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Tai Chi
Practicing While Not Practicing

1 May 2011
When can you find time to practice your Tai Chi Chuan? Everyone must find their own answer to this question, even though the answers invariably devolve to morning, noon, or night  or for us dedicated spirits, morning, noon and night. But if you practice the movements enough, it is only a matter of time until you realize that you are always practicing, even when you are not practicing.

To make sense of this seeming paradox, realize the practice can mean many things. We typically think of practice as repeating the solo form, or two-person applications, or sensing hands (pushing hands). So if we are not doing any of these things, we are not practicing.

Look deeper, and you will realize that all of life is an opportunity to practice. In one way this is the message of my book, Tai Chi In Your Life. Just as you can turn Tai Chi lessons into life lessons, so can you use your entire life to practice Tai Chi. Can you think of some examples?

Start with standing. You practice standing meditation, which starts with balance and centering. When you stand around talking to people, do you follow the same principles as in your standing meditation? Why not? Why not use the opportunity to relax and center? If the conversation is stressful, this is all the more reason to relax your body and allow your mind to follow.

Look at how you walk. In class we talk about moving with complete control of our center, so that each step is issued with complete control  compared to the barely-controlled fall that passes for walking amongst most people. Do you practice relaxing and centering as you walk? Are you endangering yourself with your careless stepping?

When you reach for a door to open it, how much muscular effort do you subject yourself to in the process? How much do you lose your balance, or adjust your balance by using brute muscular force? Instead, reach for the door handle through your palm, extending through the middle of the arm, just as you should reach during the practice of your form. Pull the door open using your core muscles, not your shoulder or arm. Find a way to move the door without tensing your arm, chest, or shoulder. The solution will not come immediately, but it is a worthy exercise. Part of the challenge come from the wide variety of doors  their height, their density, their center, the shape of the door knob/handle. If the door has a handle that must turn downward to unlatch, you can literally punch the door open, even if it is latched at the outset. Eventually even the heaviest door can be made to fly open with a slight flick of movement from your abdomen.

When you reach out to pick up or set down an object, do you keep your arm, wrist, and fingers relaxed? Do you link your arm movement to your core muscles? If so, you can move smoothly and freely, without tension. A good test of this comes from ice trays: fill up an ice tray and walk around while holding it in the air, as you might while walking from the kitchen sink to the icebox. Set it in the freezer. Does the water slosh around, or does it stay still? Does it spill? Sloshing comes from a tense arm or hand. Relax and try again.

These are a few simple examples from some of the more common and repetitive activities in our daily lives. Can you find additional ways to apply your Tai Chi principles in your daily movement? How should you dig with a shovel? Cut vegetables with a knife? Write with an ink pen? Think about it, and relate to me some of your own examples.

You may also like this related article: Practicing Too Much (138)
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