Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art renowned for its health benefits, aiming to increase our energy levels by relaxing the body and aligning our Chi with nature's energy.
Our energy or "Chi" is a very important part of life. When we feel lethargic, stressed or tired our flow of Chi is impaired. However when we are relaxed, calm and focused our flow of Chi is improved, giving us a greater sense of health and vitality.
Tai chi combines intent, breathing, centering, grounding, relaxation, movement, mindfulness, balance and so much more – what, exactly? As and when I find out, I will let you know.
A snapshot of intent and breathing:
As I set my mind to practice the following exercise, amongst the other distractions that come along (better things to do, emails to answer, books to read, tax return…), I follow my breath and my awareness moves from my outer to my inner world and continues to fluctuate between the two.
I follow my breath in … cool and dry entering … and follow my breath out … warm and moist exiting ... Noticing how far into my nostrils and throat the cool air flows on the in-breath … gradually warming and gaining moisture … before starting to flow outwards along the same path, warmer and warmer.
And what can I do to increase my comfort level? ... Is my mind “happy” to engage in this “unproductive” activity? ... Does my body need to move to a more comfortable position? ... Can I make every exhale a gentle sigh of relief? ... With every out-breath, can I think “heavy” – and feel my shoulders dropping ever so slightly?
So I follow my breath and a part of me wonders what “follow my breath” means – so I put my hands on my belly ... and notice the way my hands move outwards as my body fills on my in-breath ... and my hands move inwards as I breathe out and my body “shrinks”.
What are my breathing muscles doing? ... Are the muscles on the right hand side of my rib-cage as relaxed as the muscles on the left-hand side? ... How much tension am I holding in the area of my shoulder blades? ...
“I” want to breathe. ... Which part of me is limiting my breath? ... What parts of me are co-operating with my breath?
Following my intent to (comfortably) follow my breath allows me to develop an awareness of my body from the outside in, sensitizing me to more of who I am... This growing awareness leads to an experiencing of Chi, of life energy, flowing inside, which we can incorporate in our movements and in everyday life.
Centering, grounding and relaxation can be the subject of a future blog
All these words (intent, breathing, centering, grounding, relaxation…) are put into practice so that they each have a physical meaning, a tangible reality that we can use for ourselves and for others.
As therapists, 1 or 3 minutes of following our breath as above can put us in a healthier state of being, both for ourselves as well as our clients.
Tai Chi is an opportunity to reconnect different aspects of ourselves, using our mind, our breath, our body, to observe, notice, move, to connect with both heaven and earth. Always deepening that connection with the "more than". Increasing our awareness of what it feels like to be in our bodies and finding our body’s wisdom.
Russell King is a Tai Chi teacher, a Trust graduate and therapist, and a facilitator for our sister charity Teens and Toddlers.
You can access more exercises on www.rktaichi.com