Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Basic way to Balance with Tai Chi

I had a lecture at Brandeis University on "Balance and Flexibility"on November 9th, Here is a small clip of this lecture on the very basic way to balance in Tai Chi. enjoy!

Monday, October 22, 2012

5 Suggestions To Improve Your Tai Chi

Many people take my Tai Chi classes. Some of them improve significantly from class to class, but others show little improvement. Why, when they all have the same teacher and have learned the same things in class, is there such a difference in their performance? Here are five suggestions that can make a difference in how quickly you improve.

1. Develop an interest in Tai Chi

If you truly love what you are learning, you will put in more time and effort to learn and you will become better. Now you have decided to take a Tai Chi class, spent the money and time, and told all your family and friends about it. Can you make sure to make it worth your time, money and effort? Learn some facts and become knowledgeable about Tai Chi. Learn the benefits, history, and stories which will inspire you to learn better. Participate in more activities with your Tai Chi classmates and teacher. Feel positive and confident that you will learn well.

2. Have a goal with a detailed plan

I know your goal is to learn Tai Chi, but that’s a general goal. You need to have a specific, detailed plan to reach your goal. For example, you might decide to spend one hour every morning to practice one move, such as Brush Peacock’s Tail. Spend another hour in the evening before bed doing the whole form. Spend another hour after each class to review the day’s practice and be prepared with questions for the teacher at the next class.

3. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and ask for help

When your teacher asks if you have questions regarding the move he or she just demonstrated, be sure to ask if you do have any. It’s your opportunity to get things cleared up and make sure you understand what you are doing. Be proactive and ask for help and correction when needed. Don’t wait for the teacher to tell you to do everything or for your classmates to redirect the focus if you’re in a large class.

4. Bring the principle to practice

Don’t just practice the movements. Think about the principles your teacher has taught you and bring them into practice. For example, I always ask students to pay attention to four basic principles while doing each movement: stay vertical, keep it round, stay relaxed, and be flexible. Are you following all four of these basic principles when you’re doing your Tai Chi movements?

5. Practice a lot both in and outside of class

Can you swim far if you only swim during a swim class? Can you play your guitar well if you only play in class once a week? Practicing in class is not enough; you also need to practice at home as well. Students who do well are not only practicing a lot at home but are also asking a lot of questions and practicing a lot in class. When the teacher stops to correct other students’ forms, some students also stop and just watch. These are also the students who don’t practice at home. The students who really improve are those who keep moving or who watch and move at the same time. Remember, your goal is to learn the form, not socialize in class.

Do you have any ideas to improve your Tai Chi? Please feel free to give any comments and suggestions to help our students and fans.

Copyright Huan's Tai Chi 2012

Thursday, September 6, 2012

How to Learn Tai Chi: Video versus Classroom Instruction

Every so often, a student is bound to ask if there is a a Tai Chi video or DVD that can help him learn Tai Chi. Of course, there are many Tai Chi videos out there, but how much can a video really help? Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of a Tai Chi video versus a real Tai Chi class.

Advantages of a video or DVD:

1.  A video costs less than real classes, thus saving you money.

2.  If you have a video, you don’t have to travel to a classroom, which saves you time.

3.  You can play a video over and over, so you might use it as a reminder to help you refresh your memory of some of the movements.

4.  Watching a video can encourage and motivate you to practice more.

However, there are some disadvantages:

1.  A video is not three dimensional; you can only view the pre-recorded angles, and can’t walk around the teacher to see the front and back, thus limiting your view.

2. A video does not provided as much detailed instruction as a teacher; in fact videos are often even less detailed than books.

3. A video is made for a general audience, not specialized just for you to help you with the specifics of your form.

4.  A video cannot correct your form if you have it wrong. It can’t provide you with a hands-on experience.

5.  A video is not interactive. It doesn’t allow you to feel the movements and interact with other students in the class.

6.  You can’t ask a question to a video and expect an answer.

7.   A video can’t monitor your progress and give you suggestions and homework. It can’t tell you that your single whip needs more practice and you need to go home and practice it 300 times.

Choosing the right Tai Chi class and teacher are important. If you decide to go with a teacher, you can read my article on perfecting your Tai Chi practice to help you pick the right teacher.   Good luck with your Tai Chi practice! If you have any thoughts, please feel free to send us your comments.

Copyright Huan's Tai Chi 2012

Friday, July 20, 2012

Are You Really Prepared for Tai Chi?

The martial art form, Hsing-I, has a core standing posture called “santi.” In Tai Chi, the equivalent is Wu Chi, the preparing stance. In Chinese, Wu Chi means “void” or “emptiness.” It is the beginning, the void from which everything evolves. The universe is said to have evolved from Wu Chi, and it is the mother of yin and yang, the harmonious polar opposites. (To understand more about the origins of Tai Chi, read my article on How to Understand the Tai Chi Diagram.)

Why is the Wu Chi stance so important in Tai Chi? After we begin a regular day, we begin moving around. Since 80 percent of our body is water, we can think of it as a big fish tank. The water is not always clear because we have been walking, and moving around. Our qi (energy) is like the sand at the bottom of the fish tank. It has been floating around as we move through our daily activities.

The Wu Chi stance allows this sand to sink to the bottom of the fish tank and clear the water. In other words, sink and relax your body. As I tell my students, “if you start your Tai Chi with tension in your muscles,  you can’t be relaxed during the whole form.”

In addition, the Wu Chi stance helps you quiet your mind, so you are able to concentrate on all the movements that come after. Since often we have so many thoughts on our minds, it’s good to set aside a few minutes to clear our minds before beginning.

What else does the Wu Chi stance help you with?  A good Wu Chi stance will give you balanced form, which comes from having a powerful and rooted stance at the beginning, followed by well-circled qi to maintain the whole form.

To get your Wu Chi stance right, read my article on 13 Points to Relax Your Body

To further relax your body after you’ve achieved a proper Wu Chi stance, read Relax your body, Understand 8 Sections and 9 Joints

Copyright Huan's Tai Chi 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

Lao Tzu’s Secret Passage of Relaxation

The softest substance of the world
Goes through the hardest.
That-which-is-without-form penetrates that-which-has-no-crevice;
Through this I know the benefit of taking no action.
The teaching without words
And the benefit of taking no action
Are without comparison in the universe.

The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
Translated by Lin Yutang

It’s normal not to be relaxed
Relaxation is not a normal state. We are trained to use force to do everything in our daily lives. We use force every day, from pushing a door, lifting a chair, stepping up stairs, or grabbing a handrail while taking the train. These actions tighten our shoulders, knees, and our whole body. Because we are not used to being in a relaxed state, it is often hard for beginners to relax easily in a Tai Chi class.

Methods of relaxation
When talking about relaxation, your teacher might tell you to relax your shoulder, elbow, or even your mind. But how do we know when we are really relaxed? How do we measure that?
When you go shopping with your friends, you can often feel tension in your shoulders if you are carrying many shopping bags. But once you put these shopping bags down, you feel your shoulders relaxing. When your shoulders feel relaxed, they sink down. Here, sinking is a measure of relaxation.

When you are sitting in a tight seat in an airplane, you may bend your knees and feel tight. But after your neighbor gets up to use the lavatory and you extend your legs, you feel your knees relaxing. In this case, stretching and extension is a measure of relaxation.

When you are stressed with too many things on your to-do list and in on your mind, you may go to the park, and watch the swans swimming in the pond. In this moment, you feel relaxed. Your mind quiets down and for this moment, you can focus on the swans, and your mind lets go of the million other things you were worrying about. This ability to let go, even for a few moments, is a measure of relaxation.

Taking no action
Sinking, stretching, and quieting your mind are some methods to relax.  Despite their differences, they can all be described in one phrase, “taking no action.” When you’re not lifting shopping bags, you are relaxed. When you’re not trying to make space for others in a tight airplane, you are relaxed. When you’re not thinking about the million things you have to do, you are relaxed.

When you were a little baby, you didn’t have to lift bags, make space for others, or think about the million things you have to do. You were relaxed and soft. You learned to un-relax once you grew older. Society taught you how to do more, think more, and become more civilized. That’s why Daoists like to stay in the mountains far from civilization, so they don’t have to deal with tons of things. They can lead simple lives. Lao Tzu believed that taking no action is the key to relaxation.

Taking no action in Tai Chi

Use less effort
Sometimes I see a younger man doing Tai Chi who is more stiff than the oldest man in the class. Because this young man has a lot of energy, he really tries to forcefully lift his legs and move his arms. Meanwhile, the older man doesn’t have as much energy, so he uses the minimum effort to lift his legs and move his arms. He is more relaxed than the younger man. That’s the benefit of less effort which is close to the meaning of taking no action.

Keep the structure
When you’re practicing Tai Chi, keep in mind that when you relax one body part too much, it might create tightness in another body part. For example, when you drop down your head to relax it, your neck is bent and stiff. As my father, Master Zhang Lu Ping said, “be relaxed, but relaxed with structure.” Without a good structure, you can’t relax your whole body. For an example of a good structure of the body, check out my blog article, “13 Points To Relax Your Body.”

Connect the whole body
How should your body should feel when it’s totally relaxed? When you try to relax your shoulder, you should feel it sinking down to the ground. If that happens, it means your whole body is connected and relaxed. To minimize the effort, as Lao Tzu suggested, you need to connect your whole body. Once one part of body makes a move, other parts follow. By connecting the body and letting the parts work together, you won’t end up using only one muscle, which can create tension. For a more detailed explanation of how to relax with the whole body, including parts and joints, check out my blog article, “Understanding the  8 Sections and 9 Joints.”

You have spent so much time of your life learning to un-relax. Now it’s time to learn how to take no action. Imagine you could be that same baby you were in your childhood: soft, balanced, free from worry, relaxed, and young. That’s Lao Tzu’s way of relaxation. He called it “化繁为简, 返璞归真: transforming the complicated to simple is to regain one’s true self.”

Copyright Huan's Tai Chi 2012

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

City Life and Tai Chi: Friends and Foes for Life

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful. - Buddha

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference. - Winston Churchill

In contemporary life, we like to have everything fast. Getting quick information right from your smartphone, eating fast food, and going from one event to another while thinking about the next event, is a way of life for many busy city people. Tai Chi requires the opposite mindset. Quit thinking and quiet your mind. Slow down and relax. Separate yourself from your busy life for a while.

In traditional Chinese philosophy, life balancing requires mixing yin and yang. If you do something too much, you will get hurt. Instead, you should incorporate some of its opposite to balance. For example, if you eat too much meat, it will hurt your health. You need to eat some vegetables to balance. If your life is always on the go and tense and with stress then you need to spend some time stopping, slowing down, and relaxing. That’s the way to balance your body and soul.

A good attitude is a good friend for beginner students. For many of our beginner students, seeing progress is very important for them. Many of them are in a hurry and need to see the progress quickly. However, a focus on quick results goes against the purpose of Tai Chi. In fact, often the more hurried you are, the slower your progress. If you haven’t taken the time to understand and get familiar with the current Tai Chi movement and are in a hurry to move to the next one, you may end up learning a bunch of movements, but none of them are right or good enough. As I often tell my beginner class, you can’t eat a lot of food and become fat in one night. Tai Chi is just like gaining or losing weight; it takes slow progress at beginning.

As we have mentioned, learning Tai Chi is also a way to practice patience. We do each movement slowly to feel the relaxation. Traditionally, it takes weeks to just learn one movement in detail. But on the contrary, every time you learn one movement completely and correctly, it will help you learn the next movement more quickly, because they share similar fundamental theories. Having a good attitude, believing in yourself, and learning and taking things slowly are the keys to improving your Tai Chi.

To help you learn efficiently, I suggest the 3Rs: Review, Repeat, and Review Again. To review, read our online notes before the upcoming class to know what will we be teaching in the class. Once you get home, repeat and review the movements you learned in class. To review again, I also suggest you to read my blog post on “How to Better Remember your Tai Chi Moves.

Distraction is a common foe of Tai Chi beginners. Research shows that doing more than one thing at a time has a negative effect on memory and learning and is a major cause of premature aging. Doing Tai Chi requires concentration which will help you relax while doing one thing at a time. Getting distracted by other matters while doing Tai Chi defeats the purpose of Tai Chi. That’s why I tell my students, when you are doing Tai Chi, you shouldn’t have anything else in mind but Tai Chi. You shouldn’t even think about the next or past Tai Chi movement while you are doing the current movement. Happiness comes from enjoying the current moment. If you want to feel relaxed and happy while enjoying Tai Chi, concentrate on the current movement in the current moment.

Copyright Huan's Tai Chi 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Healthier Life with Tea

The Qing Emperor Qianlong ruled China for 60 years from 1735 to 1796. At 85 years old, he finally expressed that he had enough and needed to retire from being emperor.

One of his officials said to him, “We cannot have a country without an emperor for even one day!” Emperor Qianlong lifted a cup of tea and said, “Jun [emperor] cannot live without tea for even one day.”

Qianlong had few favorite teas such as Iron Kwan Yin (a half green, half black tea), Silver Needle of the Gentleman Mountain (a yellow/white tea) and Dragon Well (a green tea).

I, too, enjoy these same teas today. Here is my advice on how to enjoy tea as part of your daily routine.

Rise up early in the morning. It’s nice to drink cup of fragrant tea to refresh your mouth. It will lift your spirit, and arouse the appetite. Having some snacks or breakfast after the tea is then indeed a pleasure. I usually drink Iron Kwan Yin or other type of oolong1 tea in the morning. It’s bit stronger than most green teas but not as strong as black tea, so it’s best for me in the morning to help me stay awake and start the day.

In the afternoon, if I have exerted myself and feel the need for another lift, I will have another oolong tea or a gunpowder tea2. If my energy remains strong, however, I will have a very light silver needle3 tea. One of my favorite silver needle teas is An Ji, a silver white needle tea from Zhejiang Province. Since I take small sips, one cup of tea will last me for half the day.

In the evenings, I like to drink jasmine tea or dragon well tea. Dragon well tea is considered to be among the finest and most representative of green teas. It has been described by The New Tea Book authors Sara Perry and Alison Miksch as the "ideal" beverage for "quiet, contemplative times."4 Its name comes from a well whose water is said to mimic the body of a twisting dragon. Green tea is all about how freshness. The fresher the leaves, the better. Since I am from Zhejiang Province (near Shanghai) where dragon well tea comes from, I grew up drinking fresh dragon well in my childhood. That’s also why dragon well is one of my favorite green teas.

As we know, jasmine tea is not particular kind of tea, but green tea mixed with jasmine flowers. Sometimes, when I want to have not only the jasmine scent, but also the smooth taste of dragon well tea, I mix both of them together to make my special Dragon Well Jasmine.

The Chinese word “jun” (emperor) can be also translated to English as the word “gentleman.” I would like to leave you with these words: “A gentlemen can’t live without tea for even one day.” A peaceful and calm life is always completed by a nice cup of tea.

1. Oolong refers to tea that has been produced through a unique process using sun, oxidation, fermentation, and twisting and curling of the leaves.

2. Gunpowder is a tea in which each leaf is rolled into a small, round pellet, resembling gunpowder grains.

3. Silver Needle, or Bai Hao Yinzhen is the most expensive and most prized variety of white teas. Only the leaf buds and shoots are used to produce the tea.

4. Perry, Sara and Alison Miksch (2011). The New Tea Book: A Guide to Black, Green, Herbal, and Chai Teas. As referenced in “Longjing Tea” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 8 Jan 2012. Web. 11 Feb 2012.

Copyright 2013 Huan's Tai Chi

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

8 More Benefits of Practicing Tai Chi in Slow Speed

1. Gain Tranquility
“The Solid is the root of the light;
The Quiescent is the master of the Hasty."

These are the words of the Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu in the famous Tao Te Ching. Tai Chi also emphasizes slowing down to stay relaxed. When you practice Tai Chi at a slower speed, you will defeat haste and gain quiescence, or tranquility at rest.

2. Become More Relaxed
If you move too quickly through the sets, you don’t know if you are relaxed or not because you don’t stay in each movement long enough. It’s easier to achieve relaxation when you slow down your movements.

3. Improve Stretching
You can stretch better and really open your joints when you move slower.

4. Challenge Yourself
You are challenging yourself when you go through each movement slower. For example, it’s easier to do a quick kick, but it’s harder to raise a leg slowly into the air and then slowly put it down.

5. Exercise Longer
You will exercise longer when you move slower. When you do movements faster, it’s easier to get tired. For example, if you run fast, you will get tired more quickly. Jogging slower will allow you to keep going longer. Exercising longer also means you can build more strength and endurance. That’s why Tai Chi is especially good for the elderly.

6. Reduce the Chance of Injury
Beginners often complain about hurting their knees when they do Tai Chi. Usually this situation happens because they move their knees over their toes when they form a bow stance (which means they have the wrong stance). If you are moving too fast, it’s easier to let your knee move over too far. But if you move slowly, you will move more carefully, and will be able to notice and readjust your position so as not to hurt yourself.

7. Fully Accomplish Each Movement
When people move quickly, they often don’t pay attention to details and sometimes don’t even complete the move. When you do it slowly, it will help you complete each individual move rather than hurrying to go to the next move.

8. Better Understand Yin & Yang
When Tai Chi master Yang Yu Ting was teaching students Tai Chi, he required them to pay attention to their relaxation, softness, roundness, and speed, and asked them to do it slower. He thought that slow speed would help students better experience and understand the changes of yin and yang, often understood as empty and solid the complimentary energies that work together to create balance.

If you like this article, you might want check out:
8 Benefits of Practicing Tai Chi in Slow Speed

Copyright Huan's Tai Chi 2012