[pullquote align=”right”]Oh, you get so many hunches
That you don’t know ever quite
If the right hunch is a wrong hunch!
Then the wrong hunch might be right!
Dr. Seuss: Hunches in Bunches[/pullquote]
There is this general idea that tai chi influences our lives positively after a while. You practice the form diligently and somehow the tranquility and understanding that ensues flows like water out of your backyard and pervades all aspects of your life. Aaaahhh.
Malarkey you scream! Way too touchy feely.
Like every good tai chi concept, the answer is yes and no. My non-tai chi life has benefited immensely from my practice. Let’s use this essay to describe how the benefits of tai chi make the leap from practicing the form to improving your life. We will do this by studying: The Hunch.
The nuts and bolts of how tai chi influences our lives
The thing I love to hear from a student is: “something is not right here.” What this tells me is that something feels awkward and they are becoming more highly perceptible to inconsistencies. Basically, their body is sending an uncomfortable signal that they are paying attention to and trying to correct. In normal life, this signal usually comes at the heightened experience of pain but in tai chi we are catching it at an early level and learning to tune into it.
How does tai chi teach heightened sensitivity?
The tai chi form is series of movement laws we can say. If you move in one way, you are said to have good tai chi. It is reintroducing us to movements and breathing that are innate to all animals. I say re-introducing because all young toddlers walk and breathe correctly until life teachers them otherwise.
Here are some examples.
Body alignment – Walk across the room. Chances are your right foot and left hand traveled forward together. Now step right and push forward with your right hand (same side), and left with left. This is tai chi. You do this in the form and if you switch back to moving with an opposite gait (left hand/right foot moving forward at the same time) your brain fires a signal noting a difference.
Weight shifts – Grab a door knob. Chances are your weight fell on the front foot at the point that you grabbed the knob. Now keep your weight back as you grab the knob. Chances are that you were quieter, and that your hand sent back a tactile message from the knob –it’s cold, it’s hard. Because your hand’s nerve endings weren’t employed to balance or hold your weight, it could undertake remedial processes. Poor or opposing weight shifts can stop your body from sending back messages during the form.
The heightened sensitivity that tai chi develops is akin to what we call a “hunch.”
Developing your hunch.
The tai chi form gives a you a small window of time where everything is perfect. Your body likes this experience and if you listen to it, you will increasingly sense when something is not to your liking. To me it occurs in the gut. It is the proverbial “hunch.” As you acquaint yourself with this feeling, acknowledge that something is wrong and act on it, the gut feeling grows and becomes more pronounced. Think back to the countless metaphors
An example of a hunch.
I often go to a great Greek restaurant and one day I was on the other side of town and stopped at a second location. When I opened the door I mildly smelled cleaning solution and my gut dropped and I felt anxious. I blew it off thinking “I am already here, I am hungry, I only have 20 minutes to eat.” I didn’t make it back to work and you can guess which small room of my house I spent the afternoon in.
Malarkey you scream again! Happenstance!
I can’t out-rightly convince you through text that this is empirically true. However, if you start listening to your hunch, bad things happen less and there always seem to be consequences for ignoring them. What you can measure is that practitioners who “listen” to their movements are the ones who make dramatic leaps forward in their practice.
The science behind the hunch.
90% of the human brain is said to be run by the subconscious mind while 10% is accredited to the knowing mind. This makes complete sense and we wouldn’t want it any other way or we would be overrun but the processes that run the body and having to actually think about everything that our senses are taking in.
The hunch is actually listening to this 90%. It is giving an audience to your library of experiences and all of your sensory activity. Normally we only listen when the signal is ratcheted up (pain/danger) but we can access it more intimately.
The physiology of the hunch.
What is it that we are tuning in to? When there is a change in our environment that may require immediate action or body changes our 1) rate of blood flow, 2) breathing, and 3) or endocrine system re-employs chemicals away from autonomic processes (digestion) and into awaiting muscles (limbs).
The hunch is physical and we feel better for paying attention.
The hunch is physical. Think about the millions of metaphors used to capture this sense (sense, get it?). “I had a gut feeling about that.” “That breaks my heart.” You sweat. You hold your breath. And yet, we conceptualize the hunch as being mental. It is not mental. The mental process is the reaction to the physical change. This is what tai chi is trying to attune us to and how tai chi influences our lives. If you listen to it you “feel” better regardless of the outcome.