Taiji has become very important to me. I take lessons twice a week (daily during the holidays) and I get up extra early on schooldays in order to do my wake up exercises and to practice the routine that I am learning. I find that after 40 minutes of practice and 10 minutes of meditation, I feel refreshed, energized and ready to face the world.
Taiji is all about balance. About Yin and Yang, inside and outside, left and right etc. for example the inside of your arm is Yin and the outside is Yang. Yin (left & female) goes first. All the world contains positive and negative and we are aiming for harmony between all the elements in both a physical and spiritual sense.
My physical balance though, is rubbish, as I discovered when I had to stand on one leg with the other raised as part of the routine. I just couldn’t do it. But two weeks later, after practicing special exercises I am greatly improved. Not perfect yet by a long chalk as I still wobble more than I would like, but way better than I was.
But Taiji is not just about standing on one leg without falling over, it is also about balance in life. Completing the daily exercises actually makes you feel calmer, happier and healthier. You walk taller and with more confidence. You exude a happier persona which people find naturally attractive. Outside stressors become easier to cope with.
In life, everybody experiences swings in emotional reactions to events. A bit like this…
But Taiji component practitioners have more measured reactions. They still feel swings of emotions like everyone else, but not as severely. They are able to maintain a more balanced response and recovery when ‘life’ happens. Like the yellow line below. It would be wonderful to be able to achieve that. Certainly Master Zhang is one of the calmest and most cheerful people that I know.
Our group is small and we are all at different stages but that doesn’t matter. In Taiji we each experience an inner journey and all feel the energy moving ourselves. Master Zhang adjusts us when we are not positioned correctly and the difference of just a few millimeters is often incredible. Just standing in the right position allows the energies to flow properly and sometimes to flood through your limbs. It’s a most delicious feeling which encourages you to stand straight and to relax your shoulders. This makes a difference to the way you sit and walk and stand in the rest of your daily life. I am way more conscious now of my posture and I make a concerted effort of relax, particularly my shoulders. I was surprised to discover how often I unconsciously clench my shoulders. It was most illuminating!
It is said that your face is a window to your health and some of you may know that several years ago I developed white lumps under my eyes. My GP at the time spotted those and had me tested for cholesterol (which was a bit high) and I was put on statins. I came off the drugs when I left the UK as my diet was likely to change but I was told that the lumps were permanent.
My father and his two sisters had the same lumps in varying degrees so I guessed that it was a genetic predisposition. Having said that, all three of them did suffer from heart problems and my father died from a heart attack so this is something that I need to be wary of. Over the course of the decade I grew used to the lumps and accepted that whatever changes I made to my diet that they were there for good. To my great surprise however, since starting Taiji regularly I one day realized that the lumps have disappeared. All gone. I am delighted about this unexpected side effect.
In Chinese Traditional Medicine (TCM) they plot your meridians or lines traversing your body. Each line is associated with one or more of your major organs and gently massaging or exercising those lines can help your energy to flow to those organs unimpeded. It helps your all round circulation as the blood vessels are like the roads that the energy travels along. Some people though have blockages and that is what acupuncture does when it unblocks certain points along your meridians. To my astonishment Master Zhang says that he can see just by looking at someone where they have blockages!! I had one in the back of my neck which was unblocked during the retreat in August. Now my energy can flow freely.
He also explained the Chinese theory that when the energy cannot easily pass a blockage then it goes backwards into the organ or other part of the body and this, they say, is one reason why cancers can grow. If you already have cancer then practicing Nei Gong Taiji can stop the tumor growing further. Also having a history of cancer in my family, I am taking this all very seriously (just in case).
Taiji is not a miracle cure for all ills but it can be a form of preventative medicine and I have been told that if a Taiji practitioner does have an accident or falls ill, then they tend to recover faster. So far from my experience of the high cholesterol that is proving to be true.
In each class we spend some time meditating, which is a discipline that I never thought I would achieve as my mind is quite skittish. But standing meditation is surprisingly stable and comfortable (if you are in the correct position) and we can think about anything we want to but eventually your mind does calm down and on occasion you can feel incredibly peaceful and as light as the proverbial feather. Meditation is also a good way of recharging your heart.
Once or twice during meditation, my fingers felt as though they were buzzing with energy. This is the next stage of energy. There are several stages in which the energy is experienced and they develop over time. In the beginning there is a tingling sensation, which I felt when I stretched my palms in the exercises but now I can feel it much stronger, pulsing and spiraling through my hands and arms during most of the routines that we do.
A high level stage of energy is a feeling like flowing water. I can feel this when I am correctly aligned and I let my muscles relax. It’s is like bathing in a shower of delicious warm water. We do this at certain points in the exercises, particularly the Qi Gong spine strengthening ones and in all honesty it is quite a high!
For some people, who have a dense muscle mass, another stage of energy movement is when your skin jumps and pops almost like electrical impulses. And the final stage is a blissful nothing, (a stage I have yet to achieve)
Taiji is a holistic discipline so we learn things like the best way to stand when riding on the subway so that you are stable or correct sleep positions (definitely not with your ankles crossed when you are lying in your back – that is VERY bad), how to relax before falling asleep or how to walk properly. It is surprising how many people don’t do something as basic as walking correctly.
All the moves that we do in the Taiji routine we do extremely slowly and with control. In fact, the slower you do them the better as then you feel the energy flowing much more strongly. It is like meditation in movement and it is quite calming and peaceful.
However, all the moves that we do have their origin in martial arts and we are also shown how to apply them in practice. If done quickly and channeling your inner energy, the moves can be self defense. We practice these and to my great and utter surprise I seem to have a little bit of a knack for what Master Zhang terms ‘real Kung Fu’! I would never in my wildest dreams have thought this possible! However, I have thrown some of the others around the room and now even some of the men are reluctant to partner with me! Who would have thought it.
Once or twice I have been quite excited to learn some of these new skills so have gone home and asked Kevin to help me practice. Unfortunately he does not react as quickly as Master Zhang (who is also a former kickboxing champion) and I have thrown him out of his slippers and clocked him one on the jaw!!! Nowadays Master Zhang tells me not to try the new moves on Kevin!!!
Do not try this one at home!!!
I’m not entirely convinced that I could actually defend myself against a proper attack yet (I would need to ask them to pause while I aligned myself & sorted out my energy etc) but I think that I have enough confidence now to give something a go!!! I certainly know much more than I did only a few months ago. Let’s hope that I never need it.