Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tai Chi preconceptions

I stumbled upon a post by someone commenting on their first Tai Chi lesson. As an instructor it made me realise the Tai Chi preconceptions that I'm up against.

The women indignantly commented on how 'wrong' it all was. First of all the lesson was in a dingy community hall (there were no pagodas, weeping willows and manicured gardens), the students looked like 'a bunch of misfits' and her legs were stiff the next day! She finished her post by commenting that if one is to do Tai Chi, one has to do it 'properly'. A whole host of people then all agreed with her.

Although I don't know the teacher or venue in question, all I can say is that one will never discover the essence of Tai Chi with preconceptions like that. As much as I agree that Tai Chi should be practised properly, my suggestion would be to do some proper research on Tai Chi in something other than a tourist brochure or a Jet Li movie.

If I've learnt one thing from years of practice its that Tai Chi is not about artifice, silk pajamas and pretense. Its about discovering your self nature and doing away with the ego and any form of preconception or judgement. If you'll excuse me being crude for a second, you are more likely to find enlightenment meditating in a stinky public urinal than on a Himalayan hilltop. In other words, if your environment is difficult or unpleasant it motivates humans to push forward and transcend or improve their environment. If its too pleasant humans get lazy and complacent.

Through the study of self nature, meditation or Tai Chi, society and individuals bloom and it is expressed through all the wonderful art, culture and architecture that can still be found in the east. However starting with the expression of an art form instead of the sincere practise, study and search for its essence won't amount to anything.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tai Chi FAQ's

I often find that prospective students' only reference to Tai Chi is large groups of elderly people moving in slow motion or, on the other end of the visual spectrum, martial arts action films which is based in fantasy. Based on these observations they then form various misguided views and either dismiss Tai Chi and never try it out or, are disappointed when they join because it does not match their fantasy. i.e. both deductions causing the person to miss out on possibly the most positive and life enhancing experience of their lives.

A question and answer format is probably the best way of dealing with various queries:

Can anyone do Tai Chi?

"I'm completely unfit... I've never done martial arts before... I haven't done any exercise in years... I have no coordination... I'm a teenager... I'm 80 years old... can I mange Tai Chi?" There are many variations of this question but all with the same answer. Yes. With time and patience anyone can become adept at Tai Chi. Obviously someone who already possess a certain level of coordination will pick it up quicker, however Tai Chi is not a competition and every student is able to progress at their own pace and skill.

Can I do Tai Chi if I have an injury?

Tai Chi is arguably the best exercise to help one recover from injuries. Most normal exercise involves fast and sudden movements that impact on the joints and strains muscles. Furthermore this is usually done without the body being maintained in a 'structurally sound' position with constant opportunity to slip, fall, bump or twist the body into an awkward position and exacerbate the injury.

Tai Chi on the other hand is slow and gentle without any impact. Practitioners can easily adjust postures before any injury occurs. All postures in Tai Chi are 'structurally sound' and geared towards bringing the entire body into the correct shape. Whether you have a problem with your back, knees, ankles, hips, shoulders etc. Tai Chi is designed to help recovery. The physical as well as 'internal' aspect of Tai Chi often leads to 'miraculous' improvements of injuries.

Can I do Tai Chi if I am recovering from illness?

Yes. According to Chinese medicine and philosophy, illness often occurs when various internal organs stop to function properly and become out of sync with one another. Tai Chi helps to harmonise and strengthen the various organ functions which will create the necessary environment for the body to heal itself. Students sometimes suspend their training when they get colds and flu, but this is exactly when they should keep training as it is a sign that their metabolism is not functioning properly. Research studies have shown that Tai Chi benefits recovery from various serious illnesses such as diabetes, TB, arthritis, immune disorders, etc.

Do I get a workout from Tai Chi?

It is probably one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding Tai Chi. Typical exercise junkies think that they won't get a proper 'workout' from Tai Chi and are often surprised by the level of exertion, effort and mental control required to learn to Tai Chi. All I can say is you are likely to have stiff legs the day after your first lesson! It is said that Tai Chi apparently burns the same amount of calories as surfing.

At an advanced level the practitioner should try and avoid using physical energy, however a lot of sweat is required to reach that level.

Feel free to post any questions.