TAI CHI: The Ancient Exercise of the Future
My Personal Journey:
It amazes me today just how unknowingly disconnected I used to be from my own mind and body before I discovered Tai Chi. Many years ago, in fact, I would have told you that I knew exactly what I was doing to myself. I would have said, “Of course I have a mind / body connection,” even though at the time I really didn’t even understand what a mind / body connection actually meant. One thing I was sure of, however, was that I needed to make some kind of change, because my way wasn’t working out very well. When I started learning Tai Chi, I was mostly interested in healing my poor knees because of all of the abuse I had put them through over the years. I was also interested in learning how to defend myself in a challenging situation.
Well, was I in for a big surprise!
Right away, Sifu Michael Paler started working with me to create a good skeletal structure using basic Tai Chi principles. He knew exactly where I needed to start. Through the process, these Tai Chi principles changed the way I stood, where I put my weight on the surface I walked on, and eventually how I walked. This in turn changed how I used my knees. As a result, the pain in my knees stopped within just a few short months! Because I was such a stress-mess at the time, he also taught me techniques to help me relax under pressure. This changed the way I dealt with my daily stress levels, resulting in lowering my blood pressure. I also became aware of how my poor attitude affected my body. With this new awareness, I learned how to manage and eventually change my negative habits, such as being too quick to anger, or purposefully overworking myself and then complaining and stressing out about how much work I had to do. Sifu Michael helped me realize that I alone had the control of these things in my life, and that now I had the right tools to make the changes I needed.
All these changes required much effort on my part, and the more effort I put in, the faster the changes. Unfortunately, I’ve seen some people stay in this beginning stage for a longer time than necessary, because they are not willing to do the work needed to fix the problem. Maybe they attend classes once or twice a week and expect miracles to happen with little to no effort at all. This is the group mindset that usually comes to the conclusion that Tai Chi just doesn’t work for them. I suspect that such a group mindset probably approaches other tough situations in their lives that haven’t changed the same way. However, it’s important to note that nothing will work with little to no effort — not an exercise, not a marriage, or not even a job. Over the years I have learned that hard work and perseverance are the keys to success.
The Mind / Body Connection:
One of the first things you learn in Tai Chi, if you have a great teacher like I do, is how to connect your mind to your body through movement. This concept was foreign to me in the beginning. I used to just jump on the treadmill and mindlessly run until I was exhausted. I’d put on my headphones and rock out for an hour or so, thinking I was doing something good for myself. I’d always check to see how many calories I had burned because that was my primary goal. I really thought that this type of workout was productive and healthy for me, but it never once occurred to me that after my workout was over my knees and hips were always sore and painful. I never ever considered what that kind of high-impact exercise was doing to my bones and joints and also to my internal organs, like my heart, resulting in an elevation of my blood pressure due to inflammation and stress on my body. Because Tai Chi is truly a mind / body exercise, we are immediately taught how to put our mind where the movement is, something that’s very hard to do when you’re rocking out with headphones on!
Example: In Tai Chi, if I’m exercising my knees, I’m thinking about my knees and how I’m moving them, and so I’m moving them slowly with intention and listening (ting jin). I’m being gentle with them, not forcing the movements. At the same time, I’m focusing all of my attention on them. I’m also thinking about leading the blood and chi (weight & force) through the joints creating light and healing inside and out. This is what we mean by mind / body work, and we do this every day in Tai Chi. We are taught to really know ourselves inside and out, to be able to identify and feel when something is wrong, or when something is really working, so that injury can be avoided.
Everybody wants change, but nobody wants to change:
Most people will do just about anything to avoid change and especially change within, but Tai Chi is all about change. In the beginning, you are learning to create new patterns in your life, replacing many old, nonproductive patterns. You start by changing your mind first, then you begin to change your body as well, because where the mind goes, the body follows. When you first get started, you focus on things skin deep, because that’s all you can handle in the beginning.
As you progress, however, you start to experience real healing and power firsthand, and you become aware that there is so much more for you to learn, so you go deeper. You find yourself thinking deeply about connective tissues, veins, tendons, and internal organs. Eventually you discover a new and sometimes “strange” or, in other words, “unknown” living, and conscious universe within your inner depths. Honestly, these are things I never even considered before, but then Tai Chi changes everything. With practice, you will discover that Tai Chi has a way of connecting and healing every intricate part of you, as though the inner power it gives you is causing you to evolve.
The Tai Chi Body:
This new body, the Tai Chi body, is relaxed but powerful. The muscles are not the primary focus, but they are constantly working and become long, beautiful, and toned, and the skin is soft, supple, and elastic — but that’s only on the outside. The Tai Chi body really shines on the inside, where we are creating the pliable, elastic, and healthy state of youth itself. We experience softening veins and arteries, jump starting a tired metabolism through conscious, targeted movements, rehabilitating and strengthening joints and connective tissues, rebuilding and strengthening bones right down to the marrow. In addition to all these, you will experience a sharpening of the mind and revitalization of the internal organs through relaxed, gentle self-massaging movements. You probably didn’t even know you could do that, right?
This is a natural power that you would never have believe existed is something you were born with. It’s what children have, and you can regenerate it again. Your body is capable of doing amazing things, including healing itself when given the opportunity. You just need the key that unlocks it all. The truly beautiful thing about this type of conscious movement is that there is NO recovery period. Tai Chi is the recovery period!
The Robotic Hard Body:
Although some workouts like body building require a certain amount of mind / body work to accomplish them, not all do, so not all mind / body work is healthy or even beneficial. I’m referring to any and all exercise programs that focus primarily on the way you look, how many calories you burn, muscle growth and/or strength — you know what I’m talking about. It’s the hard body phenomena, the one that advertises the six-pack abs, big muscles, and or weight loss without being mindful of even the most basic principles of health and wellness. The seductive ads even promote unhealthy diets that promise to get you there faster.
Such often harmful practices do not focus on the things I have listed in The Tai Chi Body section above, and people who practice these kinds of exercises often unintentionally injure themselves. In these practices, people too often purposefully push themselves to their physical limits, often requiring time in between workouts for the body to recover. The real danger here is the mind / body disconnect that’s often responsible for people pushing themselves too far. And because they are NOT paying attention to the body’s warning signs, they often rip and tear tendons and connective tissues or injure joints, often leading to the need for rehab and sometimes even surgery to repair the damage.
As you age, and your joints, muscles, and tendons begin to wear down due to this constant abuse, you find yourself searching for a different type of exercise, one that actually heals, such as the ancient exercise practice of Tai Chi. Our hope is that you will make this far better lifestyle choice. The old way of thinking “Big Gyms and New Fad Workouts” is outdated and injurious.
Remember: Hard, stiff bodies happen “naturally” in a state of death. It’s called rigormortis, and we all get there soon enough, right? Look closely at the picture above, …does that guy really look relaxed and healthy to you?
Every day on my way to Tai Chi class, we pass by a popular gym, and the parking lot is always full to the brim with cars. I always wonder if the people inside really believe those “marketing campaigns” that try so hard to convince them that this way of movement is actually healthy and beneficial for them, or if they just want to have that body type so badly that they are willing to sacrifice all the health benefits listed above in The Tai Chi Body to achieve it.
Example: Plastic surgery, like a facelift, Botox, or breast augmentation — when done right — will also change the way you look, sometimes for the better, but do they make you healthy? The answer is no; they just change the outward appearance.
It’s time our thinking evolves from what we were told was healthy and beautiful 60 or 70 years ago, to what is actually healthy and healing for you.
Know your objective and count the cost:
If you only care about how you look on the outside, then do whatever you want; put on your headphones and run like the wind. BUT if you want it all (including a more radiant appearance): health, healing, and every other change gained in a true mind / body connection, then choose wisely.
Choose Tai Chi, “the ancient exercise of the future.” We hope it will become your future, as well and that you will discover what those who have practiced Tai Chi throughout many, many centuries have discovered, that it is a truly authentic, creative, profound, and powerful way to health and healing.
Your new Tai Chi Body awaits you!.
To learn authentic Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan, visit our online course at www.TaiChiOnlineClasses.com, This complete curriculum teaches the Yang Tai Chi 108 form, 2-person exercises, and qigong — always following the correct principles above as taught by the Yang family. If you are in Colorado Springs, please visit us at www.TaiChiColoradoSprings.com
All of our classes are taught by Sifu Michael Paler, 7th Generation Lineage Holder of Imperial Yang Family Tai Chi. Sifu Michael has been teaching the art of Tai Chi Chuan for over 20 years. In addition to owning and teaching full time at his Colorado Springs school, the Tai Chi Association of Colorado Springs, he also offers a complete online curriculum, which is perfect for beginner to advanced levels of learning, and long-distance students. Sifu Michael is also involved in teaching at the US Olympic Training Site, where he helps the athletes use their bodies more effectively by incorporating Tai Chi principles.
Article written by Julie Paler, The Tai Chi Association of Colorado Springs
Edited by Melinda Erickson