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People spend much of their time thinking about various things rather than focusing on what they are doing right now. We live in a culture saturated by stimulation. Our minds are distracted.
We are driving the car whilst listening to music or having a conversation. We try to 'multitask' and our minds are pulled in different directions.
Rather than do each task completely and well, we are satisfied with mediocrity...
The purpose of meditation
Meditation exercises and techniques aim to bring your mind back to the present moment.
Meditation is about 'being' rather than thinking. Thinking is concerned with the past (memories/evaluating/assessing/comparing) or the future (planning/worrying/speculation).
Being is about the immediate moment; which is neither past nor future.
Meditation is all about gently returning our attention to the immediate. We drift, we return. We drift, we return. Again and again.
Within a few weeks our minds become more focussed - we drift and have the habit of returning.
Remember: a method is only
a means, not the meditation itself. It is through practicing the method
skilfully that you reach the perfection of that pure state of total
presence, which is the real meditation.
Most people associate meditation with sitting cross-legged and listening to your breath. Tai chi uses other methods instead.
Meditation in tai chi
Tai chi explores 2 types of meditation:
There are a range of
methods employed within the syllabus which enable
us to cultivate both of these approaches.
Standing qigong involves holding a static pose for an extended period of time whilst maintaining good alignment, remaining relaxed and breathing normally.
It is far more difficult than it sounds. The mind quickly becomes restless and there is a compulsion to fidget or move around. It is essential to keep your mind on what you are doing right now.
In order to do anything wholeheartedly you need to be present; not daydreaming or 'spacing out'. Being centred means that you are rooted in the immediate moment.
Standing qigong encourages mindfulness and presence; the student focuses on the here and now. The difficulty of the exercise requires a mild degree of willpower and some physical effort.
A student performing standing qigong must become 'mindful' of what is taking place: their thoughts, their emotions, their physical sensations...
Mindfulness is about being present, being here and now. This may sound quite simple, yet most people are distracted by their thoughts. They are not present at all.
Once standing qigong becomes more comfortable, the student is able to remain present for longer periods of time. They are calmer, clearer and beginning to relax their muscles.
Now is the time to consider the 4 sets of moving qigong. Each set offers a different range of exercises designed to offer a dynamic challenge.
Rather than hold a static pose, these exercises are concerned with 'coordination'.
What is coordination?
Coordination is the skill of making things work together in harmony and unison. Coordinating your body is more challenging than you may realise.
The task is hindered by the fact that most people have little idea how to use their own body skilfully. We all accumulate habits of movement and body use throughout life and not all habits are good.
Qigong exercises enable the student to become familiar with their existing habits of body use, and provide the opportunity to consider alternative approaches.
Coordination takes time
It takes a child approximately a year to learn how to walk. The child addresses the task again and again with the utmost concentration. They work at it every day... and it still takes a year.
In order to become adept at qigong and tai chi an individual needs to practice coordination every day. They need to be mindful of what they are doing and how they are doing it.
This requires concentration and patience. When performing the exercises it important to remember that right now there is nothing else in the world to do. Just the exercise at hand.
Moving qigong offers the student an opportunity to explore crude body mechanics without the need of direct application.
Structure, balance, stance (foot position), mobility, coordination, use of energy, alignment, posture and poise are all explored using simple exercises.
Basic concerns such as ambidextrous body use are introduced. Muscle tension is identified and relaxation is encouraged. The initial difficulty of the movements makes it impossible to 'space out'...
In terms of meditation, tai chi form really takes it up a notch. Form uses the underlying body use principles introduced in moving qigong and expands their scope and function.
Form demands the utmost attention. As soon as you think about anything else you will lose track of the sequence. Form serves as a way to measure how much a student is 'here and now'.
The movements themselves are not unduly intricate or complicated but they must be performed in a particular manner. Form makes you more conscious of your tensions, thoughts and distractions.
Tai chi form is often referred to as 'moving meditation'. The calm movements relax the nervous system, quieten the mind and settle the emotions.
However, doing form does not necessarily mean that you are meditating. It means that you are practicing a method designed to encourage meditation.
If your thoughts are elsewhere (or your mind is racing) you are certainly not experiencing the here and now as it unfolds. Return your thoughts to what you are doing. Do this again and again.
Form demands a lot of concentration. You become immersed in the sequence. Immersion involves the loss of self-consciousness; a yielding to the moment.
Yes, we need some sense of self in order to function, in order to survive. But it can also be a major impediment.
Partner work offers biofeedback: illustrating what is actually happening rather than what you think is happening.
You may think that you are relaxed and present, but your practice partner can physically feel whether or not you really are.
A lot of folks say they are
relaxed... that they are Christian or Buddhist or Muslim
or something that says you know I'm concerned
for my fellow man. But when somebody puts their hands on these people you'll
see that that priest or that monk or that rabbi becomes just as rigid and as
violent as anybody else who would never ever describe themselves as being
God fearing. Why? Cos they're not used to the pressure.
You would like to believe you're relaxed and when someone puts their hands on you and pushes all of a sudden you realise just how indignant you are about that whole thing happening.
Some people are very stretched and they have a full split or they are very balanced on their hands and they can do a handstand but when you put your hands on them all that ability goes out the window and they resort to Cro-Magnon behaviour.
Instead of being one with the event, people tend to get caught-up in speculation, doubt and the avoidance of negative possibilities.
To become immersed, we must detach ourselves from thinking and pay attention to what is happening. To what is right in front of us. Become more aware of your own body and your surroundings.
Tai chi solo training requires a lot of concentration. Combat training does not. Combat requires an expansive awareness. You must pay attention to the situation rather than to yourself.
Your opponent is your focus and your movements need to coordinate with theirs. This will not happen if you are spacing out or too focused upon what your own body is doing.
Tai chi teaches the student to remain here and now all the time. If you can cultivate on-going presence (mushin), then your heightened awareness will extend to all aspects of your life.
You will notice connections, associations, variables and themes inherent in all things. There is no division between combat and leisure. Your state of mind remains exactly the same.
An important feature of meditation is the ability to remain 'centred'. This means being present, clear, grounded and alert. Bring the attention to the physical centre. Breathe.
attention awareness calm concentration mindful
Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023