension. Don’t be a soggy tent without stabilizing lines that will fall apart at the first blow of wind or leak as the raindrops fall.

Keeping your knees in line with your toes is essential for stability, but it is also critical to keep your knees healthy and avoid injury. Remember: avoid torque or tilt on your knees!

 

 

Stability creates confidence. Confidence creates calmness.
Alfons

Strengthen Your Core

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The Chinese say that if you practice Tai Chi correctly and regularly, you will gain the pliability of a child, the health of a lumberjack and the peace of mind of a sage.

In Tai Chi we are not pushing weights and we are not focusing on pumping up our biceps or shoulders. However we constantly move our body. We shift and twist, we stretch and bend.

In order to do so, we leverage proper posture to support our body without the need for excessive muscle support. However, we constantly engage our core muscles to stabilize and center ourselves.

Tai Chi is a great exercise to learn the proper body mechanics and postures that are self-supported and keep us pain-free without tiring. It’s also a gentle, yet effective way to train the core muscles that support our body.

Our arms are just extensions in Tai Chi forms. Power and energy are created from our feet, our legs, up through our core and only as a last step through our arms. If you want to be really strong and unmovable, you need a strong foundation and core.

Gain the pliability of a child, the health of a lumberjack and the peace of mind of a sage through the practice of Tai Chi.

Loosen Your Joints

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The Yang style is expansive. We try to reach out into the universe, and then come back to our core (open and close).

Create space between your joints

One of the things we try to do, is to create a little space between our joints. Imagine that you are opening up, let’s say when creating a big circle with your arms. Now imagine that you pull your bones apart a tiny bit further, so that you create a little space between your joints.

As you come back, you compress that space again. Think about your cartilage tissue and your discs like sponges. You compress them, and then you release them again.

We do this with all our joints as well as with our spine as we stretch out and then come back again. That movement squeezes and extends our discs and cartilages. It twists and compresses. We create movement and activate energy and drive out staleness. By squeezing and twisting we pump fluids through discs and cartilages and nurture them.

Squeeze like a sponge

It really is like a sponge. If you want to clean it, you need to squeeze and release it and then rinse and repeat.

Like for a clogged pipe, we remove blockages by twisting, pressing, pulling and shaking. We release blockages and get our energy flow unstuck.

The same effect works on our inner organs as we stretch, twist and bend our body. Tai Chi movements provide and gentle massage and vitalization for our inner organs, discs and cartilages.

Stretch Gently

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Contrary to many other sports, we are trying to not ‘try too hard’ in Tai Chi. That sounds funny, doesn’t it?

What I mean by that is that we give ourselves time to develop balance, flexibility and strength. We don’t go to the point where we think we achieved something because our body hurts.

I’m not saying there is no value in cardio and strength training that pushes and expands the limits of our body. What I’m saying is that this is not how we do Tai Chi or what we want to achieve with Tai Chi. Having a different approach to how we exercise is also the main reason why we can practice Tai Chi and gain health benefits from it, no matter our age or abilities.

In Tai Chi we don’t push too hard. Rather we discover our boundaries and gently and slowly push against them. We gently stretch and make sure we don’t strain any muscles by trying too hard. We slowly lower our stance over time, making sure that we are not harming our joints by trying to go too deep too quickly, before our muscles had a chance to develop properly. We are gentle and soft instead of hard and inflexible.

Every time I show in class what pushing too hard means, even for basic exercises like connecting heaven and earth, I come home with some strained muscles in my back. Some day I will learn to just not show wrong execution any more…

Think of the flower fists. We’re not making a board-breaking fist, but rather imagine that we hold a precious rose in our hand and we certainly don’t want to squish it.

In Tai Chi we gently push our limits. We develop new abilities slowly but consistently, without interruptions by strained muscles or unwanted knee surgery. We’re in for the long run and for lifelong practice.

The next time you feel frustrated because you can not stretch as much as the person next to you, you can not lower you center as easily as your teacher, or your balance is wobblier that everyone elses – let go! Practice Tai Chi within your own limits and abilities. No one else matters. Don’t push it too hard but give yourself the time your body needs to develop.

The constant flow of water breaks the rock over time.