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“Oh, sing! Oh, sing! Sing this short song of 144 Chinese characters:  Commit every single word of it to memory without exception.  Enquiries and researches that deviate from this approach only waste time and leave behind regrets and sighings.”  –A Mnemonic of Thirteen Tai Chi Chuan Movements

This photo of two Stradivari cellos was taken at the Accademia Gallery in Florence. We learned that these magnificent instruments are removed from their enclosures just once per year and played for about ten minutes. They are then carefully placed back in their cases where they will remain untouched for another year. I found this to be incredibly sad. These cellos were made by an exceptional artist; they were made to be played and enjoyed.

Did you know an instrument such as this needs to be played on a regular basis in order to both maintain and further develop the harmonious potential of its own unique voice?  How much more so a miraculous human being?

In the nei gung (internal work) of Tai Chi, we come to understand the ligaments and tendons in the body as comparable to the strings of a magnificent musical instrument—too tight, the sound will not be sweet; too loose, there won’t be any sound at all. The musician devotes time and care to tuning the strings of the instrument and when played, the resonance of this perfection sounds throughout the body of the instrument. There is not one wee particle of space within the instrument that does not carry the infinite beauty of this quality, and neither the strings, nor the instrument, nor the musician are ever strained or ‘overworking’ in the accomplishment, they simply are.

For the potentials of divine music to come forth, the conditions must first be right. Just as a musician adjusts and tunes her instrument prior to play, so too does each Tai Chi player adjust and tune their body, mind and spirit prior to play—quieting, stretching, bending, opening, closing, relaxing, breathing, smiling, letting go—gently creating the harmonic conditions for resonance, and for music.

A Mnemonic of Thirteen Tai Chi Chuan Movements reminds us: “Your way of bending or straightening, your closing-in or throwing-open should never be as you will them to be, but as Nature wills.”

Over time, and with guidance and practice, this resonant quality becomes easier to attain and inhabit; it becomes a part of our ongoing natural state, not separate, not different from the vibrant, magical music of life itself!

“Oh, sing! Oh, sing!  Sing this song. . .”

© 2012 Elizabeth Meloney.  All rights reserved.

As Tai Chi players, each time we enter the sacred space of the practice court we have the opportunity to mindfully engage in the creative process and renew ourselves from the inside out.

The creative process in the internal arts of Tai Chi and Qigong is about renewing, expanding, liberating and it is also about manifesting.

Throughout my years of study, my teachers have impressed upon me the vital importance of individual practice and investigation–the art of completely penetrating a Tai Chi or Qigong movement and becoming one with all aspects of it.  This is the heart of the creative process, and it is through the creative process that we continue to refine in body, mind and spirit.

From the very beginning, this is one of the aspects of Tai Chi that enthralled me so completely:  I had found an activity that was challenging and engaging on all levels; it was an art I could spend the rest of my life investigating and refining.  While the angle of investigation may be unique to each Tai Chi player, the aspiration is the same: to be Tai Chi.

What does it mean to be Tai Chi?  To truly live in the present moment, awake, aware and free; to truly be the unique, authentic human being we were created to be.

My Sifu, Master Donald Rubbo, says:  “Our thoughts determine our reality.  There is no difference when speaking of penetrating a movement, in becoming the movement, or in becoming Tai Chi.  As long as the perception exists that I haven’t acquired it yet, that is how it will remain.  Also, the desire of being it pushes it into the future to some time that may or may not manifest it.  If we keep pushing something into the future every day, how can we ever create the reality, or view, in the present moment?

“Look at it another way–there is no practice in being a good human being, we just are good human beings.  This is how we are in the world.  We may encounter obstacles along the way, but we continue to grow, we continue to refine ourselves.  So, stop practicing ‘Strike Palms’ and be ‘Strike Palms.’  Stop trying to be healthy. . .be healthy!  Be happy!  Be fulfilled!”

(Note:  The name of the opening movement in the Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi Chuan set is ‘Strike Palms To Ask Buddha.’  This is not a religious acknowledgment, rather ‘Buddha’ is synonymous with ‘enlightened’ or ‘awakened.’)

“In Tai Chi we are working with infinite qualities, limitless potentials.   We need to move away from the idea that we are separate from the potentials of radiant health and happiness.  Instead, we should recognize that we are health, we are happiness, and we are fulfillment in this present moment.”

“Follow your heart-mind and be true to your authentic self.  Don’t be persuaded to be something you are not—that’s garbage!   We understand potent energy because we are sensitive, but to what end?  Do we tap into it and become more authentically our own true nature?  Or, do we sacrifice our authentic nature to appease another?”

We are faced with choices all the time: there are actions taken, and actions not taken.  I would argue that even an action not taken is in itself an action taken.  Neutrality will ultimately find us losing ground.  Change is constant, change is unchanging, and the nature of change does not permit a permanent, comfortable footing.

Sifu has spoken about how ‘habits’ continually bring us back to unhealthy and uncomfortable patterns.  Thankfully, we can choose to free ourselves of these uncomfortable patterns through the creative process of transformation.

While the idea of transformation is extremely appealing, the actual process of transformation often brings us to a point of discomfort–sometimes extreme discomfort.  With patience, persistence and compassion this discomfort ultimately gives way to liberation and undiluted freedom.

How do we help our students understand this?  Some students have faith when we tell them this discomfort will come to an end, some don’t.  Sifu says to keep on with the practices and hold the image of your healthy, happy, fulfilled self in the here and now.  See it now!  Live it now!  Be it now!

Tai Chi Chuan, Qigong and Meditation are vehicles to help each individual be present in the moment, and the present moment is a very special destination indeed.

When we truly inhabit our unique, authentic nature, the potential is limitless.  Sifu asks:  How many seeds are in an apple?  How many apples are in a seed?

Who can tell the limitless potential of an individual seed, or a precious human being?

“We must understand the result of perhaps achieving, and perhaps not achieving. . .after a few years, or less, you give up because you haven’t accomplished your goal.  And this is what leads to the “regrets and sighings” as spoken about in A Mnemonic of Thirteen Tai Chi Chuan Movements.”

Because our thoughts determine our reality, one should notice as interesting, and then put aside, thoughts like:

I’ll never get to that level.

I’m not good at this.

I’ll never be happy.

Sifu says, “Thoughts and energies have the ability to manifest in the moment—why not make those thoughts and energies positive ones!”

This is where our mind should be during our practice: welcoming in the limitless potentials of health, joy, compassion, wisdom, internal power, and more.  Why?  Because it is here, in unity with limitless potential, that we can effortlessly create the most meaningful life possible for ourselves, not just on the practice court, but in all aspects of life.  In this way, too, we can positively affect our family, friends and broader community.

Where do we start?  How do we begin?

“There are many practices that can be of assistance.  Cultivating the Five Elements Practice is particularly helpful and a good place to start.  Understanding the nature, forces and qualities of each element, understanding that they are not separate from us, and we are not separate from them.  These elements don’t just exist outside us, they exist inside us, too.  We truly are made of stardust.”

To begin, consider the Five Elements and their qualities/forces:

  1. Wood—expansion—outward in all directions.  Associated with the liver and gallbladder and the season of spring.
  2. Fire—ascending energy—rising energy.  Associated with the heart and small intestine and the season of summer.
  3. Earth—stabilizing, foundational, lubricating energy.  Associated with the spleen and stomach and the change of season, particularly the transition between summer and autumn.
  4. Metal—absorbing, magnetic, drawing inward from all directions.  Associated with the lungs and large intestine and the season of autumn.
  5. Water—downward, heavy, accumulating, flowing kind of quality.  Associated with the kidneys and bladder and the season of winter.

Goal: to develop awareness and felt sensation of these energies, and internal power, abilities and wisdom.

“From stillness comes awareness, from stillness and awareness comes sensitivity, from the integration of stillness, awareness and sensitivity, wisdom arises.”

These are not simply words on paper–they are also seeds of thought.  Cultivating and nurturing these thoughts brings them into action.  This is all part of the alchemical, creative process.

Practice:  Cultivating the Five Elements

  1. Begin in Wuji
  2. Gather and wash/purify the body nine times: 3 x for physical body, 3 for emotional body and 3 for energetic body
  3. Stand in ‘Holding the Ball’ with hands at height of solar plexus or Lower Tantian.  Place your awareness in the Lower Tantian and breathe into the area of the Lower Tantian without force or strain, and allow the breath to be long, slow, smoothe and even.
  4. Now–Become the Wood element-expansive in all directions, and rest in this awareness for several minutes
  5. Become Fire element—rising energy, rest in the awareness
  6. Become Earth element—stabilizing energy, rest in the awareness
  7. Become  Metal element—inward, attracting energy, rest in the awareness
  8. Become Water element—downward flowing, accumulating, heavy energy, rest in the awareness
  9. Become all five elements at once and rest in this awareness with closed eyes
  10. Now, stand in the vast, inner sky of limitless potential.  Call on the ultimate aspect of limitless potential right away, in this moment.
  11. The Five Elements are manifest in this moment, and we are not separate from them; we are one with the limitless potential of the Five Elements, not separate, not different.
  12. Gather, wash and bring all to the lower Tantian to conclude the practice.

“This intention-driven-action is not what is familiarly recognized as Tai Chi, but is this not Tai Chi?”

Is this sacred space of unity and limitless potential resident on the practice court alone?

Not at all.

Sacredness is everywhere, in everything and in everyone, not simply in a sacred building or practice space.  As Tai Chi players, we can bring the sacred mindfulness of our practice everywhere, to everything we do and to everyone we meet.  Ultimately, this sacred awareness encompasses every life activity from the mundane to the sublime.

To truly live in the present moment, awake, aware and free; to truly inhabit the unique, authentic human being we were created to be.  This is Tai Chi!

© 2010 Elizabeth Meloney—All rights reserved.

Over the last few weeks, I have run into quite a few people who have been having trouble with their knees.  Anyone who has ever suffered a knee injury knows just how devastating that injury can be both to their Tai Chi practice and to their general enjoyment of life.  The good news is:  injury and discomfort can become a path to new understanding, growth and freedom.

In the study of Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong, we learn that the joints of the knees and all the supportive connective tissues and fluids can be seen as a contained, pressurized system through which the energies of heaven and earth flow.  If there is a ‘leak’ in the system, brought about through acute injury, chronic misalignments or aging, that contained hydraulic system will begin to lose pressure, tone and resiliency, and the energies will be blocked from flowing smoothly and the clear communication of Heaven and Earth will be obstructed.  The principles of maintaining or regaining health in the knees apply not only to Tai Chi players, but to anyone interested in maintaining their health and joy in life.

There is much that can be said about maintaining and regaining health in the knees, and in the joints throughout the body.  In this post we will address a few key alignments and internal awarenesses–as well as a healing practice–to maintain/restore tone and resiliency in your beautiful knees:

  1. As a general practice, we want to stand and walk with the feet parallel to one another.  Notice if your feet want to angle outwards or in, and gently correct back to the parallel position.  Mindfully standing and walking in this manner balances the physical and energetic aspects of the legs, harmonizing Yin and Yang.  This may feel very odd at first as the body has adapted itself to the old, albeit less healthy structure and method, but with time and practice a new habit will be established.
  2. When standing, bring the feet shoulder-width apart and parallel, and allow the knees to soften (they should never be locked).  Bring the focus to the backs of the knees and gently lift, creating more space at the back of the knee joint.  Bring this gently-lifted awareness into all your activities, whether on the Tai Chi court, standing in line, walking or doing the dishes.  This awareness helps to counter the effects of gravity, and maintains a gently pressurized state in the joints as you stand and move about.
  3. Maintain the center of the knee over the centerline of the foot in space and time while walking, and while playing Tai Chi.  Notice if the center of the knee joint does not move along the centerline of the foot and gently correct the alignment.  The gentle, flowing movements of Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong are very healing to the knees, and to the joints in general. Moving back and forth through the centerline is like being in the groove, and being in the groove will over time create stability, resiliency and pressurization throughout the structure of the joint.
  4. In stance work, do not allow the knee to extend beyond the toes.  In movements and transitional postures, be aware of the placement of your body in space and time, and make any necessary micro movements to be certain the knee maintains alignment with the centerline of the foot.

Practice:  Borrowing the Healing Energy from the Earth

  1. Begin by sitting in a chair, feet shoulder width apart, palms resting on the tops of your thighs. If your back is strong, sit more forward on the chair and if not, scoot your body to the back of the chair and use the backrest for support. Feel the feet in contact with the earth and gently, uniformly press the feet down.
  2. Bring your awareness to the crown of your head and to your perineum at the base of your torso. Allow the crown of your head to gently lift upwards and the perineum to press against the seat of the chair, creating an elongation in the torso, and a gentle lifting in the inguinal curve at the hip or kwa. Align the crown of the head over the perineum, and notice the fullness and integrity of the central energy channel in the body. The chin is gently drawn in towards the neck and remains parallel to the floor (not tilted up, down or sideways.) Notice the connection between the soles of the feet, the perineum and the crown.  Notice the downward flow of heaven energy as it moves like a wave through the crown and sinks down through the entire body and out the feet.  This aspect of downward moving energy is very important.  Maintain your gently full, upright and integrated posture as well as the downward flow of energy throughout the practice.
  3. Now focus on the breath. Gently breathe into the lower abdomen, into the area just below your navel: long, deep, even and smooth. Then gently exhale. Allow your mind to follow the breath in and out and let the breath be continuous–the inhalation flows into the exhalation and the exhalation flows into the inhalation, without pause or gap.  Do not strain, push or hold the breath. The belly will naturally rise and fall. This is known as diaphragmatic breathing. Breathe in this manner for at least a few minutes, and build up the time you spend in this gentle breathing practice—the more time you spend in this deep breathing, the better for your body, mind and spirit.
  4. Now, focus on the heart center and imagine a very bright seed of purest light in the core of the heart center.  This seed of light is so bright–as bright as 10,000 suns and moons.  This light is divine, luminous joy. Allow this seed of luminous joy to increase in size and spread throughout the heart center. See and feel the radiance of divine joy. Then allow the light to move throughout the body, bathing every cell and the spaces between every cell with this luminous joy. Rest in this awareness, becoming one with it, and continue deep breathing. This practice is known as “The Bright Smile of Spontaneously Present Joy.”  This practice creates a joyful, healing atmosphere and unity within and without that is filled with limitless potential.
  5. Now, we are ready to move into the practice known as “Borrowing the Healing Energy from the Earth.”  Sense the bottoms of your feet and become aware that there are energetic roots spreading down into the earth from the soles of your feet. These roots spread deep and wide. Continue the deep, gentle breathing as above.
  6. Now, call upon the limitless, pristine healing qualities of the earth and begin to draw those qualities up through your roots just as a mighty tree would absorb only the most pristine nutrients from the soil. These healing qualities are limitless, divine, infinite, and they travel up through the roots and bathe your feet with healing essence. Allow this pristine healing energy to remain in the feet, and then send your awareness back down through your roots and into the earth.  Call on more limitless healing energy. Gently allow the energy to rise up through your roots and into your feet three times. Then, return your awareness to the earth and gently allow the energy to rise up through the feet into the ankles, bathing every cell, particle and space of the feet and ankles. Do this three times. Then allow the energy to rise up and bathe the feet ankles, lower legs and knees. Do this three times as well. Then allow the energy to rise up in the same manner to the hips. Do this three times as well. Have confidence that the healing energies you are calling upon are effecting transformation in every moment of this healing practice.  If you have pain, injury, or discomfort in the torso, arms, neck or head, you can continue allowing the pristine healing energy to rise up in the above manner all the way to the crown of the head.
  7. The key to this practice rests in the focus of the “Intention-driven-action.” It is important to understand before you begin the practice exactly what you wish to accomplish, i.e. healing of the knees, for instance. So, you want to call upon only those energies that are pure, pristine, divine healing qualities. In qigong, you literally become what you cultivate. If you cultivate by focusing on the pain, you will cultivate more pain. If you focus on divine healing being accomplished with every breath, divine healing is what you will receive. Have faith that with each breath it is being accomplished, and that your cells, your very DNA, are resonant with the most pristine healing essences.
  8. Begin with just three repetitions for each area (as above), and build up slowly over the course of a few weeks to nine repetitions and eventually to 36. Remember, a little qigong everyday is very effective, and you want to build up your ability to carry chi over a long period of time. In the practice and doing of Qigong, you are essentially re-wiring your system to carry more and more potent healing energy and it takes time to build this new electrical system. Be patient with yourself, and smile inwardly with great gratitude. You can do this practice standing also, but in the beginning it is better to sit.
  9. If at any time you feel dizzy or nauseous, don’t worry—you have come up against a blockage in the chi and it is beginning to dissolve and open up. It will clear very soon and you will feel much better afterwards. Take a moment to mindfully suspend the practice and continue the deep, relaxed belly breathing and think about allowing any excess energy to sink down and into the earth. Everything in the practice is gentle, gentle, gentle.  There is no force, no pushing, no trying, and always remember the 70% Rule.  (This is a vital element of moderation in the practice of Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong.  The 70% Rule states that you should only do a Tai Chi movement, or any internal arts practice, at 70 percent of capacity, be it number of repetitions, flexibility, length of time in practice, breathing, etc.  You can do the practice at 70% of your physical, mental or energetic capacity, and you can bring 100% of your engagement and spirit into it.  In this way, you can safely build up your capacity over time.  Build up slowly, steadily and surely.  Do not be in a hurry–hurry and force are counter-productive to energy cultivation and may make you prone to injury.)  This practice will bring not only healing, but a great sense of peace and joy as well.
  10. Remember, you are looking to feel what is happening inside your body, not merely visualize it.  Sense and feel the healing, bubbling, joyful energy move up through the roots and through your body, and be confident that even if this is brand new to you, healing is taking place in this very moment.
  11. Conclude the practice by allowing the hands to move to the sides of the body and gently scoop up the healing qualities of earth, environment and heaven, circling the arms up to the crown of the head and then wash the energies down through the body, like rain on the inside of the body, clearing any tension, any discomfort, any injury or illness and allowing any pain to wash out the bottoms of the feet, and leaving within the resonant, healing energy. Repeat this washing three times and then gather the chi once more and bring the palms, left over right, to the area of the Lower Tantian and store the chi.  The Lower Tantian is also known as the Sea of Chi, located approximately two inches below the navel and two inches inside the body along the central energy channel.  The Lower Tantian is the hub and reservoir of our physical life-force energies, and by storing the limitless healing energy you have cultivated through your practice in the Lower Tantian, you add to your storehouse of healing energy. You store the energy in this way through the pure intention of doing it.

May you be happy, healthy and fulfilled!

 

Please note:  Any physical and/or energetic exercise can carry risks.  The teachings and practices in this article are not intended as a substitute for medical or psychological counseling with a licensed physician or healthcare provider.  Do not attempt these exercises if you have any physical, emotional or mental conditions that may make you susceptible to injury.

© 2010 Elizabeth Meloney—All rights reserved.

The following teaching on The WuJi Posture and Structural Integrity comes from a workshop that Master Donald Rubbo taught on The Universal Post Standing Meditation:

As students arrive for the workshop, Sifu is singing songs of realization. . .

“. . .We are also going to be speaking about The Mnemonic of the Thirteen Movements of Tai Chi Chuan and how they relate to stillness practice, because even though you are still doesn’t mean there is no movement.  There is movement in stillness, and stillness in movement.  Remember, even the movement of the chi is perfectly pure.  It’s not strong, it’s not non-existent, it’s not existent.  So, don’t seek to have something.  Allow what is occurring to happen and then you will gradually develop awareness. . .Mindfulness will develop and eventually wisdom will arise. . .

“Many years ago, Bing Gong was teaching one of my younger kung fu brothers the Universal Post Standing Meditation.  My younger kung fu brother was eager and listened very closely to Bing’s words:

“If you stand, you will attain enlightenment by doing this posture.”

“About two years ago, my younger kung fu brother came to visit me and he was quite upset about Bing having given him this teaching, and said, “Bing told me if I stood, I would become enlightened.”

“So, he had doubt in his teacher and he had doubt in the art.   He stood for years with a distracted mind, and then he gave up and didn’t practice any more.

“Well, he was looking for enlightenment, but you are not going to achieve enlightenment in a day, unless you have the karma to achieve it in a day.  Most of us are not born with that kind of blessing, and if we are born with that kind of blessing we probably don’t need the Standing meditation to acquire that level of realization.  .  .

“Unfortunately, he missed the whole point, and I thought it was a beautiful teaching that he came and gave me about the impatience of a student.  It’s not the inadequacies of the teacher—the teacher gave the student what would give him the skills. . .if the student is diligent and practices, he will gain the fruits of the practice.  If, however, he approaches the practice with doubt about the practice, or doubt about the transmitter of the practice, then the student cuts off the root.  No teacher; no root.  So always keep your teacher close.   This does not fulfill my ego as a teacher; it helps you.  If you keep that kind of heart, it doesn’t matter the distance or where you are in the world—your mind and your teacher’s mind are one.

“Now we are going to transition into the Universal Post Practice.  . . I’m going to give you the actual transmission of this form, then I’m going to talk about structural integrity.  We talked about this at class this morning–it is an important teaching on how to overcome obstacles in one’s life.  I’m not going to go too deeply into that, but for those who weren’t there, I’m going to give a little bit–there is no separation between that practice and this . . .

“Standing meditation came out of the Hsing Yi tradition.  This practice that you are going to learn today came out of Hsing Yi; the root is in Hsing Yi.  Hsing Yi Chuan – Yi Chuan.  Mind/Body Boxing – Mind Boxing—no body.  The body is perfectly pure.

“The Universal Post practice is before Yi Chuan.  Hsing Yi is very old, a very old tradition: older than Tai Chi, older than Bagua.  Hsing Yi came out of the tradition of Five Element Theory and Taoist Arts–Taoist wisdom–and it came out of the Twelve Animals that make up the twelve months of the Cosmology (Chinese calendar). . . This has to do with directions, just like Primordial Qigong. . .so keep these things in mind. . .

“So now, STRUCTURE.

“We always want to start in WuJi.  From this very basic stance, if I can find my structural integrity, I can do anything.

(Sifu moves into the Wuji posture)  “So, if I am observing my body and I can feel—as good as this posture is right now—I can feel all kinds of tension that should not be present.  If I can feel my cervical region and my chin is a little elevated, this small amount [of being out of alignment] leads to other things that will have tension.  So, I have to have awareness first.  If I start off trying to find my posture and my mind is too busy seeking, and asking: what am I looking for?  I won’t be able to find it.  So, I need to be still and breathe.  Quiet my mind; observe my body; feel where the weight is; feel where there’s tension; feel where there’s collapse; feel where there’s excess.

“Then I make minor adjustments along the way.  I’m going to start at the top because it’s easier to start at the top and work down.  I notice that my head is off: so I’m going to draw my chin in and raise the crown of my head up, as if the crown were suspended from above—just doing that corrected four other issues.  So I don’t have to spend a lot of time correcting them, because that one little thing adjusted me.  But I want to be mindful that the adjustments are appropriate and not too much, not too little.  You see how this is affecting not only my physical body, but if you look in my eyes you see the shen or spirit.  The eyes are the windows to the soul.  See how much more alert they are?  I’m not making this happen, I’m not trying to show myself more alert; this is just from the subtle adjustments.  (Sifu adjusts his posture)  “This is: I’m asleep.  This is: I have awakened.  Simple.”

“Now, I know that I want to give my body a little space, because my armpits are a little crowded.  So, I’m just going to expand them out a little bit, but not so I wind up like a gunslinger.  Not that big, I just want to give myself a little space so I open my armpits slightly.  Now, I want to be aware if there’s tension in my shoulders.  A lot of people hold tension in their shoulders and a sense of constriction. . . release that constriction and open.  Now, I want you to go down to the thoracic region and chest.  If my arms are opened appropriately, my shoulders are sinking down, my shoulder blades are opened up (out from the spine)—they won’t be pinching back.  If they’re pinching back, my chest is going to bow forward.  So I have to have this slightly-rounded softness in the chest, and the sense that it is sinking down.  This is all information most of you have received.

“Now, my abdomen.  In the Mnemonic they talk about having an abdomen that is free of obstructions/impurities.  For instance: Belching lets go of any impurities.

“I then want to relax the abdomen.  When I relax it, all of a sudden my chi has moved down where it is supposed to be.  So the abdomen has to be free of obstruction.  Obstructions can be physical tension; obstructions can be caused by bad food, impurities, emotions–these are all forms of congestion. . .

“Now I’m going to talk about the lower back.  The sacral lumbar region has a natural curve—which is good—but what we want to do is access the channel of energy that comes up and down the spine.  The Governing channel ascends chi up the spine and the chi circulates all the way from the perineum to the roof of the mouth.  So, in order for me to create the optimum condition for chi to flow I have to release any tension.  This natural curve that we have actually slows down the flow of chi. This natural curve can be considered like a regulator: if I turn the faucet on a little bit, there’s a little bit of energy or water, and if I turn the faucet on all the way, there is a larger amount.  So this pelvic tuck activates a pump that makes not only the chi ascend through the governing channel, but actually makes the cerebral spinal fluid ascend.  When the brain is being nourished by fresh cerebral spinal fluid, one has a real sense of well-being.  When it is diminished, we have clouded senses and we can’t concentrate.  Our mind is darting about from thought to thought and we don’t feel centered.  So, we want to use this physical structure to help acquire a stable mind.  There are multiple purposes, but this is the main one.

“Now, I roll my pelvis slightly forward to activate that cerebral pump as well as the natural flow of chi up the governing channel.  The abdomen is soft and free of obstructions, the back is flat and the pelvis is rolled under, the armpits are gently open.  Now, the legs: I want to have my thighs not completely engaged.  So, if I’m straight legged, I am going to be engaged in places I don’t want to be engaged.  This straight-legged posture actually will create muscular tension and then the chi cannot flow through these channels.  So, I want to soften my knees—I don’t want to sit down here (bent)—I just want to soften my knees.  Then relax the quadriceps and the hamstrings.  The gluteus maximus I want to be relaxed, not tense, not engaged.  The lower orifices should be sealed.  Sealed does not mean plucked up.  Plucked up changes the nature.  Seal is so the chi will not flow out.  The writings say: Seal the anus if you are a man.  Seal the vaginal area and the anus if you are a woman.

“So, I have freed my legs; there are no obstructions, they’re relaxed.  My knees are not collapsed.  This is very important: this is the next big joint in the body where we have to be conscious of not losing energy—it is a contained hydraulic system.  But if there is a leak due to injury or lack of awareness, the structure can make things collapse.  (Sifu demonstrates)  Let’s say my thighs rotate in just a small amount—can you see what happens?  What is collapsed and what is excessive?  Can you tell me?  So this side has become collapsed and therefore has become excessive and is bearing too much weight.  And it has to perform more than the other side.  So, I lose consciousness of the outer and am hyper-aware of the inner.  I want inner-outer to be even–if I can do this and be mindful of the back of the knee being open.

“Don’t misunderstand.  Do not stand with collapsed knees.  You will see people do standing like this (Sifu demonstrates collapsed knees—like a car tire that is deflated), and I guarantee you if they continue in this way they will ruin their knees.  It’s just a matter of time.  We need the fluid pressure. We need the space.  Think about gardening: if I plant seeds way too close together, nothing’s going to flourish and grow.  If I give each seed enough space, the potential is there for each to mature and grow to it’s full potential.  The same thing is true for the space within the knees.  The ankles also have to have this awareness.

A student asks a question:  “I guess I’m not understanding what you mean by “space” when you’re putting pressure on it.”

“We have a ball—think about a ball.  If the ball has air in it and we press on it, it doesn’t collapse.  It has springiness, right?  So, think of a round ball of energy between your joints—now we’re getting into the spiraling energy body—but there is a ball of energy like that.  Inside the ball there are fluids.  The body has these natural fluids between the joints and hopefully they’re not leaking out.  They start leaking out due to all kinds of issues: structural alignment, disease setting into the joints due to misalignment for a long period of time—wearing down of the joints.  (Sifu demonstrates again) Now I have a leak.  It’s no longer a contained vessel anymore.  Now there’s a space, and the pressure that is inside pushes out this little hole—like the slow leak in a tire.  So, the longer I stand with this loss of integrity of structure, the more I collapse. . .the more I collapse. . .the more I collapse, etc.

“This is not mindful practice.  This is only the awareness of that bodily sensation, and it is also bearing too much pressure on the mind.

“So, when we practice, we want both the mind to be perfectly pure and expansive, and the body standing with integrity of form and structure.  Then, we can stand for an hour and there’s nothing that will distract us.  No distracting sensations will get in the way because my structure is supported.  There is no discomfort when you do this properly.

“The issue is: how to learn to do this properly.  We always tend to use too much physical effort to try to achieve something.  Over-efforting is not going to help you achieve this,  but we let beginners do over-efforting because there is a stage when the student gives up:  “Why is he having me do this?”  “I’m so uncomfortable!”  The student actually becomes enraged that the teacher is not letting him put his arms down.  “Keep them up,” the teacher says.  After a while, you’re really mad and ready to curse.  Well now your mind is so fixated on the bodily sensations that they are no longer perfectly pure.  You exhaust yourself.

“So, there’s a point where you just can’t bear it anymore and you give up the struggle.  You move from the tension of the rage and struggle to the relaxation of tension, (Sifu demonstrates the release of tension into a relaxed posture) and you say, “Oh, that’s easy.  I was struggling.  Not with my teacher, actually, but with myself.”

“Hopefully this is a stage of awakening when this happens, and you are not still fixated upon the struggle and directing it at the teacher, unlike my kung fu brother who acquired no skill after many years of practice.  So, he made me smile really big when he told me the story.  Not out of joy that he didn’t get the skill—I felt bad that he didn’t learn—he made me smile because he gave me a teaching that without the proper method of practice, it doesn’t matter how diligent, you will get nothing.  Many people go out and stand for hours and get nothing.  My job as a good teacher is to teach you how to do it properly, with the right motivation, the right intention, the right energy, and the right structure.  If you put all these ingredients together, you will gain the result.  You’ll get it and it won’t take you years to acquire skill.  Then you’ll have years of joy in practice, because you’ll be attaining a high level of realization. . .”

© 2010 Elizabeth Meloney—All rights reserved.

We begin every class and every practice session with the radiant awareness described below.  This gentle, profound practice helps lift us out of the stresses of life into wholeness and limitless potential and positively supercharges our health, our outlook and every activity in our lives, both on and off the practice court.  We recommend incorporating this practice daily, and then notice what changes have taken place over the course of a week, a month, a year!

  1. Begin by sitting in a chair, feet shoulder width apart and parallel, palms resting on the tops of your thighs, arms relaxed.  If your back is strong, sit more forward on the chair, if not, scoot your body to the back of the chair and use the backrest for support.  Feel the feet connected to the earth.
  2. Become aware of the fold in the body where the hip meets the thigh, the inguinal curve, or kwa.  Feel the bottom of the torso, the perineum, where it contacts the chair.  Gently press the feet into the floor and the perineum into the chair without strain or tension, and lift up through the midriff, allowing the chest and shoulders to remain relaxed and full.  This helps to release any strain/compression from the lower spine.
  3. Allow the crown of your head to gently lift upwards, creating an elongation in the torso.  Align the crown of the head over the perineum, and notice the gentle fullness and integrity of the central energy channel in the body.  The head is aligned with the centerline of the body.  The chin is gently drawn in towards the neck and remains parallel to the floor (not tilted up or down.)  The eyes are softly on the horizon.  Maintain this gently full, upright posture throughout the practice.
  4. Now focus on the breath.  Gently breathe into the lower abdomen: long, slow, even, smooth and continuous.  Notice the diaphragm gently sinks on the inhalation.  Then exhale in the same slow, even manner and notice the diaphragm gently rises.  Allow your gently-focused mind to follow the breath in and out.  You want the belly to rise and fall gently without strain or tension, and you never want to force the breath.  This is known as diaphragmatic breathing or natural breathing.  (We will cover more on breath in future posts.)  Breathe in this manner for several minutes, and build up the time you spend in this gentle breathing practice—the more time you spend in this deep breathing, the better for your body, mind and spirit.  This is the way babies breathe!  As we age and are exposed to the stresses of life, illness and injury our breath becomes shallower, the respiratory apparatus becomes tense, restricted, and consequently we have less available oxygen.  The daily practice of deep, natural breathing has far-reaching benefits for health and peace of mind.  Ultimately, your practice will naturally deepen and expand, constrictions and tensions will be released and this will become your way of breathing.   “When one gives undivided attention to the (vital) breath, and brings it to the utmost degree of pliancy, he can become as a tender babe.”  —Tao De Ching, J. Legge, Trans.
  5. Now, focus on the heart center and imagine a very bright seed of purest light in the core of the heart center.  This seed of light is so bright–as bright as 10,000 suns and moons–this light is divine, luminous joy.  (One can liken this joy to the quality we feel when we see a much beloved family member or friend from whom we have been separated for a long time.)  Allow this seed of luminous joy to expand in size and spread throughout the heart center.  See it.  Feel it.  Look for a felt-sense experience of the radiance of divine, limitless joy.  Then allow the light to move throughout the body, bathing every cell and particle in the body, mind and spirit with luminous joy.  Notice that the lips cannot help but turn up in a gentle smile; feel the same gentle smile in the eyes and throughout the body.  Gratitude permeates every cell and you have become a beacon of joy.  Continue deep, slow, even breathing and rest for as long as you wish in this joyful, limitless awareness.

Begin and end the day with this practice, and call upon it at anytime.  The idea is to cultivate this limitless, joyful awareness so that we are never separate from it.  This simple, yet profound practice creates a healing atmosphere and inner/outer unity that is filled with divine potential and helps us reconnect with our authentic nature.  This practice is known as “The Bright Smile of Spontaneously Present Joy.”

© 2010 Elizabeth Meloney—All rights reserved.

As students of the internal martial and healing arts, we spend years—lifetimes—perfecting the purity and integrity of the forms we practice. This is part of the ongoing investigative process of Tai Chi, and because the intention we bring to this process is also pure and rooted in love and compassion and truth, the result is a polished jewel of a vessel that can and does hold limitless amounts of healing elixir. To explore further, one must also engage the creative process. We must not stagnate, we must not become habitual. In this way, we truly honor the lineage of our teachers.

My own Sifu, Master Donald Rubbo, has said:

“The engagement of the creative process sets us on the path to ‘evolving into’ our own unique, authentic nature . . . this is the way of joy, the way of freedom. This is the true alchemy!”

© 2010 Elizabeth Meloney—All rights reserved.