by Rob Wulforst
Last time, I wrote about how Tai Chi (TàiJí Quán -太極拳) works as an exercise. To follow up, I should also write about how Tai Chi works as meditation. This type of meditation isn’t exactly what you’d expect. Tai Chi is classified as a “moving meditation”, meaning that you need to coordinate your breathing to the movements of the form.
Tai Chi Breathing
The meditation aspect of Tai Chi is just as difficult to perform as the form is. As I wrote in the last article, Tai Chi is taught in three steps. First, you need to learn the movements. The second step is where you coordinate the breathing with the movements. To move into a single posture, you should be able to do one full inhale and exhale. The slower you breathe, the slower the movement should be. Deeper breaths help to relax the mind as you move the body. It takes time to get to such a point and there is a reason why.
Being "Song" (Loose)
There is only two times where you breathe without movement and that’s at the very beginning and the end of the form. This time is used to become “Sōng”. Being Sōng (Loose and Relaxed – 鬆) is very complex to describe when talking about Tai Chi and is often omitted in classes. However, unless you’re familiar with the concept of it, you can never really progress in Tai Chi.
In my book “Root within the Wind”, I talk about being Sōng as the Tai Chi mindset. You’re not just loose and relax in body, but also in the mind. A closed, tight fist turns white after a while because of the effort to hold it and lack of blood flow. Think about what happens to your mind when it is forced closed like this. An open, relaxed mind stays calm, helps process more stimulation in your environment, and allows you to react faster.
However, I’ve learned being Sōng affects more than this. It also improves your ability to adapt to situational changes, good or bad. Unfortunately, life works around making you less Sōng. There’s death, disease, drama, and the occasional stupid person that just makes things harder to cope with. In moderation, this mindset can help you deal with these things better. Having them hit you on a daily basis for months nonstop can and will make you sick.
In martial arts, being Sōng allows you to adapt better to your opponent. When practicing Tai Chi push hands, you constantly need to keep in sync with your partner. Staying loose and relaxed will help adjust your strength and position should they make slight or sudden changes to try and push you off balance. This sensitivity is essential in grappling martial arts and techniques or else you’ll find yourself on the floor very quickly.
Check your body
If you’re just starting to learn Tai Chi or you’ve been practicing for years, take a moment to evaluate just how Sōng you really are. Are your shoulder too far out to the sides because your shoulders are tight? Do you feel knee or back pain pain when practicing? Is it hard to coordinate the breathing and movements? Are you becoming out of breath when you do the form?
These are all just examples of questions you should be asking yourself to help you improve. Do you feel tight in a specific area? You’re muscles are probably not relaxed. Do you feel pain? Check to make sure your posture is correct. Is it too hard to coordinate the breathing? Try moving a little faster instead. Out of breath? You’re probably pushing yourself too hard to try to do everything right.
I hope this article helps you understand more about meditation and the mindset of Tai Chi. There’s certainly a lot more detail to go into about it, but sometimes it’s better just to keep things simple. Just keep practicing and stay Sōng. One day, you’ll “get” it, just like the Tai Chi masters a hundred years ago.