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Tai Chi
Tai Chi in the Workplace

8 May 2013
Some years ago I was invited to teach a trial class at General Electric, to investigate establishing an ongoing class at their offices. I was told that the workplace was fast-paced, fast-changing, and hence stressful. Their hope was that a Tai Chi class at the end of the week, on Friday afternoons when meetings were never called, would help participants come down from their corporate high long enough to relax and de-stress, however briefly.

The benefits of Tai Chi in such environments are increasingly well established by Western science, as described in Peter Wayne's marvelous new book, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi . But when Friday class rolled around, almost no one who registered showed up because management had called an emergency meeting! I was assured that all meetings were emergency meetings. Having worked in many such companies as a computer professional, I recognized the signs of managerial dysfunction. Clearly the GE folks needed that Tai Chi class, but the very need ensured its failure.

Few of us have employers who offer Tai Chi in the workplace. That leaves it to us, as active practitioners, to make our own Tai Chi in the workplace. Obviously many jobs make this impossible (I know chefs and police officers in this category), but in an ordinary office environment you can probably make the opportunity during lunch hour, break times, or slack times.

Before I proceed down that path, let me stop for a cautionary note. This column was inspired by a young man I met, a student of Shaolin martial arts and taijiquan, who confided in me that when he practiced in his workplace - he is a college law enforcement intern at a municipal police department - his co-workers treated him funny.

Don't laugh! Okay, go ahead and laugh. Ah, to be twenty again! The practical reality is, only people who play in our world can appreciate it; otherwise, they would play too. This is true whether you play golf, tennis, cello, karate-do, or taijiquan. The foreign derivation of our practices makes public display of our training all the more problematical.

So unless you have a firm understanding in your workplace, your goal should be to practice so that no one knows you are practicing . Since Tai Chi is an internal art whose greatest strength is never seen, that is a reasonable goal. In fact it is desirable as well.

What useful exercises will go unnoticed? Start with standing postures. With a standing posture you can regulate and deepen your breath, relax completely, train your root, guide your qi, meditate, and even pray, if you are so inclined. If you have the training, you can practice any number of neijia (internal alchemy) exercises without anyone being aware.

What postures are most useful? I always start beginners with a standing post Wu ji posture, because it is the easiest (see page 18 in Tai Chi In Your Life ); it only requires that you be able to stand. I describe and guide this zhan zhuang posture on the first track of my CD, Tai Chi Meditations .
Wu ji Stance
Wu Ji stance

Perhaps the best-known posture is Holding the Ball (p. 23, Tai Chi In Your Life). Hold the arms at upper rib height, forming a large circle with the extended middle fingers pointing toward each other, with the laogong center in the palms pointed to third eye spot on your forehead. This is more difficult than Wu ji because it requires training the arms to hold the ball. It quickly reveals tension, because tension will stiffen your muscles and tire you quickly. Both are good, but start simply until you have confidence.
Holding the Ball Holding the Ball Holding the Ball
Holding the Ball

In Mantak Chia's Universal Tao system, I was taught a whole series of postures. One set had eight postures, ideally practiced "each for one hour". Posture number one is Holding the Ball at throat level, which few beginners can do for more than one minute. It is also a little strange looking to outsiders, so stick with the simplest, least obtrusive postures. You can also hold the ball at waist level, with the palms facing each other, forearms parallel to the ground.

How long should you hold the posture? Twenty minutes is superb. Some teachers say less than that is a waste of time, but I find that ten minutes or even five is vastly preferable to none at all. At ten minutes, if you have relaxed your body while maintaining a sound energy structure, you experience the weight of the air as if it is a gel. When you choose to move, you move slowly and smoothly, without a desire to exert effort. If you practice your form after ten or twenty minutes of standing posture, you will have a profoundly deeper experience.

Of course, if you have qigong training, there are any number of minimal exercises you can perform at your desk, or in a remote corner, that will not raise any eyebrows. But if you can do that, you might just as well dissect your Tai Chi form into one or two component movements, and practice only those, a lot. Tai Chi originally began as postures and single movements, so for you to do the same is not a weakness. It is a reversion to the earliest foundational training, from centuries ago.

Some examples would be Waving Hands in Clouds (Cloud Hands); Ward Off; Apparent Closing and Push; and perhaps Carry Tiger to Mountain. Take any favorite movement from your form. Your choice truly depends on whether you will have spectators or not, and how they will react. If you stick to the workplace, best to have none at all. If you can walk to the park for practice at lunch time, your reward will be a new serenity at work in the afternoon.

You may also like this related article: Two Faces of Tai Chi (146)
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