During my Tai Chi classes I continually emphasize certain things. Three areas that I feel are of the greatest importance to the newer Tai Chi practitioner include 1. Correct posture 2. Correct breathing and 3. Coordination – coordinating the lower body with the upper body (using your waist), and coordinating the breathing with the movements. Once the practitioner feels confident that the postures are correct (that is to say they maintain good “structural integrity” - toe, knee, hip, shoulder alignment), and they have begun to naturally coordinate their breathing with the movements in a relaxed way, then they should progress to the next phase of their practice- clearing the mind.
Constantly thinking about rocking, shifting, pivoting, keeping the shoulders relaxed, back straight, elbows lowered, order of movements, leading with the waist and doing all this completely coordinated with our breathing can be a very stressful process. However, with consistent and regular practice this can all be developed to occur very “naturally”. One we have accomplished this it is time to incorporate meditation into our practice.
Tai Chi meditation can be very simple. The purpose of meditation for martial arts (we should not forget Tai Chi is a martial art) is to keep the mind focused and sharp. It is imperative for a martial artist to have mental clarity and to stay alert and mindful without being distracted by any one thing. A martial artist needs to be able to react to anything in the most appropriate way, without a conscious decision to do so. That is why we practice the postures and breathing until we can do so without trying, until it become a completely natural state.
All too often I see Tai Chi practitioners close their eyes, droop their heads and loosen their movements so that they fall into a very relaxed but almost sleep like state. Relaxation in a wonderful part of Tai Chi, but we should not forget that it is supposed to be both a martial art and energy practice. We should remain alert with a clear and sharp mind during our training.
One simple technique we can include in our practice is called mindful meditation. We begin by focusing on our breath, inhaling and exhaling. When distractions come into our minds, we simply recognize that we’ve had a distracting thought and refocus our awareness on our breathing.
We can practice this as we do our individual Tai Chi basics back and fourth down the carpet (very similar to walking meditation), and then progress through our forms from the Yang 10, 16, 24, 48 and so on. Eventually we will keep our mind clear of distraction for longer periods of time, thus increasing our ability to focus and remain focused on something specific.
So, as you progress in your Tai Chi practice, please keep this next step in mind (or not;)