How Would Your Spirit Animal Do The Form?

Do you have a spirit animal? Do you have a favorite animal? Is there an animal always meeting you throughout your life and just showing up whenever you least expect it?

In a lot of spiritual communities animals have a very influential role.

The same can be said for Tai Chi. Tai Chi has roots in Kung Fu and even the names of the moves often refer to animals, for example “stroke the mane of the horse”, “stroke the sparrows tail” or “spread your wings” and more. Feel the movement and try to embrace the animal being mentioned in the move.

Now think about the animal forms of Tai Chi and feel their specific spirit.

Do you think about the lumbering bear? The careful and light-footed deer or rather the tiger or the snake?

How do you feel just now? Can you breathe in the specific spirit of this animal and then do the form with this animal in mind?

Each one of the animals has their specific traits and we can show it in our forms. Each animal is connected to different principles of Tai Chi.

Crane – Breath

Crane, Bird, Wings, Water, Swamp, Nature

Flying, opening your wings and spreading your fingers. Open your Lao Gong points. Feel the contrast between spreading your fingers and cupping them. Think about your fingers as the feathers on the wings and feel the wind flowing through them. Hands in clouds let’s you soar through the clouds. Feel the lightness of leaving the earth and feeling the sky. Open up and breathe the air and energy surrounding you.

Bear – Roots

Bear Sitting Wildlife Nature Brooks River

The lumbering heavy bear has you grounded and connects you back to the earth. Feel your balance and your stance on the ground. Be connected through your 16 points. Feel heavy, but strong. Think about your breath, going steady and smooth through your moves. Be aware of your surroundings, but also steady knowing your power.

Deer – Mindfulness

Roe Deer, Capreolus Capreolus, Doe

Like the bear be aware of your surroundings, but more careful. Be light on your feet and able to change quickly and lightly into different positions. Feel the focus, but continue breathing evenly and lightly.

Snake – Spirals

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Slithering over the ground. Twisting your body and your mind and connect it to your movements. Embody the snake while twisting your joints, opening and closing your body and spine. Think about spiraling in every move.  At the same time be aware of your surroundings. Maybe hiss a little to change your breathing.

Tiger – Energy

Tiger, Sumatran Tiger, Big Cat

A force to be reckoned with. Silently and with focus wandering through the jungle. Embracing its strength and still being aware of its surroundings. There is not a lot they have to be afraid of, but tigers still are careful. Feel the strength and the focus in each move. Think about possible martial art applications or the flow of energy providing the support and strength of the movement. No unneccessary movements there. Everything is focused and simplified.

Monkey – Movement

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Have fun! Be light on your feet and quick. Transition easily from one move to the other, bu still stay focused and light on your feet. Never forget to play and have fun and don’t take everything too serious. Breath lightly in and out and try to feel like a monkey picking the fruit of the tree. Switch up the routine and try something new.

Spirit animal

Now come back to your spirit animal, if you have one, and try to think about their specific and unique traits and try to infuse them into your movements.

I like to mix up the forms every now and then and show the specific trait of the animal. Don’t be afraid to be playful like the monkey or twist and spiral like a snake. Maybe lumber like the bear or show the Tigers power. And last but not least be the crane, being rooted on the ground but also opening up to breath and spreading your wings!

And sometimes be like the little mouse – my spirit animal – and be quick and curious and careful at the same time. Switch between deep breath and light breath, move and twist and just be playful.

 

Let’s Go Flying

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No, I am not talking about levitation. Let your imagination soar and go fly!

Kung Fu, Karate, other martial arts and yes, also Tai Chi Ch’uan have origins showing the spirit of different animals. Think about the Form of 24: Stroke the horse’s mane, spread your wings, repulse the monkey, stroke the sparrows tail, etc. You get the idea.

To go fly, let’s choose the crane.

Imagine a great blue heron standing in our wetlands, stalking the fish, patiently waiting and then suddenly picking one out of the water. Or standing there balancing on one leg, maybe sleeping or just being and breathing.

The best example for this is the crane form, Hakutsuru, which is admittedly not Yang style. It originates from Okinawa Karate and before that Kung Fu. Check out the Komatsu-Ha style for it!

But you can find the same feeling in a Yang style form. Open your arms wide, open your fingers like the tips of your wing feathers and play with the opening and closing of your fingers while doing the form. Imagine being a crane, moving through your practice.

Our inner emotions and anxieties often show on our outside. But the opposite is also true. How we present ourselves on the outside can also reflect on our inner well-being. Someone said to me:

“Fake it until you make it!”

One perfect way to feel this is to play with our soaring. Open up your wings and soar in the sky! You could even play with the opposites. Walk through one form rather subdued and then follow it up with a crane flying form. How do you feel?

Let’s fly!

You Are Never Too Old

There is no right or wrong way

I might not be mainstream with this, but one of the things I love about Tai Chi is the possibility to adjust it to your own body, to your own abilities and restrictions.

And yes, you can and should adjust Tai Chi as needed. Even feel encouraged to do so!

There are enough studies nowadays, showing that Tai Chi helps with Balance, Breathing, Osteoporosis, Fibromyalgia and all kinds of other maladies, but how can it affect all those different areas of your life and body, when we all do exactly the same? We are all different with our bodies and we all start at a different level of ability with our Tai Chi journey. So just feel free to adjust it in any way necessary.

Yes, of course we look at all those older Chinese people in the park practicing their Tai Chi and admire their flexibility, fluidity and low stance, but is that really necessary?

I do not think so.

To reap in the benefits of Tai Chi, we have to start somewhere and cannot and should not try to do what others do. We have to use the principles we are learning and just move! It does not matter if the form looks perfect or not, it is important to move and breath and focus. It is not important that your hand is in that specific angle, or your foot has to be 45 degrees and your stance has to be this low.

We all have our specific abilities and restrictions and we have to work with those. So feel your own body, follow your gut feeling. If something does not work for you, don’t do it. Change it in a way, which won’t hurt and start working on it. The journey always starts with the first step. So if at first you are not able to lift your arms, start with minimal movement. If your body prohibits bending down, just start with moving your spine. Round it, tug in your tailbone, round your shoulders. In the end we want to work on our flexibility, slowly improving it, but not forcing it.

If balance is an issue, sit down. Slowly start with short periods of standing up and holding on to the chair. You might not be able to practice a form, but use the principles to move.

Adjust what you’re doing to your abilities. Think about principles, not perfectionism. Start with those and over time, your body will follow.

 

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.