So Much Healing in a Single Practice

Martial Perspective Creates Deeper Healing

It may seem like a paradox that t'ai chi offers such amazing health benefits while being an incredibly effective martial art. It is actually the synthesis of these two aspects that brings about the most profound depth of study and benefits in practice.

Often the martial arts perspective can give us a biofeedback experience. The principles of t'ai chi tell us that we should move in the most relaxed and integrated fashion possible. Yet how can we discern whether we are moving this way? Sometimes our teacher can correct us; but sometimes investigating the martial purpose of a movement can also give us the feedback we need.

For example, we may know that one movement is designed for pushing. So we can push something while checking for the principles of relaxation and integration. As we are pushing, we may feel a buildup of tension in our shoulders and a resulting lack of integration to the back. Or we may feel a little pressure in the lower back resulting in a lack of integration to the legs. As we feel these tensions, we can release them and further integrate the body so that we don't feel pressure at any area. We learn to use the whole body to create the movement. Performing the push movement in the context of its martial purpose gives us a type of internal feedback if we are attempting to use t'ai chi principles. We can use the awareness we gain in these types of exercises to deepen our relaxation, body integration, and energy flow.

 When we challenge ourselves with two person practices like pushing hands or light sparring, we try to maintain t’ai chi principles. Striving to embody these principles in demanding circumstances can help us clarify our boundaries. If I recognize that I often overextend in these practices, I can correct that same tendency in my solo practice and perhaps in my daily life. This is a wonderful compliment to the solo form in which we can more easily cultivate a peaceful state of moving meditation. Eventually, that state of moving meditation can seep into two person practices as well as into daily life.
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How T'ai Chi Heals

T'ai chi is an ancient method of moving in the most relaxed and integrated manner possible. The movements of the t’ai chi form arrange our bodies for optimal mechanical advantage and energy flow. This efficiency allows us to relax out of the excess effort and tensions we may normally use. Thus, the body comes into a natural alignment and energy circulates freely. This relaxed way of moving brings t’ai chi’s benefits. Some have described the movements as alchemical simply because arranging our selves well allows us to make better use of our bodies, momentum, and subtle energy. T’ai chi helps us become more balanced and centered and develops a higher level of integrity through our whole being. 

One of the simplest physical forms of integrity is a balloon. When squeezed, the whole balloon immediately responds. The air in the balloon moves and the entire surface of the balloon changes. It changes from the inside out to absorb external pressure and redistribute internal pressure. It can be difficult for us to attain such an easy state of integrity. After all, we have over 200 joints and many muscles and organs. T’ai chi teaches us how to find and maintain a continual state of integrity. This process begins with understanding how to arrange our joints to move with simple mechanical advantage. As we do this, we find that no single limb is strained and we can relax deeply. As the tensions ease, we then work on deeper internal mechanics--from subtle physical adjustments to adjusting breath and energy flow. As we continue in our practice, we become more aware of our chi or energy and how to feel and direct its flow. Eventually there is an internal sense of bouyancy to our movements. 

T’ai chi also teaches us how to change position without losing integrity or merely retreating. A balloon resting in water can be hard to dent with a single finger because the balloon would freely spin as well as absorb your finger. The balloon has a great deal of integrity--it never becomes divided and keeps its integrity as it changes position. T’ai chi teaches us how to move in all directions without compromising our own integrity or center. 
T’ai chi developed as a martial art and this martial focus brings clarity to the movements even when practicing for health benefits. Think of the five centuries of practice as a very long series of experiments testing how forces and energies carry through the body. The clarity gleaned from the martial study actually increases the healing potential of t’ai chi. 

*Note: We are much more complex than balloons resting in water; but do share some similarities. On average, we are 60% water, have about 15 psi (equivalent to atmospheric pressure), hold about 6 liters of air with our lungs, and have air in our sinuses.
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