Tai Chi – Study of Change
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It is easy to see the physical benefits of practicing tai chi, better balance, circulation, energy , less illness etc, but mental health can be harder to see. The problem with mental health is how do we judge how healthy we are mentally and how do we see any improvement? Mental health can be harder to see then physical, for physical health we have a community standard by which we judge how healthy a person is, but what do we define as being mentally healthy?.
We can define mental health by how balanced we are emotionally, if our emotions rise to an extreme state so that they control or cloud our judgement and change our perception of the world, even for a moment, they then can be considered out of balance. The depth of understanding that arises within our practice affects our emotional extremes and its development is directly reflected by the size of the roller coaster ride that our emotions take us. In other words as understanding develops we become less controlled by our emotions, instead we become more patient, calm and peaceful through out our normal life.
You can begin to gain understanding whilst practicing tai chi by studying the flow of change within your forms. This appears as changing sensation, emotions, thoughts etc that you experience during your practice. By observing you will start to notice that there is a constant flow of experience that you can be aware of, that there isnt just an external world but an internal one as well. The tools for developing the concentration to do this are provided in your tai chi instructions, you just need to know how to use them to get progress.
Through following your hand movements with your eyes, not looking around, feeling mentally the changing sensations within your body and staying aware of your in and out breath during practice concentration will start to arise. Concentration is the unification of the mind; it has the function to exclude all but one object from your attention at any one time and to magnify the characteristics of that object.
This concentration will have a calming effect on you, initially the calming effect will appear only while you are practicing the form as your concentration will fade when you stop. As concentration becomes stronger during practice you will know it, it will first appear as a sense of ease, lightness, pleasant feelings, and your thoughts will quieten down. As concentration develops time can feel like it is slowing down or no longer exists, your sensitivity to the movement within your form increases and the movements and weight shifts become clear. You will notice the whole of each movement and the points of change between yin and yang will be easier to observe. .
Observing the Points of Change
Constant observation of the change of yin and yang, hard and soft, balanced and unbalanced, flowing and unflowing, in breath and out breath etc imbed in our mind a deep understanding that everything is subject to change and nothing is free from the flow of change. This deep understanding changes our perception so that we view the world in terms of its changing nature; it makes us comfortable with change and more accepting when we encounter it in our lives. We start to understand that since everything is changing there is nothing to hold on to, so mentally we begin to let things be.
Anything we experience or perceive we then expect to change because we know that this is its nature, this takes away all the disappointment we often feel when things change or don’t work out the way we planned for them to be. It opens up a freedom, a feeling of spaciousness that no matter what happens in our lives, yin and yang can and will change, it is its nature; therefore we can never be stuck in a perceived bad situation. Within this new found freedom we are then open to new possibilities and paths that we would have never have considered before when we were viewing the world through the eyes of permanence.
Our emotional charge to situations starts to diminish as we no longer perceive the world as a series of uncontrolled and unrelated events, but in terms of the close relationship of flow between all things. When change happens we are no longer upset or frustrated by it as change becomes an expectation rather then something to struggle against, no matter how bad it seems, as through our observation we know that this too will change and something new will come out of it. As understanding deepens we then start to see how through changing our own perception and ideas that we can redirect situations back towards a more positive path, not through struggle but acceptance.
In this way practicing tai chi can help to improve not just our physical health, but also our mental health and bring about more peace in our everyday lives. To do this we have to not only perform the forms physically but pay attention to the flow of change within them. Through constant watching, (not thinking about), we will start to understand the relationship between yin and yang, the dance of life and within that we can find a place of peace in the craziness of everyday living and constant flow of change.
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This article was written by Stephen Procter, instructor from Tai Chi Health for Life, Australian College of Tai Chi & Qi Gong and Meditation Instructor from Meditation in the Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you