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Author: sprath

There has never been a better time to learn tai chi

Prominent scientist and lecturer Alan Leshner stated that “we have probably learned more about the brain in the past twenty years than in all of recorded history.”  I find this to an apt metaphor for tai chi too.

More has been learned about tai chi (by Westerners) in the last 20 years than in the previous 2000 years combined.

We are on the crest of an informational wave that is not only increasing the numbers of people who want to  learn tai chi but is also raising the level of tai chi throughout the west.

Who and what do we have to thank?

The Almighty Internet and Youtube Tai Chi Videos

learn tai chiWith the proliferation of video streaming, nearly any style and form is at your finger tips for free.  Fights, demonstrations, images, or vintage clips can all be validated, studied, discussed, and made fun of.  Gone are the days of learning forms from someone who earns our trust and commission only to find out that it is not remotely close to anything that was originally taught.  Instructors benefit from online resources the most, access greater communities, and are held accountable.  Students (which still includes instructors) have examples and feedback for their progress.

The Red Thaw

southeast chinaThe Chinese position took a dramatic shift in the early nineties.  Some credit or blame Tiananmen Square in 1989.  I think that an answer that is more acceptable and truthful to history is that President Jiang Zemin  opened the southeast region of China to function as a limited trade zone to compete with Taiwan and Japan.  It was so successful that by the end of the 90s, other states were granted the same trade rights and it blossomed into the China we see today.  With this came the loosening of travel restrictions and greater access to China as a whole.  Westerners could now travel to China to learn tai chi and Chinese Practitioners could now travel within their own country to train and abroad to teach.

A Shift in Thinking on “Martial Arts Secrets”  Ssshhhh!!!!!

learn tai chiAt one point in history, protecting the secrets of your family’s fighting art meant the difference between life or death.  Practitioners in China maintained great secrecy for very good reasons.  Being bested by rival schools brought shame.  Governments and colonizers finding out that you were training resulted in unmentionable atrocities.  Today this is not so.

Now these long protected arts are national treasures and there are two main reasons to hope your art proliferates.

1)  There is an economic incentive to yourself and your town/village if the world values your art and wants to learn tai chi.

2)  Enough masters see their longtime peers die of old age and all the prowess that they possessed in their youth was never passed on.  Despite how cool we think Martial Arts are in the west, the Chinese are dealing with their own youth’s attraction to the modern and new.   On a trip to Shanghai recently I was surprised at the number of gyms and yoga studios.  I also sat at dinner one night as a professor and a tai chi teacher lamented the loss of calligraphy in their culture and debated how to get young people interested in it again.

An Increase in High Level Training in the West

The number of seminars and workshops provided annually is absolutely amazing.  Using the U.S. as an example, this year I counted 18 national workshops and that was just a cursory look through the internet and two magazines.   This year, you can travel a few hours or less from you house and have the highest level of instruction!  Isn’t that amazing?

But are they teaching us the real stuff?

learn tai chiThere are still some people who argue that westerners receive a watered down version of the martial arts.  The Asian cultures are still protecting it!  I don’t believe it for one minute.  Here’s why:

I personally attended events with the same visiting teacher across numbers of years.  As I progressed, so did his sharing.  Recently I worked and received great correction on how to release internal strength power (fa jin).  In another teaching session, I was coached successfully to build up internal energy that I could feel and move within my body.  I am western just like you.  So how did this happen?

Simply put, I am only taught what I am ready for.  In previous visits I didn’t have the stance, posture, understanding, and stamina to understand or demonstrate any skill.  I have to admit to myself, them, and you dear reader that I too am learning.  Tai chi masters have an amazing teaching lineage and they know inherently where you are and what morsel of information is your next step.  The alternative (and where I think the real stuff-fluff comes from) is to think I am a great fit fighter who can do anything, if only they wouldn’t be so stingy with the knowledge.

There truly has never been a better time to learn tai chi.  The world is open to those who seek it.

Can you learn tai chi from a book or video?

Let me start by saying that this is one of the most charged topics within the tai chi community.  Practitioners endlessly debate the benefits of teachers, styles and methods.

Can you learn tai chi from a book

 

 

You have groups that are incensed by the mere idea of learning tai chi from a book.  On the other hand you have people who credit pursuing forms or information that they found in a book or video as their initial catalyst for progress.

Let’s unravel each argument.  Hopefully by the end you will share my opinion that both are necessary.  What is unnecessary is the argument itself because it is contributing to negativity that is keeping tai chi inaccessible to the masses.

tai chi from a book

Argument 1: There is no way to learn tai chi from a book or by watching a video.

Their thoughts go like this:

“There is no way that you can learn the true essence of tai chi without having a teacher.  You miss out on all of the subtleties, your moves are empty and there is no one to correct you.  Eventually you grow so frustrated you quit OR you finally see real tai chi and have to abandon everything you thought you knew. ”

Can you learn tai chi from a book Argument 2: You can learn tai chi from a book or online resources.

This side might postulate:

“Tai chi IS self-study.  You learn a movement and derive personal meaning from it.  If you want to see “empty movements” walk into any tai chi class and see A) any student who has been practicing for less than 6 months and B) any student who believes their teacher is great when he is actually only just figuring things out for himself.  Why not try it out and learn how to have your own mind.  Then, if you are truly interested, seek out a class and begin to make an investment of time and money.”

Who is right?

Can you learn tai chi from a book Most great schools and teachers have direct lineage and/or experience working with someone who had demonstrable skills.  It is true that direct teaching through class or workshop rockets someone’s progress forward. On the other hand, the number of books and videos on tai chi proliferates and many are written and produced by great teachers.  Why would they bother to write a book if they believed that there was no way to transmit their knowledge?  Secondly, we have records of tai chi dating back 2000 years specifically because it was transmitted through writing.

Neither side is right or both sides are right depending on your degree of optimism or pessimism.

First, we need a place to start from.

What the “No Books or Video!!” crowd may not tell you is how they heard about tai chi in the first place.  Here is a great ABOUT US paragraph taken from the website ww.taichido.com.  In full disclosure I do not know Mark Allen, the author, but it appears that he has been practicing a long time, publishes on tai chi, and therefore has helped many people along the way.  He writes:

“I started practicing tai chi in 1995, primarily from a variety of ‘how to’ books. On a pivotal day in 1996, I saw an advert for local tai chi classes run by Ray Wood, a 7th Dan Kyushindo (plus more Dans for other martial arts) and I decided to go along. One of the first things that Ray did to this new class was to demonstrate Part One of the Long Yang Form, and I realised very quickly that I could either walk away and ‘pretend’ to do tai chi with my book, or I could forget everything I thought I knew.”

Then we have an interest and seek out more information on the topic.

What the “No Books or Video!!” side may also not tell you is how much they read.  Yes their reading may have come after they have practiced for a while.  This actually gives their argument credit.  If you are to practice first before learning from resources then your comprehension might be better.

What is the best book on tai chi?

The best book on tai chi is hard to define.  If you look on Amazon you will see that there are a lot of books on tai chi.  The answer depends on where you are in your study and what style you have chosen to practice.  There are two categories of books.  There are books on specific styles and books on general aspects on tai chi.  You can limit the first search to your style and the second to what you are most interested in at this point.

Follow your Instinct

Can you learn tai chi from a book If you are interested in the history of tai chi start there.  Martial application?  Qi Gong? Energy flow? Improving your Health?  You get the point.  All information will enhance your progress.  What is important is that you continue to read or study because the impact of your increasing knowledge is like the impact of your practice.  It is all cumulative.

Access to top resources are limited

A tai chi school does not exist in every city on earth.  Yet, everyone can benefit from tai chi.  I am not adopting a teacher-free stance.  Anyone who does not have access to a teacher should invest money (that is not being spent on class) on a workshop in a nearby city because your progress will explode.  However, the absence of a teacher does not equate to the absence of pursuit.  Do not deny yourself the benefit of practicing this art form.

Self-practice is mandatory

Regardless of whether you have a teacher or school or do not, progress is extremely limited if you are only practicing in the hour or so that you attend class in a week.  I see a difference between new students who arrive “to check out tai chi” and then stay and students who “worked out with a friend or used a book/video” and now wanted to find a class.  The second group sometimes has an advantage initially because they have already developed a self-practice and come back making gains every week.

Can you learn tai chi from a book or video?

It would be difficult to learn tai chi exclusively from a book. However, many have used books as a catalyst for their progress or as a continual way to deepen their knowledge.

Here are some Amazon Searches laid out for you:

Tai Chi Books  Specifically, this book is extremely popular to learn tai chi from a book

Tai Chi Videos

Qi Gong Books

Qi Gong Videos

 

The Benefits of Brainwave Entrainment

The benefits of meditation are amazing. Yet, the number of people who attempt meditation and quit is high, usually due to initial difficulty focusing, lack of results, and limited access to quality teachers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We introduced brain entrainment in the first of these two articles : Quickly Reap the Rewards of Meditation: Introducing Brainwave Entrainment

What is brain entrainment?

Brain entrainment uses an external stimulus such as sound or light to cause brainwave frequencies to correspond with an intended brain-state for the purpose of inducing sleep or a deep meditative state. It is based on research showing that the human brain has a tendency to move towards a dominant frequency.

The argument for brain entrainment

Benefits of Brainwave EntrainmentThe benefits of meditation are amazing. Yet, the number of people who attempt meditation and quit is high usually due to initial difficulty focusing, lack of results, and limited access to quality teachers.

Brain entrainment has the ability to reduce the learning curve and allow novice practitioners to quickly access the power of meditation.

See the best provider for brain entrainment

The science behind it

For sound localization, the human auditory system analyses time differences between both ears. Typically, when different frequencies are presented to each ear, the brain provides directional information. When the sounds are low in frequency and continual, an integration of the two signals takes place, producing the sensation of a third “beat.”

Evidence suggests that the auditory signals are generated in the brainstem’s superior olivary nucleus (Oster, 1973) or the inferior colliculus (Smith, Marsh, & Brown, 1975). The goal of binaural technology is to have the new beat match a desired brain wave state.

What are the Benefits of Brain Entrainment?

A person’s dominant frequency determines one’s current state. Stress and lack of sleep contribute to higher frequency ranges. These higher frequency ranges are necessary in life but if we don’t get a break then sickness and injury result.

Frequency range Name Usually associated with:
> 40 Hz Gamma waves Higher mental activity, including perception, problem solving, fear, and consciousness
13–39 Hz Beta waves Active, busy or anxious thinking and active concentration, arousal, cognition, and or paranoia
7–13 Hz Alpha waves Relaxation (while awake), pre-sleep and pre-wake drowsiness, REM sleep, Dreams
8–12 Hz Mu waves Mu rhythm, Sensorimotor rhythm
4–7 Hz Theta waves Deep meditation/relaxation, NREM sleep
< 4 Hz Delta waves Deep dreamless sleep, loss of body awareness

Table adapted from Wikipedia: Electroencephalography

Quick Neat History

Brain entrainment technology is the result of three principle researchers building on each other’s findings. Heinrich Wilhelm Dove was a Prussian researcher primarily interested in the relationship between energy such as sound and magnetism and the earth. He discovered binaural beats in 1839 and “produced a unique perception of interfering beats.”

In 1973, Gerald Oster published the collected studies to date on auditory brainstem response, studied animals ability to locate to sound, and discovered that Parkinson’s patients could not create an independent tone when hearing binaural beats. This set the stage for binaural beats to become the subject of cognitive and neurological research.

Robert Monroe, et. al., of the now famous Monroe Institute in Virginia began using auditory soundtracks to facilitate exploration and replication of specific altered states of consciousness. Their research has included an estimated 20,000 participants and has advanced the specificity between auditory tones and cognitive response.

Enter stage left the Internet and digital media and now we don’t have to travel to Virginia to get the same benefits.

What are the benefits of brainwave entrainment?

Google that question I dare you. Wow, and I wonder why people think that meditative practices are followed by nutters. Many, many claims have been made about the benefits of brainwave entrainment. Three have been substantiated.

  1. Enhanced meditation practice using brainwave entrainment:

    1. Specifically: Further movement along the spectrum from a negative state and erratic thinking toward focus and a state of bliss.
    2. Why: Meditation states are quantifiable through brain imagery. Deeper meditation reaches Alpha and Theta states which is akin to happier and healthier awareness.
  2. Increased mental abilities from use of brainwave entrainment:

    1. Specifically: Increased problem-solving and creative abilities.
    2. Why: They create a synchronicity between two hemispheres enabling you to think more holistically.
  3. Reduction in stress from use of brainwave entrainment:

    1. Specifically: Cut down on mental chatter and align yourself with positive thought.
    2. Why: Alignment with cognitive frequencies that promote a calm nervous system.

Are there side effects to brain entrainment?

No side effects have been reported from brain entrainment use.  Most producers of the technology warn against the use of brain entrainment by children under age 18, people with seizure disorders, and pregnant women.  Studies have not been conducted on these populations to date.  Additionally, (and this goes without saying) it is suggested that you do not drive while listening to brain entrainment due to the relaxing effect.

What does brainwave entrainment look like?

Brain entrainment looks like meditation with headphones on.  15 minutes of use are suggested but benefits have been registered after 7 minutes.  Here is what you do:

  1. Find a comfortable place free of distraction.
  2. Close your eyes or if your eyes are open focus on something like a candle or point.
  3. Play the audio file and begin your meditation.
  4. Try it out for two-to-four weeks.  The company listed below has a free trial period.

Which brain entrainment program do you suggest?

Benefits of Brainwave EntrainmentThis really depends on your goal. What is most important to you in life (e.g. focus, relaxation) determines which audio file you choose.

I have been researching different options for binaural beats. There are several companies out there offering many products at different price points.

The best to date is Trypnaural Meditation. Not only can you choose different meditations based on your own goals, but there are:

1. Different, affordable price points

2. Downloadable documents to help improve your meditation

3. Assistance with the products as well as support to get the most out of your meditation.

4. A 60 day money-back guarantee. 30 days like the other companies offer is too short for you to truly benefit from the meditation and make sure it is right for you.

Successful meditation is readily achievable

If you have considered trying to meditate or have been unsuccessful in the past, it has never been easier to experience the benefits.  Meditation is one investment of time that serves ALL of your life’s goals. Price, accessibility, and technology prove that now is the time.

Resources:

Blauert, J.: Spatial hearing – the psychophysics of human sound localization; MIT Press; Cambridge, Massachusetts (1983), ch. 2.4
Griffin AL, Asaka Y, Darling RD, Berry SD (2004). “Theta-contingent trial presentation accelerates learning rate and enhances hippocampal plasticity during trace eyeblink conditioning”. Behav. Neurosci. 118 (2): 403–11.
Gu X, Wright BA, Green DM (1995). “Failure to hear binaural beats below threshold”.The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 97 (1): 701–703.
Saxby E, Peniston EG (1995). “Alpha-theta brainwave neurofeedback training: an effective treatment for male and female alcoholics with depressive symptoms”. Journal of clinical psychology 51 (5): 685–93.
Wahbeh H, Calabrese C, Zwickey H, Zajdel J (2007). “Binaural Beat Technology in Humans: A Pilot Study to Assess Neuropsychologic, Physiologic, And Electroencephalographic Effects”. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine 13(2): 199–206.
Additionally, this site:  Transparentcorp Research  has a collection of over 75 research articles substantiating the benefits of brain entrainment.

 

Meditation: Quickly Reap the Rewards using Brainwave Entrainment

With new science behind the benefits of “brainwave entrainment” a novice meditation practitioner can rapidly enter the brain states achieved by seasoned practitioners. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When people ask me why I do qi gong, tai chi or meditate, I always start by explaining the benefits you receive after practicing for awhile.  People are genuinely interested in beginning but there is often a hesitation because of the commitment of time and learning that is needed before you really start to reap the rewards.

I always wish that I could jump the skeptic ahead so that they could immediately feel the difference that internal work causes: better health, better sleep, calmness.  I know they would be sold.   Meditation using brain entrainment now has the potential of doing this.

In this essay we are going to provide an introduction to brain entrainment and links to get you started.  In the next essay we will share more about the science and history behind brain entrainment.  Commit yourself to doing this a few minutes a day for a few weeks.

Why am I advocating the use of technology to enhance internal development?

brainwave entrainmentI am a pretty strict Luddite when it comes to the use of technology to hasten internal development. However, in this case:

  1. practitioners I respect have achieved great results using brain entrainment
  2. the science behind it is longstanding and  pretty solid (see below).

What is brain entrainment?

Brain entrainment uses an external stimulus such as sound or light to cause brainwave frequencies to correspond with an intended brain-state for the purpose of inducing sleep or a deep meditative state.  It is based on research showing that the human brain has a tendency to move towards a dominant frequency.

What does brainwave entrainment sound like?

How do you use brainwave entrainment?

Here is the beauty of brainwave entrainment.  You can really “stink” at meditation and begin to benefit from the process.  I still meditate in quiet but have found the entrainment audio can make my meditation deeper.  Additionally,  I think I am more productive creatively at work when I use the beats regularly.  I can’t prove this scientifically but there is a definite correlation between writing output and entrainment use.  The how is easy.  Here is what you do:

  1. Find a comfortable place free of distraction.
  2. Research shows that you only need 7 minutes (!) to reach entrainment but people benefit the most from crossing the 15 minute mark.
  3. Eyes closed or if your eyes are open focus on something like a candle or point
  4. Try it out for two-to-four weeks.  The company listed below has a free trial period.
  5. If you need help to stop looking at the clock, set a timer for 5 minutes and increase the meditation time by 30 seconds each day.

What is the best system for brain entrainment?

brainwave entrainmentThis really depends on your goal.  Depending on what is most important to you in life (e.g. focus, relaxation) you would choose a different audio file.

I have been researching different options for brain entrainment.  There are tons of companies out there offering many products at different price points.

The best to date is Trypnaural Meditation.  Not only can you choose different meditations based on your own goals, but there are:

1. Different, affordable price points

2. Downloadable documents to help improve your meditation

3.  Assistance with the products and support to help you get the most out of your meditation.

4.  A 60 day money-back guarantee.  30 days, like the other companies offer, is too short for you to truly benefit from the meditation and make sure it is right for you.

Now is the time to try meditation

Meditation is one investment of time that serves ALL of your life’s goals.  If you have considered trying  to meditate and have been putting it off.  If you have tried unsuccessfully.  If you meditate and want to raise the bar.  Price, accessibility, and technology prove that now is the time.

Tai Chi Clothing

Do I need special clothing?

One huge monetary benefit and reason for the proliferation of tai chi is that you don’t necessarily need facilities or materials in order to train.  That being said, once you have been practicing for a while, certain purchases make a lot of sense.

Uncomfortable pants limit stance work and typical athletic shoes can impinge on the ankles and stick to the floor when pivoting (more on tai chi shoes here).  When you join a class or eventually present your form to a crowd, the tai chi clothing can be quite striking.

Tai Chi Pants

zumba pantsYou would think that picking pants for tai chi would be easy.   Was it easier in the 90s when zumbas were in?  It has to be the right combination of length and spaciousness to remain comfortable.  There are pants that are specific for tai chi but athletic pants can work well with the following considerations:

 

  1. Roomy tai chi pants are essential.  Having more room at the crotch allows for the deep postures.  Also, you will be moving into seat-like postures so a longer torso area reduces the likelihood that you will be mooning your classmates.  For women, wearing athletic tights is fine too.
  2. Long pants can get tripped on and stepped on. We move slowly and often stand with our feet together. Trendy long pants can get pinned down as you try to lift the other foot.  Additionally, in pushhands your opponent will step right inside your foot and can pin your pants to the floor.
  3. Blood flow is essential for tai chi. I wish I didn’t have to point this out but jeans might not be the best option for tai chi.  Coming right from work occasionally?  No problem. Choose tai chi pants that are not excessively restrictive at the waist or thighs.

Here are some tai chi pants that work well.

Specifically:

tai chi clothingProforce Brand:  If you want something specifically designed for martial arts, Proforce makes some strong comfortable tai chi pants.

tai chi clothing

Tai Style Fisherman Pants:  If you are looking for something flowing and comfortable this is a good option but watch the length.

 

 

We combined the best and most affordable tai chi pants that you can find on Amazon.com here:  Tai Chi Pants

 

Tai Chi Uniforms

tai chi clothingPurchasing a tai chi uniform depends on so many variables such as: what tai chi style you practice, what style uniform you like, how much you want to spend, your body, what event it is for, etc.  Know that 99% of the world practices with comfortable tai chi apparel and use uniforms for special occasions.

On the other hand, they can be beautifully crafted clothing and a nice uniform gives you the sense of participating in a historical tradition.

 

tai chi clothingHere is an example of a nice simple tai chi uniform or one that is super fancy

tai chi clothing

 

 

 

 

 

We have organized the best clothing options available on Amazon.com.

Click below to see how varied your choices are:

tai chi clothing

 

So do you need to buy tai chi clothing?

I really can’t answer this question.  There! I am rendered opinionless for the first time.  Mark this date on your calendar and let me answer this with a spectrum of answers.

No, you do not need special clothes for tai chi

tia chi clothinngTo be honest, in China I watched four grey-haired gentlemen perform incredible pushhands in plain white T-shirts and cigarettes hanging out of their mouths.  One’s white pants were so transparent you could see his greeny-tidies through them. How’s that for confidence?  So no, focusing on which clothes is a distraction.

Maybe you need to consider clothes for tai chi

Do not split your pants. That’s the bottom line.  Wear comfortable clothing that any gym store could offer you. Please no jeans and birkenstocks. See Tye-died Tai Chi for more information.

Yes, buy specific clothes for tai chi

Part of the beauty of studying this art is becoming part of the tradition.  The amazing uniforms that are available are inexpensive and aligning yourself with a class of people who are working towards something greater by wearing their tai chi t-shirt is great.  Go with the whole experience.  If you need to be convinced about what a uniform can do, watch the 2008 Olympics opening ceremony again.

You definitely need specific clothes for tai chi

Wayne Dyer had this great quote to the affect of:  “This is weird, and I am not telling you so that you know it is weird.  I am telling you so that you know that I know it’s weird.”  There is kinesthetic feedback that occurs when you do the form.  What you see, who is next to you, and what you feel shapes your form.  We have all had the experience where you do the form well in class as you always face the same direction and then do poorly in your backyard.  This is because you eventually incorporate your surroundings into your memory.  Or, you do the form well, turn around in the same room and struggle.

Personal note:  In full disclosure I am slowly moving down this spectrum.  I had an experience where I was working on a form during a visit from someone from China and struggled with it for sometime after.  However, a cold day came around when I was practicing and I nailed it!  What happened?  The workshop was in February and I attended in long sleeves.  When I practiced on that cold day I had a “memory” of my sleeves dragging and tightening on my arms at certain points and my shirt instructed me where to go based on what constriction or freeness I was anticipating.  Bizarre and also true.

tai chi clothingWay out on the wing-wing spectrum.

Some argue that your clothes become imbued with chi.  Continual practice in the same garb collects chi in the fabric and you benefit from consistent wearing.  Sure, poo-poo this.  But tell me you don’t have that favorite t-shirt, wubbie, or stuffed animal.

 

Tai Chi Shoes

“It’s the shoes.” You were wondering why you didn’t obtain enlightenment after your first tai chi class?  Perhaps it is your footwear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing the best footwear for tai chi is actually very important because the wrong shoes can lead to injury.

Why can’t I wear my athletic shoes for tai chi?

Tai Chi ShoesWearing athletic shoes is okay to begin with but understand that the soles of these shoes have been designed not to slide.  Your foot is rotating frequently throughout taichi which can put strain on the knee if there is any drag.  When you step in tai chi, eventually you don’t have weight on a foot that is rotating but initially this takes a little bit of practice.

Overall you have three primary options when looking for shoes for tai chi.  There is an all-cloth version specifically for training inside; these are much like slippers.  There is a hybrid version which is basically the cloth shoe with a rubber sole.  Then there is a low profile athletic shoe that looks like a soccer shoe.

Below you will find help in choosing the best footwear for tai chi and links to our favorites.

Tai Chi Slippers

I can be a martial arts superstar and wear slippers?  Yes!

How about my bathrobe?  It depends on the school.

 

Tai Chi Shoes

Cloth shoes are very practical for some practitioners.  The chief benefit is that you have immediate connection with the ground.  Second to this, they are really cheap and they pack up flat so they are easy to carry.

Tai chi slippers can wear out on pavement, get dirty, and don’t protect you from rocky ground.  Additionally, if your school has a gloss/slick floor your feet can start to slide out from under you when you begin entering deeper postures.

Cloth shoes are ideal for indoor training where the floor has a rug or provides some sort of traction.  Note that these shoes stretch a bit because they are made of cotton.  Choose shoes with elastic at the entrance and/or heel.  Check out these:  Tai Chi Shoes – Cotton Sole

Rubber Sole Tai Chi Shoes

tai chi shoesRubber sole tai chi shoes are a hybrid of the cloth shoes and sports shoes.  They are often one of the best tai chi shoes for women because of the smaller sizes.

All of the rubber sole shoes seem to be the same regardless of where they come from.   They are very comfortable, last a long time, and are cheap.  Amazon is the easiest place to order them from.

Rubber Sole Tai Chi Shoes Example 1

Rubber Sole Tai Chi Shoes Example 2

 Low Profile Tai Chi Athletic Shoes

Tai Chi ShoesFor those of you getting  your tai chi shoe mojo on, the brand Feiyue is the way to go.  These come in every color but make sure that you get the size right as they are designed for Asian feet and are often listed in European sizes.   Stick with the low profile version.  Prices can range from $16.00-$36.00

Many commercial brands such as New Balance have some great low-profile shoes that do the trick, especially if you have a wide, western foot.

Here are some examples:

Tai chi shoes for women: New Balance Women’s WXC700

Tai chi shoes for men: New Balance Men’s MX00 Minimus 

 

Do we need to buy shoes to practice tai chi?

The verdict is yes.  Protect your knees and hips until you get the stepping and rotation down.  Tai chi is a very inexpensive hobby or sport but this is one place where a few dollars are worth the investment.

Click below to see the best shoes for tai chi currently on Amazon.com

Chinese Symbolism and Tai Chi

Pounding mortar anyone?  Maybe your white crane needs to spread it’s wings.  I know, you want to hear the sound of one hand clapping.  There is something both wonderful and maddening about Asian symbolism.

 

 

 
 

 
 
 

Let’s start with why Chinese Symbolism is WONDERFUL

For many, it offers a connection to something more complex or greater than ourselves and is probably a big part of why people are drawn to internal arts as opposed to training in something like Crossfit, boxing, or MMA.

Additionally, concepts like internal strength and movement of chi are incredibly complex and humans lack the vocabulary to describe the internal process or effects.  Symbolism in this context means “metaphor.”

And more obvious, why is chinese symbolism MADDENING

Chinese SymbolismLarger concepts seem to get lost in these Eastern traditions when we try to reduce concepts to a mechanistic viewpoint.  It is no one’s fault.  We are trying to get a movement right and are hindered without explicit instruction.  Also, symbolism almost demands a one-on-one student-teacher relationship because metaphoric implications can get lost in books, workshops, and internet discussion forums.

Two Benefits of Trying to Understand Symbolism

By embracing the non-exact science of symbolism we give ourselves room to experiment and understand rather than being given direct answers that may or may not be correct.

1.  Learning to address situations as a whole

 Let’s start with the excerpt taken from an excellent article on symbolism:

“Because each aspect of an internal art [interrelates]…, breaking things down into their component parts can actually make learning harder, or even impossible. The Chinese internal arts have a fractal-like nature. Each aspect, each part of an art like Ba Gua Zhang – from the most “basic” aspects to the most “advanced” – is a hologram that contains, interconnects and interacts with every other part of the system to form a complete, organic whole. This makes it impossible to isolate individual components without losing the essence of the internal arts.”

Chinese symbolismThe concept of “whole” is exemplified in many martial arts and is often better defined as “doing together, cooperation, collaboration.” For the novices, this should be a huge relief because you are learning the concept of “whole” simply by doing the form.  For those that know the form, it opens up new realms of intricacies as we try to connect our movements across 2-10 minutes.  Not easy.

Letting go of the details and entrusting the bigger, unknown picture is not naturally comfortable for westerns.  Don’t worry.  Equal emphasis is put on isolating techniques and we see many words that are translated as “separation, partition, detachment, segregation, isolation.”  The point is that isolating the techniques is at most HALF of the equation and one is not done to the exclusion of the other.

 2.  Learning to understand and successfully navigate complex situations

Back to the Internal Arts article for another quote:

“Symbols are like a code, a code that serves to express aspects of reality which are obscured by the limitations of language and other modes of expression. In this way, symbols communicate and crystallize an aspect of direct experience, or truth, that is beyond words – and beyond the symbol itself.”

I am often struck by how specific and contextually unique symbolism can be.  This leads to it being both very useful and frequently misleading!  This is the point.  You are expected to contemplate a topic and try to figure it out over many exposures.  Think of all the great things you accomplished in your life. How many of them did you arrive at instantaneously with little thought?  Internal martial arts with their diverse symbolic representations allow you, YES you to come up with an analogy or metaphor to try to explain your own experience or reason behind performing a move.  Not by being handed the answer or having someone else’s views simply crammed down your throat.

Examples of Symbolism in Tai Chi Chuan

Chinese SymbolismEnter the Dragon

Dragons are associated with movements in many martial arts forms.  To my mind, the first associations that came with the “dragon” symbol were about fierceness, power, and being unstoppable.

However “The Dragon was also associated with Heaven… The Dragon is yang. It symbolizes the movement of life growing upward and outward, like a plant growing from a seed. The Green Dragon represents the spring thunder and rains that nourish living things. In the Spring, the Dragon is said to come out of its hiding place under the earth and rise up into the sky creating thunder and rain. Hence the Dragon also represents the incitement of life and movement.”

Pretty good analogy for moving the body towards the ground and rising up proudly with your chest open and your head up.

Yin-Yang Theory: Moving in Different Directions (Simultaneously!)

Chinese symbolismUp and down are movements that are pretty obvious to everyone.  However, outward/expansion/centrifugal (遠心力) aren’t things that I think that everyone can relate to.  Or how about these opposites? inward/contraction/centripetal (求心力).

How do you verbally explain that the body can and should be expanding in different directions simultaneously?  It is something that escapes our current vocabulary but by using a symbolic metaphor relating the Earth (a sphere) it’s possible.  We have a central core (dantien) and can either open all of our joints and appendages and expand out (yang) or contract them all (yin).  Seeing this “expansion from the center” gives you the origin of the power, the feeling as the power inflates you, and the order that the body parts respond in (e.g spine, shoulders, upper arms, elbows, forearms, hands) all in a single statement.

Let’s face it.  What is the opposite of being challenged?  Being bored.  Embrace the idea that symbolism is complex.  It is meant to be contemplated and after a time conveys a reward which is: understanding of the concept based on your diligence.

You don’t have to understand all of the symbolism in Chinese naming and characters.  You just have to have respect for the complexity of the information that is being conveyed.  Tai chi teaches best by experience.

Benefits of Standing Meditation – Improve Your Health and Fitness with Zhan Zhuang

During a seminar in the United States, Chen Qingzhou (Ching Joe) was asked: what was the most important thing that someone could do to improve. He responded:

 

 

“I will tell you exactly what to do and it will improve your health, tai chi, your martial and mental abilities, and will only take you three minutes a day.  But you won’t do it.”

Benefits of Standing Meditation

Chen Qingzhou

Are you on the edge of your seat?  We were.

“Why won’t I do it?” he was further probed.

“Because I have said this many times and no one follows through.”

“What is it?” we asked.

“Stand,” and he assumed a Zhan Zhuang (post stance) posture as an example.  Did I heed his words?

No.  He was right.  I started out strong for a few weeks but eventually began to skip and then abandon the practice.  Also understand that we spent a weekend working with him and had direct correction.  Theoretically, I was given the key to improve my practice, I received precise instruction, and the time investment seemed completely doable.  Why did I fail?

Without buy-in no one sticks with any practice.

Benefits of Standing Meditation So while the standing practice did not stay with me initially, Chen Qingzhou’s challenge did.  I did research to try to understand why practitioners of standing arts (Chen TC, Qi Gong, Yiquan…) are so adamant about the benefits of standing meditation.  I’ve come around to understand the value of standing and why his words are excitingly true.

This is the second half of a two part essay where I initially defined Zhan Zhuang and will now present some science and theory behind why standing meditation 1) improves health, 2) improves your martial abilities, and 3) reprograms the body.  Truth be told, standing meditation can be boring and painful.  The accumulated knowledge that follows created the buy-in necessary for me to commit to practice for a series of days until the benefits could be felt.

1.  Gain more benefits of standing meditation by employing deep postures to improves your health

Benefits of Standing Meditation Here is the overview.  You assume a posture which is like you are about to sit in chair that does not exist.  Your spine is erect and you are breathing deep into the belly.  Your thighs start to burn, you begin sweating, and your back may ache a bit.  Your mind rebels and you have to fight to slow your breath down and remain in the posture.  Yes, all in 180 seconds.

Here is what is happening physiologically:

Bone marrow is the spongy tissue found inside your bones. In the larger bones— such as your spine, breastbone, hips, ribs, legs, or skull—bone marrow contains cells that produce approximately 500 billion white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets per day (hematopoiesis).   Benefits of Standing Meditation During deep standing meditation, you are asking your large bones and posture to take back your body weight when it is normally held up by furniture and stabilizer muscles. This creates intense pressure on these structures and acts as a catalyst for activity.   Zhan Zhuang puts a flame under the caldron that is directly responsible for your immunity and rebuilding tissue.  500 billion blood cells! The magnitude of the bone marrow’s task is unequaled.  Pretty elegant training system.

Long Bone Structure

Benefits of Standing Meditation Got your colored pencils ready?  Here is a page on Long Bone Structure from the Anatomy Coloring Book.  It will take you 5 minutes to color and brings the point home.

Long Bone Structure Coloring Page

 

2.  The benefits of standing meditation:  Improving Martial Abilities

 “As we continued our visit: Hall of Abbot, Hall of Damo. On the uppermost level of Shaolin Temple sits the One Thousand Buddhas Pavilion. From the outside, it seems a quite ordinary hall of weathered gray planks and stone, but inside 48 indentations in the stonework of the floor immediately grab the attention. Careful examination reveals they are set in pairs and positioned in straight rows, each depression approximating the size and shape of a human foot. In fact, decades of stamping feet of practicing monks eroded the stone slabs. A 70 years old master said: “During the past Chinese dynasties monks used to practice post standing but later this practice was forgotten. You should take this as an important indication.”

Shaolin, top martial art of past Dynasties- First edition 1982

The best summary of martial improvement from pole standing can be found in Yu Yong Nian’s 201 page “Zhan Zhuang and the Search for Wu.”

  1. Benefits of Standing Meditation

    Yu Yong Nian

    You can improve very rapidly your physical condition.

  2. With very good basic techniques you can easily grasp application movement, as movements are direct extensions of stances.
  3. Solid basic techniques are the necessary foundations for top level techniques.
  4. They can avoid you from getting harmed or injured during training.
  5. They can prolong the duration of practice. Through accurate and regular basic techniques training, practitioners can still continue to practice even in advanced age.
  6. Basic techniques training can enhance the quality of your movements, improving every joint’s elasticity and every muscle’s control. As a result, your movements are more harmonious, presenting their own beauty and in a word your body reaches a state of “highly adaptive while being in perfect control.”

3.  How Standing Meditation Reprograms the Body

Hey, hey, I was with you with on the health and martial topics, but reprograms the body?  Getting all mystic are we?  I have to admit that I was slow to accept this “grand” assertion until I started getting physiological feedback that I couldn’t explain and heard the same explanation from two different sources.

Here is Wang Xiangzhai in his explanation of Zhan Zhuang.

benefits of standing meditation

Wang Xiangzhai

“Yangshengzhuang (health nourishing postures) is a form of cultivating health, kind of basic exercises of internal training. Because the postures and movements conform with physiology of human body, nervous system is resting and is being positively regulated, and at the same time body is trained, the goal of cultivating health and healing can be achieved (it has been proved in practice already).”

Benefits of Standing Meditation

Chen Youze

Here is Chen Youze, paraphrased from a lecture on the benefits of standing and tai chi over physical exercise.

“The heart is a strong muscle that provides all of the blood to the entire body.  Deep postures stress the body in good ways to make it stronger and increase blood flow and clean the body through sweat.  Running or other exercises do the same thing but stress the heart.  Work and life also stress the heart.  If we are doing exercise that stresses the heart and have life stress, the heart never gets to relax.  Standing [meditation] gives us all the benefits of changing our posture and strengthening the body without stressing the body.”

Back to the original question:  How do I simultaneously improve my health and martial ability in 3 minutes/day?

Stand.  You already knew the answer by now but hopefully I provided the needed buy-in to make the practice valuable. See the resources below for more reading.

Standing vs. Sitting and Qi Gong

As a side note, the initial conversation with Chen Qing Zhou took place six years ago.  Eight months ago his son, Chen Youze was teaching a seminar on qi gong and meditation.  When asked about whether the sets could/should be performed standing or sitting he responded that the sets should always be performed standing except in temporary (injury) or cumulative (age) circumstances.  It is hard for everyone at first, but your time will increase.  He highlighted some fairly talented masters of Ba Gua and Yang Tai Chi who were now in their eighties and had mobility issues.  He felt that this was partly due to the breaking of the posture at the inguinal crease that sitting causes and lack of strengthening the legs.

References:

Zhan Zhuang and the Search for Wu by  Yu Yong Nian

Zhan Zhuang by Wang Xiangzhai

The Way of Energy by Lam Kam Chuen

Wikipedia:  Bone Marrow

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bone_marrow

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhan_zhuang

 

What is Zhan Zhuang (pole standing) and how is it different than Qi Gong Meditation?

Most styles of internal martial arts incorporate standing meditation as a core component, if not the most important part of their training.  While the practices are elegantly simple and instruction on correct posture abounds.
zhan zhuang


 Most students do not maintain a standing practice and never achieve the benefits of Zhan Zhuang.  Why is this?


 Lack of commitment is normally due to lack of understanding and therefore lack of buy-in.

This essay is a two part series where I will first better define WHAT pole-standing is and then WHY this simple, short practice can have a very positive effect on your life.  As a note, I will not go into the hows of practice as each art varies on which standing practice is important to them and how they teach.  However, for in-depth instruction or tips, references have been included at the end.

zhan zhuang

GM Chen Xiaowang

Let’s start with the rough translation(s) of Zhan Zhuang:

  • standing-on-stake
  • standing qigong
  • standing like a tree
  • post-standing
  • pile-standing
  • standing like a post

I like presenting all of the translations of Zhan Zhuang collectively because the important point is what it all hints at.  You are assuming a posture that gradually transfers the strain/weight to your lower extremities and gives that sensation that you are cemented to pylons/roots that extend through the ground beneath you.

What is Zhan Zhuang?

Zhan Zhuang is a stance practice in which the body is kept essentially still and mostly upright, though there are some stances where the spine is not vertical.

What is the purpose of Zhan Zhuang?

zhan zhuangThe purpose of these standing exercises is to become aware of the body and how it stabilizes itself.  You are then able to gain a measure of control over this autonomic process and use it to improve health, posture, and martial abilities.  Still too esoteric?  Let’s break it down a bit.  Normally your stabilizer muscles keep you from falling down.  However, this relies on balancing with minute, continual adjustments against gravity.  Secondly, the same muscles that stabilizes you  also constrict your blood flow.  By aligning your posture you are asking you major muscles and your bones to take your bodies weight.  This allows the blood to rush freely while you concentrate on your breath and mental presence.

What does Zhan Zhuang feel like?

What is Zhan Zhuong?Those unfamiliar with Zhan Zhuang can be shocked when they initially experience severe muscle fatigue and “trembling.”  You sweat, your mind asks you to stop, and your breathing races if not controlled.  For those of you who haven’t yet experienced this, it is shocking and intriguing that you can induce this state in 180 seconds.  Once sufficient stamina and strength have been developed the practitioner can use Zhan Zhuang to work on developing ‘opposing forces,’ central equilibrium, and sensitivity to specific areas of tension in the body.

Types of Zhan Zhuang:

zhan zhuang

GM Chen Qingzhou

The most common Zhan Zhuang method is known as ‘Hun Yuan’ (‘Round Smoothness’) or Chen Bao (‘Tree Hugging’ stance). This posture is entirely Daoist in its origins and has many variations.  Zhan Zhuang is also practiced in a deep stance with the left hand aligned behind the back at the ming men and the right hand flat and open in front of the eyes.

 

How long should pole standing be practiced?

Teachings vary between 2 minutes and 120 minutes.  Obviously a lower, more erect posture limits a practitioner to around four minutes.  Three minutes of correct posture is enough to shake, feel like you are going to collapse, and raise your body temperature.  Chen Qingzhou counseled that you work towards a more perfect three minutes and not on increasing the time.  Karel Koskuba in the article: Yiquan – Power of the Mind suggested to begin with 5-10 seconds daily because making the practice habitual and learning how to quiet the mind where initially essential.  Yi Quan and many external arts maintain a higher posture and work up to 90 minutes.

Is Zhan Zhuang a Form of Qi Gong?

Cat-practicing-zhan-zhuangPlease note that Zhan Zhuang is not considered to be a form of qi gong because of its purpose or intention but is often grouped with qi gong because the practice looks similar.  “Many styles, especially the internal styles, combine post standing with qigong training and other coordinated body methods to develop whole body coordination for martial purposes. The martial practice is thought to strengthen the body’s Central Nervous System and develop the coordination required for effective martial performance. In Yi Quan, a clear distinction is made between ‘health postures’ and ‘martially oriented postures’. In Bagua Zhang’s circle walking practice, the upper body is held as a Zhan Zhuang posture, while the lower body is more dynamic.”

References on Zhan Zhuang

If you want to know more begin looking here:

zhan zhouang cartoonHere is a great cartoon drawing of Zhan Zhuang that is easy to follow:  Brisbane Chen Tai Chi

Tai chi and Buddhism – Limitations of Having a Teacher

“Not for one moment did I doubt that you were the Buddha, that you have reached the highest goal…  You have done so by your own seeking, in your own way, through thought, through meditation, through knowledge, through enlightenment.  You have learned nothing through teachings, and so I think, O Illustrious One, that nobody finds salvation through teachings.  To nobody, O Illustrious One, can you communicate in words and teaching what happened to you in the hour of your enlightenment…”

Siddhartha’s conversation with Gotama- the Buddha when he decides to go alone. (Siddhartha, p.33-34, 1971 edition)

What I am about to share will either cause utter frustration or liberation.  For those that have pondered how they progress in the martial arts, you know the answer is both.

Anyone who has made substantial progress in their internal or martial development spends a lot of time working alone.

Tai chi and BuddhismThere is Ueshiba, Bodhidharma, Itosu, Chen Faké,  Otávio Mitsuyo Maeda, etc.  Never  Great Teacher + _____.  Maybe Laurel & Hardy, but that is the one exception to greatness.

Yes you can argue that Carlos Gracie learned from Maeda and went on to teach his brothers.  Or that Chen- Xiaowang, -Zhenglei, -Wang Xi’an, and –Tiancai were collectively pupils of Chen Zhaopi.  But, each independently transform the art they were practicing in profound ways.

Why this should make you happy

  • You, yes you, are capable of making great progress in tai chi and buddhism.
  • You do not need to live in a martial arts mecca to achieve great results.
  • Your progress depends on incorporating your abilities into your life, not undertaking an independent hobby.

Why this may make you sad

  • You love the community you are in and respect your teacher.
  • It is easier to think that you can be told what to do and follow that path.
  • It is a lonely pursuit to be working out and meditating alone.

How to make progress more rapidly in tai chi and Buddhism

Tai chi and Buddhism

1.  Seek short, highly technical instruction followed by ample time to practice.

Technology and travel allow all of us to make tangible progress that is greater and faster than we think.   I believe that conferences and workshops offer this perfect type of environment.  We are now in an era where many highly skilled individuals are traveling or presenting webinars.  Also, members of your community are willing to mix it up with you or have you attend an infrequent class.   There is a cost associated with this style of learning but the payoff in catapulting people forward is huge.  Workshops can cost $150-$300 for a full weekend (16 hours).  That’s $25/hour for top level instruction.  The most successful people attend with a buddy and commit to practicing what was presented afterwards.

2.   Interact with peers outside of your specific group.

We need to interact with people who have the same desires as us and are near or above our ability.  This causes comradery and we see people similar to us make gains.  This is possible in a class but we need to interact with others who drink different Kool-Aid.

 For Students what does this look like?

Tai chi and BuddhismThis does not mean that you abandon your school or your community (It might though).  Eastern Pursuits (all internal studies and martial arts) are intended to have a meaningful impact on your life and eventually pervade everything else you do.

  • Your yoga breathing techniques should kick in during that stressful meeting
  • Your increase in flexibility allows for more outdoors time with your grandchild
  • Your hours on the mat without injury give you insight into how to talk to your cross-fit friend about better posture.

What this means to students

Your teacher is more skilled than you and has a lot to share.  But understand that accepting a teacher represents a false ceiling being placed on your own progress.  You connect greatness with their current level of development, not your own potential.

For Teachers what does this look like?

Taichi and BuddhismAs teachers we keep on teaching.  But what percentage of your students only practice when they are in your dojo or classroom?  Are you encouraging them to take up study outside of class?

Studies* have shown that people are most successful:

1.  When they come up with what they think is doable and then cut it in half.

Think about dieting or working out.  People are highly motivated at the beginning of a change.  So they begin working out or eating in a way every day that is not sustainable.  One party or skipped day and the progress begins to unravel.  Instead, ask them for something meager such as 3 minutes of standing meditation, 2x/week.  Increase the amount only after their schedule has become accustomed to this.

2)  When they can sustain the change for 30 days.

Consistency has to occur for a long enough period for a habit to form.   A person needs to practice sustaining the new behavior throughout every life scenario (bills, a party, sickness, lack of sleep) and a month presents us with most of the average challenges.  *(Duhigg, C., The Power of Habit).

Examples for what to share with students

Note these are intentionally small and not always physical:

  • “Do these 5 movements of the form each day.  Let me time you.  Ok, that was 22 seconds.  Can you do that every day for seven days?”
  • Read this passage before next class
  • Stand (Zhan Zhong) for 3 minutes 5 days this week while your coffee is brewing or while you are waiting for the bus.
  • Watch this video before next class.
  • Walk outside at lunch once this week without speaking.

The Solution

As students and teachers, we need to learn from each other and those with greater abilities but remember that they too are developing on their path.  Seek others who are also developing.

As teachers we need to speak in terms such as “where we are at this point in our development,”  not absolutes.  We need to engage with our community, encourage our students to do so,  and not be afraid to have students attend “other” martial events.  This takes a dose of courage, faith in yourself, and humility.

“Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom.  One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it…in every truth the opposite is equally true…Everything that is thought and expressed in words is one-sided, only half the truth; it lacks totality, completeness, unity.” …”

(Hesse H. Siddhartha, p.141-142, 1971 edition).

Resources mentioned in this post:

power of habit book - Copy sidhartha book - Copy