How to Incorporate Tai Chi Principles in a Mind-Body Program
To properly guide yourself through a successful Mind-Body Program, take heed of certain Tai Chi principles. Those principles go along with the all the basic stuff that is the foundation of all mind-body work, whether it is called an exercise, a movement, a posture, or a form.
Principle #1: Slow down
Going slowly is the main principle of Tai Chi. As you do Tai Chi movements, pretend you’re the tortoise in his race against the hare. If you get nothing else when it comes to Tai Chi, get this: Rushing gets you nowhere, certainly not to mindful balance.
Don’t just shove your body into different funny-looking poses. When you go slowly, you’re able to pay attention to detail, think about what your body is doing, and concentrate on what comes next. Not to mention that you can experience a mindful calm.
Principle #2: Take it easy
We’re used to forcing things. Jar doesn’t open? Turn harder. Don’t get a job? Call more often. Can’t get a board to fit in a space? Shove with more force. Forget the concept of force in Tai Chi. Take it easy. Relax. Look at your hands. Relax your fingers. Think about your shoulders. Shake ’em out!
Extra tension in your body means expending extra energy, which you want to avoid in Tai Chi. Save your energy for when you really need it.
Principle #3: Think in curves
From a martial arts perspective, the purpose of Tai Chi’s circular motion is to disguise from an opponent where a move stops and starts. That makes it easier to throw an opponent off and win a fight.
From a mindful perspective, a rounded or curved joint or limb promotes better energy flow throughout your body. Avoid locking your joints; keep them soft and round or bent.
Principle #4: Be simple
Go with what feels natural to your body. If going from one form to another feels twisted or unnatural, it probably is. Stop! Don’t think. Shake out your mind. Then try again, thinking only of the end position of the movement. Just let your body move into the posture naturally — generally you are right!
Principle #5: Sink lower
The bent-knee stance of Tai Chi is pretty recognizable. Don’t be afraid to push yourself just a little. Sink. A little lower. How about a little lower? Bend your knees naturally. The movement flows better because a bent joint lets your body move more easily than a locked joint. And you get a better workout, too!
As you first do Tai Chi, your knees may be nearly straight. As you progress, or if you start out in a fairly fit and flexible condition, you bend your knees more. An advanced Tai Chi practitioner is often quite low to the ground!
Don’t bend your knees to the point of being uncomfortable. Mind-body fitness is not about pain. Find a level that isn’t too hard, but still challenges you.
Principle #6: Go with the flow
In some mind-body methods, you do a little jerky transition between moves, but Tai Chi is all about continuity and flow, without a break in time or space. Your legs, feet and arms reach the final position at the same time no matter how far each has to travel.
But they don’t stop there. There are no periods at the end of Tai Chi sentences. When you come to what seems like an end, you only move through it and flow on to the next place.
Principle #7: Stay balanced
All Tai Chi forms and sequences are a combination of opposites — forward and back, weight-bearing or non-weight-bearing, high and low, reach and pull back. These opposites, or balancing moves, highlight the ancient Chinese philosophy of yin and yang.
Yin movements typically are higher, lighter, non-weight-bearing, pulled back, and have more emotional energy. Yang movements are lower, weight-bearing, attacking or reaching out, heavier, and have a more muscular energy.
In Chinese philosophy, yin represents the feminine nature of the universe, and yang represents the masculine. Tai Chi tries to keep you balanced between the yin and yang of movement, creating a flowing and rhythmical dance between the two.
Principle #8: Move the whole package
When you’re doing Tai Chi, you don’t move one part of your body, stop to see whether it looks okay, then move another part. Your whole body is one package and moves at the same time, like a snake rhythmically slithering.
Remember the wet towel you used to twist up and snap at your little brother? You snap your arm and wrist, and the movement rolls out along the towel, snaking all the way to the end. That’s something like what happens in your body in a slower sense. The movement starts at one place and reverberates up your legs, through your body, and out into your arms and hands.
Principle #9: Stay rooted
When your feet are on the ground, feel them truly on the ground with your weight centered between the ball and the heel. You want to avoid sitting back on your heels or leaning forward on the balls of your feet, both very insecure positions, but not uncommon ones. You also want to avoid standing or walking with your weight rolled outward or inward on the foot.
Standing firmly grounded not only promotes better posture, but it also allows you to firmly gather in the earth’s energy, or chi, through an acupoint in the bottom of your foot.