Natural Way T'ai Chi School

Archived Material from One-Day Courses

'Internal Strength'

The essential practice of t'ai chi is the coordination of mind intent with the free flow of ch'i. However, most people begin their t'ai chi study with a body/mind condition that interrupts the free movement of ch'i that then disrupts the conscious connection with the body and ch'i. This extends into the world when the relationship you have with your own being is projected onto your experience. The natural being of openness is overlaid with unconscious misperceptions.

How are blocks in the body/mind formed?

Misuse of the body creates patterns of holding in the muscle tissue, e.g. craning the head forward when looking whilst reading or using a computer. Habitual activity can cause disharmony, e.g. too much sitting down can shorten muscles in front of the pelvis. Injury can create patterns of movement that function to avoid discomfort; the same result can occur following weaknesses in groups of muscles. There are also environmental factors and dietary factors that have a direct bearing on the ch'i movement.

The conscious experience of the body can be disrupted or reduced which leads to a disharmony in the body tissue. If there is a resistance to some experience that has been held on to, e.g. an emotional trauma or even a mild emotional resistance, the holding pattern can be at the level of consciousness that then affects the physical body. At a fundamental level we are conditioned by our own likes and dislikes which distorts our experience of the world.

How are blockages in the body/mind released?

How should the mind be adjusted?

At a deep level the blockages are kept in place because of a holding pattern in the consciousness itself. It is important to realise at the start that we cannot predict what we will be like, or what the world will be like, if we experience a shift in our consciousness. Any such idea will be conditioned by our unconscious. Therefore when opening to allow blockages to shift there is a feeling of surrender, a willingness to allow movement that is not controlled. A shift in consciousness occurs when there is a process of thought, or presence of mind, connecting with experience. This awareness is without preferences; it is pure awareness. The upper tantien functions to enable clear seeing.

When mental blocks are released there is an expansion of consciousness that is natural. It is unconditioned, un-contrived and unrestricted. In the Chinese tradition this is the pure yang or shen. The middle tantien is an important factor in the process of expansion. The middle tantien relates to the heart ch'i. The heart ch'i moves outward when we extend out to others; it is held when we are over concerned with our selves.

After you have adjusted your mind it is then possible to apply more physical techniques to create movement and change in the physical body.

What are the physical techniques?

To open the body to encourage ch'i movement there is a sequence of points to attend to:

  1. The body must be completely stable and rooted through the feet. Gravity is aligned to bring the sensation of weight to the centre of the feet.
  2. The ch'i is allowed to sink from the upper body to settle through the legs and feet.
  3. There is an expanded feeling in the body as if the body becomes inflated with air. This is achieved mostly with the mind.
  4. The bones of the spine and limbs are drawn out away from a fixed point. The spine is drawn upwards away from the heaviness of the feet up through the body through the crown of the head. The arms are opened away from the spine through the joints and beyond the fingertips.
  5. Movement follows t'ai chi principle. Physically moving from the feet with the sensation passing through the body towards the extremities. Mentally the sensation of movement is directed beyond the body.

What happens when we are less blocked? Our body is more flexible, our emotions are more free-flowing, our awareness is expanded and there is a general feeling of reduced restriction. We are comfortable in all situations and less susceptible to conditioning.

Discovering How Things Are.

Venerable Sariputta, one of the Buddha's disciples, was very astute. Once when the Buddha was expounding the Dhamma he turned to his monk and asked, "Sariputta, do you believe this?" Sariputta replied, "No, I don't yet believe it." The Buddha praised his answer. "That's very good, Sariputta. You are one who is endowed with wisdom. One who is wise doesn't really believe; they listen with an open mind and then weigh the truth of the matter before believing or disbelieving."

Here the Buddha has set a fine example for a teacher. What Sariputta said was true. He simply spoke his true feelings ...Whether you are standing, sitting, or walking about, you can always study the things around you. Study in a natural way. Be receptive to all things: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, or thoughts. The wise person considers them all.

...The value of Dhamma isn't to be found in books. Those are just the external appearances of Dhamma; they're not the realization of Dhamma as a personal experience. If you realise the Dhamma, realize your own mind. You see the truth there. When truth becomes apparent it cuts off the stream of delusion.

... Now who created this truth? The truth itself created the truth! Did the Buddha create it? No, he didn't. The Buddha only discovered the truth, the way things are, and then set out to declare it. The truth is constantly true, whether a Buddha arises in the world or not.

(Food for the Heart, Ajahn Chah)

The Bare Bones

Forget Self and follow 'the way of things.'

Harmonise with your opponent.

Give up all preferences, wanting things to be a certain way,
relate to what is.

If you think there is a method, that is not it.

Transcend technique to become natural.

Understand the physical principles of movement;
what they are, what is their purpose and how they function.

Understand the ideas that underpin pushing hands.
Especially understand the purpose of yielding and the principle that 'in order to lead, first you must follow.'
Understand cycles of change, circles and spirals.
Balance passive and active.
Understand the relationship between form practice and pushing hands.

Empty the muscles of external muscular force.
Draw out the bones.
Use rounded posture shapes to open the body.
Lift up the back and soften the chest.
Use the mind to expand the flesh away from the bone.
Sink the ch'i to lower part of the body and raise the shen.
Rouse the ch'i.

Core Principles of Pushing Hands

  1. The mind and body are light and sensitive.
  2. Balance your opponent's physical and mental attitude.
  3. Do not use force to oppose force. Let go of ordinary strength.
  4. Keep single weighted.
  5. Use Yi (intention) and ch'i.
  6. First touch, then stick and follow in order to join.
  7. Empty your opponent's force by first following and then leading away.
  8. Return the force as a continuous circle
  9. Issue t'ai chi force from the feet, direct it with the waist and express through the hands.

'Get Real'

Imagination becomes reality

It is said that if there is no 'yi' then there is no ch'i. Therefore it is important to understand and have direct knowledge of what the Yi is, how to develop the Yi, and how to apply it in practice.

Yi Intention intended action

the mind moves prior to an action

it is the energy of decision.

When there is presence of mind together with intention, the consciousness travels with the ch'i. The Yi leads the ch'i. After some time practising the body feels as if it is moved by the ch'i.

In order to develop presence of mind you must have a clear belief in what you are doing. There is a certainty, a relaxed knowing. There are no doubts. When there are no other agendas present you become sincere. All of these qualities bring the full force of presence of mind to the intended action and it increases its power to move the ch'i.

Within the state of 'relaxed knowing' wholeheartedness becomes possible. There is a process of surrender, a wholehearted giving of one's self to be connected.

Sensitivity is also a key factor. If you are trying to discriminate very carefully to be aware of subtle things your mind has a heightened presence. There is a more receptive state to appreciate what it is that you are relating to, and there is a more exacting effort to apply your response. Think of a simple example – threading a fine piece of cotton through the eye of a small needle. There is a need for focus and careful action. It is the same with t'ai chi although your sensitivity is applied to the subtlety of the ch'i which can manifest as large or small.

There are many emotional pulls that take us away from our connectedness with simple presence. To overcome this tendency to be distracted we can quieten the mind and focus on the immediate and present experience. Try to reduce your reliance upon labels for your experience. Stay connected to the feeling and the mental intention to move and respond.

The meaning of the movements within the t'ai chi form is explained when you understand the application of each posture. The postures have martial application although can be understood and practised without thinking of defending against an attack and returning an attack. It is easier to connect with the experience if you do not have such thoughts whilst practising. Better is to use your Yi to create an experience of movement by relating to the force in the posture. For example, a feeling of allowing a force to enter your being from the outside, moving down through you into the ground; then returning from your feet through your body and moving outward away from your hands or feet. Extending away from the body is an important balance to the awareness and connection through the body.

The responses in t'ai chi are simple. If your partner has a force you empty their force and turn it away. The circle of response returns the force. Focus on the feeling of the circular movement.

To free the mind from conceptual thoughts and connect with the experience there are stages of learning. First it is helpful to have concrete experience of the actual physical application, then to refine this gradually until it becomes an expression of your deeper more subtle connection. Finally you imagine the physical experience in a pure form with very little conceptual thought.

Pathways for the Ch'i

T'ai chi postures, movement and principles of application all rely upon the manifestation of ch'i. Practising with the ch'i brings beneficial results physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Therefore it is important to know how to adjust the mind and body to manifest the ch'i. Remember there are three main ways to activate the ch'i: body alignment, breathing and using the mind intent.

Opening the body and adjusting the mind

Within the tradition of t'ai chi, the general principle for activating the ch'i is to draw out the bones and relax the muscles and sinews. The act of softening and applying sensitivity enhances the mind contact with the more subtle aspects of the ch'i and brings coordination between mind and body. The mind must be actively present to enliven the body and cultivate softness. Emphasis should be given to this special mental intention to rouse the ch'i. This is a parallel principle to the balance of alertness and relaxation when concentrating. When unbalanced, alertness leads to mental excitement; relaxation leads to mental dullness and a sleepy state. So, awareness must be energised but not over excited.

Because of a history of misuse of the body and a holding pattern of emotions, it is likely that there are blockages to the movement of ch'i in the body. There are different ways of approaching these blockages.

Improved Body Alignment.

If the body is aligned with gravity in the correct way then all the muscles can relax and the body is open. When the body is deeply relaxed there is little force needed to open those areas that are constricted. However, it is important to recognise that some body patterning has an emotional component or is the result of repeated physical actions.

Working with body alignment tends to be slow to bring results because the old patterns are not disrupted enough to be able to establish new patterns. Although if you bring a meditative approach to your body posture then a more natural activation of ch'i is achieved which is easily maintained.

Direct Physical stretching.

If you cannot feel the ch'i very clearly then directly stretching the body will lengthen the muscles, open the bones, and make it much easier to align the body and rouse the ch'i with the mind. This method uses force and so it is unwise to continue over a long period of time. Short sessions can be very helpful and break through gross blockages.

Using ch'i to create opening.

The most powerful method to open the body is to use the ch'i itself. This way uses physical stretching as a starting point but then activates the ch'i to take the place of conscious and deliberate stretching and relies on the mind and ch'i to achieve a more spontaneous type of stretching.

Example: opening along an arm.

First adjust the body position to allow the body to feel at rest and relax. Generally open the joints by expanding the body in every direction. Put more emphasis on the mind to do this and do not use much physical force. Raise your straight arm until level with the shoulder. Using your mind intent connect with the feeling of the spine, level with your shoulder. Stretch out from this point on the spine and lengthen your arm away from the spine. Take your time to carefully build the stretch in a linear direction away from the spine. When you reach the finger-tips imagine you can continue stretching beyond your finger-tips. Maintain this feeling of stretching as if it happens automatically. As you continue to do this relax further and allow the stretch to continue - almost unconsciously. Let go into what is now a much less physical effort – into the already occurring natural stretch.

It is this process of letting go that needs to be understood. It does not mean letting go of the opening that has occurred in relation to the bones. Leave the bones open and lengthened to maintain the separation between one bone and the next. In relation to the soft tissue, relax and expand the feeling in an outward direction, away from the bone. Mentally create a lengthening along the line of the bones and beyond. At this stage a spontaneous stretch can occur. Follow the movement and at the same time lead it to draw out the bones.