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Visualizing and Using Your Mind in T'ai Chi

When you start to perform any action in T’ai Chi, you visualize it. In other words, you think it through first. Don't just let your mind go along for the ride — use it to see not only what you’re going to do, but sort of inside what you’re going to do. You see yourself completing it. You imagine the energy flowing to all the right places. You know that you’re relaxed, not tense. And you can even visualize the breath moving in and out and through your body.

Visualizing connects many of the mind-body concepts of T'ai Chi. Because visualizing is not just about relaxing, breathing, and aligning. It’s about seeing it. And visualizing is not just about mechanically doing something the way that you are told. It’s about feeling it.

In the practice of Hsing-I, otherwise known as “mind-shape boxing,” the mind forms the intent, and the body follows. The mental aspects make internal martial arts, such as T’ai Chi, more than just ways to use the body. They become platforms for the discovery and elevation of your character.

Jim Lau, a well-known instructor of a martial art called Wing-Chun, has said: “I can defeat you physically with or without a reason. But I can only defeat your mind with a reason.” Use your mind, and the body will follow.

When you start doing some mindful movements in T’ai Chi, you may not be sure where to look with your eyes. Your eyes may sort of skip about, catching some dust that you should wipe up on a shelf, something on the floor that you should put away, or a neighbor in the yard next door.

Wandering eyes distract you from putting T’ai Chi concepts into full practice. You need to see — without truly seeing. Here’s a tip: Soften your gaze as if your eyes are open but nobody’s home. You want to look inward and focus on your breath and relaxation. Let the gaze follow your fingertips, although you aren’t really looking at them. The eyeballs are just moving in the same direction. You can also try some movements with your eyes closed, but work into keeping them open or halfway open.

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