Taiji in Daily Life
HUANG SHEN SHYAN
5 Loosening Exercises
Many things to many people
Taiji Quan has become many things to many people. It can be a gentle form of exercise, a martial art, a form of moving meditation, dance, a new age fad.
The question can be answered in different ways to produce different answers! Historically, and still in places such as Malaysia, Taiji is a martial art and is taken very seriously by some practitioners. I will make no attempt to give another opinion about what Taiji 'is'. Opinions are just thoughts and with Taiji practice is the key factor.
What I would sugest though is that Taiji that is practised with an attempt to follow the principles in the Tai Ji Classics is 'truer to the art' (to borrow the tilte of the excellent book by Wee Kee Jin) than Tai Ji movements that are practised with some other rationale.
The other point I wish to make in order to set the table for this article is to offer my observation that the Taiji principles, known in the body, that is at a 'felt/understood' level (we are back to practice again!) can become insights that guide our daily lives, should we wish to develop in that direction.
The physical principles of Taiji are contained in the 5 loosening exercises. They look really easy however, it takes hours of sustained practice and awareness, plus the guidance of a good teacher to feel the principles in even this very controlled context. However, Taiji is a choice not a punishment, and bringing awareness to sustained practice is one way to start to find the internal understandings and connections that overflow into daily life.
Pushing Hands exercises
The Principles and their "application" in daily life
One of the fundamentals is 'sinking' and taking force into the ground. The key point is not to let any force build up on your body (for example, clashing arms whilst blocking a strike would be letting force build up; being hit also qualifies!). This is one of the features that distinguishes the, so called, internal art from the external art. Rather than attempt to increase speed, technique and power to be faster, more skilful and stronger than an opponent, Taiji seeks to cultivate sensitivity and correct body structure so that an incoming force does not land with damaging effect. As a very simple example, if you are very stiff and someone pushes your shoulder then your whole body will be moved. If you are relaxed then your body will turn as the push comes and your structure will remain stable.
Notice in the first exercise on the pushing hands video (I only posted it for this part), the very first thing happening is that the force is received by yielding to it, not opposing it.
There is a Taiji saying that describes yielding as 'investing in loss'. That is only the first part of the saying. The complete idea is to invest in loss in order to make a profit. Yielding is only to put yourself in a more advantageous position.
Not allowing force to build up, accepting whatever is offered without losing our balance, yielding. These are basic concepts to learn with the body. When you 'get' these in the body you begin to have insights into how the same principles apply in daily life.
Accepting whatever is offered without letting force build up on the body.
If someone is behaving badly and annoying me, force is building up in me. If I am experiencing any strong emotion and attributing it to be an effect of an external cause, it is a force that I am allowing to build up on me.
That emotion has already taken my balance and it s easy for me to make mistakes and react unwisely when I am off balance.
Reality is how it is (but only every time). Accepting reality means accepting how we feel about it, as part of that. When I am sad or angry, that is part of my reality. If I let the force of that feeling take my balance I will get myself into (more) trouble. If I yield into a more advantageous position I learn to recognise the feelings as feelings and not a call to action. As I begin to recover my internal balance, the wisest response will become clearer without me 'trying' to force and answer.
Note that this is not about denying the feelings or becoming detached and numb. As you build sensitivity you actually feel more, and learn how to engage with the energy of feeling in a wiser and kinder way.
Conclusions and Beginnings
This is a short introduction to the application of Taiji to daily life. Having said that the idea of 'application' is not really correct. This is not something I am doing to life, it is a way of refining my perception and ability to engage with what I perceive. In changing myself I change my world.
Also it's useful to take Taiji as a metaphor for life because it removes our victim mentality. It is too easy to blame the world for our lack of success and all our troubles. In Taiji, a martial art, a troublesome world is assumed! The question is how to receive and respond to the forces coming our way, rather than to complain that they should not be coming our way. As Byron Katie says, when we argue with reality, we lose, but only every time!
Enjoy the training!
More by this Author
The stories of the 8 Immortals are a favourite in Chinese literature and drama.
One of the most famous stories featuring the Chinese 8 Immortals.