Internalizing Tai Chi
The refinement of the martial techniques of Tai Chi Chuan, that are expressed externally during fighting are cultivated to a higher level through internal training. It is this internal training (neigong / qigong) that not only improves pugilism, but also is the reason Tai Chi Chuan today is practiced by more people as a form of therapeutic movement than a combat art form.
This practice is known today as somatic movement. Instead of the focus being on the outward shapes that result from movement, that are utilized when dealing with outside forces while contending with an opponent, the mind is directed inward (internal physical perception) paying close attention to the body as perceived inside by the mind. It is the Form’s transitions (journey) between the resulting postures (destination) that are of most concern. What happens during the transitions is what results in the final posture. Energy is adsorbed and expressed during movement. We don’t practice posturing.
As meditation, the mind is brought into a state of calm, focused concentration. Any discursive thoughts arising are dismissed and the mind is brought back to the intended* point of practice. The practice is mindful and all movements are done consciously and deliberately. Movements are not forced, but by using sensation of what is actually happening inside the body, a clear mental picture results, that allows the problem restricting ease and range of movement, to be systematically addressed and resolved. Practice is experimental. We must learn to discriminate between gross and subtle flaws if we ever hope to improve. We have to learn to evaluate the situation all the time. We never do the same form twice. Every time is another opportunity to experience ourselves.
Abdominal Breathing, while standing in the Wuji Posture (Prepare) is the first position in Zhan Zhuang training and is an excellent place to start understanding the proper somatic practice of Qigong. Breathing naturally, we can feel the diaphragm descending and retracting back up, while inhaling and exhaling. The point is not to increase volume with force, but by improving respiratory quality as natural internal movement. The less we try (Wu Wei – non doing), the more we relax mentally and physically into the exercise and the overall function should improve. We have to understand first how the lungs work.
Once we learn to Qigong statically with the breath leading naturally, we can then explore dynamically with body movement be lead by the breath. The choreography of a standardized Tai Chi Chuan hand Form offers us a venue for our practice. Learning Tai Chi Chuan is not simply reproducing the choreography that we see by following our teacher, but actualize it internally by what we feel our self. Song; relaxation is a somatic experience. We need to gather knowledge to apply to our practice, so the mind can lead the body with clarity.
*Yi Intent is one of the aspects of Five Shen 五 神 Five Spirits. Xin 心 heart mind (emotional)
Yi 意 intent, thought (wisdom)
Zhi 志 willpower, ambition, aspiration
Hun 魂 ethereal soul
Po 魄 corporeal soul