Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Four Ways to Find Your Piece of Time for Tai Chi

Even students with high interest in Tai Chi who attend class regularly don’t always find time to practice at home. Practice is essential for following up on the skills learned in class, leading to overall progress. But how can you find time for  Tai Chi  in today’s busy world? 
The key involves using your time more efficiently and creatively. 

First, you need to determine your priorities. Next, I recommend creating a log to figure out what you spend time on every day. Take special note of time wasters, such as excessive TV watching, playing video games or use of social media. Lastly, you should plan to remove or reduce these time wasters from your life and concentrate on the important things you want achieve. I suggest the following: 

1. Prioritize tai chi. 
What is the purpose of  Tai Chi  in your life? Are the benefits important enough to prioritize it? Some students want to gain balance from Tai Chi; others aim for correct body structure to reduce joint pain; yet others want to relax and clear their minds. Some of my elderly students attend class to achieve slow, gentle exercise to maintain their flexibility and mobility. Some of my college students want to learn Tai Chi for self-defense. Find your purpose in tai chi will give you motivation to move forward and keep up practice. 

2. Determine your time wasters.

Next, try to record a few days’ activities in a log to find out what the big time wasters are in your life. The top time wasters in mine are listed below with ways I have overcome them:

  • Watching TV.  I watch a movie or two once a while using a DVD player. I don’t subscribe to cable.
  • Playing computer games. I don’t play computer games. I play chess or the Chinese game “go” once a while with friends.
  • Social media. This one is hard since I use social media for my  Tai Chi  class, as well as connecting with friends. However, I still try to reduce my time spent on social media by checking only once or twice a day.
  • Waiting for water to boil. I use an electric boiler called Zojirushi CV-DSC40 VE Hybrid Water Boiler and Warmer, which has three different temperatures for different teas. When you have that, hot water is always ready when you need it.
  • Finding the right CD and book. I converted all my music so that I could store it on my phone. I also use a Kindle.
  • Cleaning and organizing things. I reduced the amount of stuff in my house, so I don’t have to clean as much. 
  • Cooking and eating at restaurants. I cook more easy, healthy dishes and occasionally I go to a nearby restaurant (that doesn’t have long lines!) I also use an automatic rice maker called the Zojirushi NS-LAC05XT Micom 3-Cup Rice Cooker and Warmer
  • Running fewer errands. I generally create a plan and run all my errands in one trip. One example is checking my mail once a week rather than every day.

3. Follow my father’s advice!
My father held a PhD in mathematics and taught university level math. For this reason, I’ve always trusted his sense of time efficiency. His top three suggestions (from what I remember) are:
  • Muti-task in some situations
In general, I’m not a proponent of multi-tasking. Focusing on one task at a time leads to a better outcome. However, there are exceptions. One idea is try to stand on one leg while brushing your teeth to practice balance. Another is to do tai chi breathing exercises while waiting for the bus.
  • Don't stay in bed when you are awake
I remember when I was a child, my father always told me, “When your eyes are open and you are already awake, don’t delay. Get up immediately and use your time to do something meaningful. Wasting time is a shame.” 
  • Get up early
No time for Tai Chi? My father would suggest waking one hour earlier in the morning and going to bed one hour later at night.

4. Try the 6 mini forms from The Zhang System
If you don’t have time to finish all of the 85 traditional forms, you can try the 6 mini forms that I have created, each of which has 6 new movements or less. They are conclusions, or culminations, of the traditional form without sacrificing or eliminating important moves like the simplified tai chi form. You can finish each form in a few minutes. If you only have few minutes in the morning, that will be plenty of time to fit one in!

One of the mini forms is listed below:
 The brush peacock’s tail form
1.      Preparing form
2.      Opening form
3.      Brush peacock’s tail
4.      Single Whip
5.      Cross hands
6.      Closing form

I hope this article was helpful for you to tame the “time” tiger in  Tai Chi . If so, please pass on the link to this article to help more  Tai Chi practitioners. 

2016 Copyright by Huan's Tai Chi

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Keep the essentials in Tai Chi

Sometimes when I teach Tai Chi, the Chinese proverb “Qu Wu Cun Jing” comes to mind. In Chinese, Qu means get rid of; Wu means weeds; Cun means keep; and Jing means chives. Essentially, we should get rid of the weeds and keep the chives. Figuratively, the whole sentence means “Keep the essentials and get rid of the things which are not necessary.” 

Anytime we learn something new, we may unknowingly transfer bad habits from our daily postures, in other words, the weeds. However, many of us are not able to distinguish the weeds from the chives on our own because they look very similar. A good teacher can tell the difference and give you advice accordingly. For example, sometimes I tell my beginner students to relax their shoulders and keep their body vertical because new students are not aware that they have raised their shoulders and they are leaning forward or backward, causing bad form. In many cases, the job of the Tai Chi teacher is to help you discard such habits. The following is a list of these habits. Removing them from your form can help you develop better Tai Chi skills. 

  • Raising your shoulders
  • Raising your elbows
  • Leaning your body backwards or forwards
  • Allowing your stomach to protrude, thus not observing the proper position of the acupuncture points called dantian 
  • Tilting your shoulders while moving
  • Not transferring weight properly from one leg to the other 
  • Not placing your foot lightly on ground
  • Not turning your waist while moving
  • Moving your body up and down too much
  • Tilting your head
  • Not leaving enough space between your arms and body
  • Not coordinating the movement of your upper body and lower body 
  • Stiffening your waist
  • Using force

Find this article helpful? Please pass the link around and spread the word to more Tai Chi practitioners.

2016 Copyright by Huan's Tai Chi

Friday, July 22, 2016

It Baguazhang the Best Exercise Ever? 6 Benefits of Baguazhang Walking over Brisk Walking

Swimming, Tai Chi, Walking, Strength training, and Kegel exercises are listed as five of the best exercises you can do by Harvard Medical School’s Healthbeat report. The Authors probably do not know about a Chinese martial art called Baguazhang which concentrates on circular walking and has many benefits beyond simple Brisk Walking.

Baguazhang does not require a lot of space.

Bagua only requires a small circle to walk around. It can be done at home during bad weather outside.

Baguazhang requires precise body alignments which can reduce joint pain.
Many elderly people develop joint pain because they do not have good body alignments especially while walking. Bagua develops precise alignments while lifting and planting  feet.

Baguazhang is a total body exercise.
Bagua is a whole body exercise; you need to coordinate many different arm and waist movements with the walk. You not only exercise your legs but your whole body.

Baguazhang familiarizes you with orientation.
Bagua does both the Yang and Yin circle walking. It walks two different directions with a special tuck in step to change directions. It gives you more flexibility of walking in different directions.


Baguazhang is suitable for both young and old
You can adjust your body height while doing Bagua walk.  Normally elders walk in a higher stance while younger practitioners practice in a lower stance to help strengthen the legs more.

Mud Stance allows you to train your balance
Bagua's special Mud Stance allows holding a leg in the air for short period of time to train balancing on one leg.

For people want go beyond, you can also learn the martial arts application for Bagua. Want to try out a class to see if you will enjoy this ancient exercise from China? You can visit our studio every Saturday morning at 10am at 7 Temple Street, Cambridge MA.

2016 Copyright by Huan's Tai Chi

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Smart learning: Practicing is not the only key to learning Tai Chi

Many of my students have commented that learning to do Tai Chi correctly is not an easy task. Some of them have learned simplified form from other teachers found difficult learning the detailed traditional 85 forms. By simply repeating what the teacher has shown you, you are not improving your skills to their fullest potential. How can we really learn form and improve our Tai Chi skills? Here are some suggestions that you could benefit from. 

Set an approachable goal
When some beginners first come to our studio, they use the instructor’s performance and other intermediate students’ performance as a model. They feel that they will perform at this level within a month or two. This seems like a reasonable goal, but looks can be deceiving!  Of course, the form of the instructor and other intermediate students required years of practice and learning.

As a beginner, your goal is not to be able to have the same form and moves as the instructor. Rather, I recommend that you learn the first few moves and do them well. Only with an approachable goal will you conquer the fear of learning and ease the pressure of not learning enough movements so that you may move forward. 

Remember, learning every skill takes effort. It may take a short time to learn some skills; for others it may take longer. Your own ability and the method used by the instructor are two important factors in determining how long it will you take to learn your form. 

The correct way
While some students don’t practice often and others practice quite a bit, the ones who practice often don’t always seem to improve their form significantly. Why is this the case?  You might think that those who practice more should have better form and more advanced skills. However, the fact is this is not true.

We know that if you want to remember something, it needs to enter your long-term memory. In order for this to happen, you first need to enter the movements in your short-term memory. Naturally, this requires practice. This is common knowledge. This logic is sound if you are doing the right movements. If your movements are not correct, then you are repeating the wrong movements and you are entering the wrong information into your short and long-term memories, thus not spending your time wisely. 

That’s why when my father was teaching private students, he didn’t want someone to go to the next step if the current move had not been mastered. In a large class, when a teacher can’t correct every detail of every student’s movements, the best approach is to try to just learn one or two movements at a time and to learn them correctly. Ask questions or just ask teacher to come correct you in person. For this reason many students also book private lessons to master some movements. 

Part vs. Whole
As I often mention in class, everyone focuses on different aspects of the instructor’s teaching. It’s like the story of “the blind men and an elephant,” in which every one thinks the part they touch is the shape of the whole elephant.  Essentially, everyone’s focus and take-aways from class are different. Most beginners will pay more attention to the instructor’s hand movements instead of body movements. However, as I often say, “Tai Chi is a whole body exercise. We want to concentrate on whole body movements instead of partial body movements.” 

Visual Vs.  Real
As I mentioned above, even students who pay attention and try to concentrate on the whole body movements might not be repeating the movements correctly. As Tai Chi is considered an internal martial art, what you appear to be may not be what is happening in reality. In Karate, an external martial art, a hand block and punch is a hand block and punch. In Tai Chi, it can be a twist of the whole body linked to your arm which rotates to form a block. Pay attention to your instructor's movements and ask questions to figure out how to make this special move. 

Steps determine the success of your learning. If you made the wrong first step, the second step could be wrong as well. For example, in Tai Chi if you haven’t transferred weight to one leg, then you can’t lift the other leg. Making sure you have the right sequence will make your Tai Chi smooth. 

Finally, let’s return to the topic of repetition. If we take all the suggestions above into consideration, we can now talk about repetition. Practice makes perfect! That’s why I always tell my students at end of the class, “Please go home and practice!”

2016 Copyright by Huan's Tai Chi