Tai Chi & Qi Gong

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Yin and Yang – Complementary Opposites

By Sorcha Hegarty

In Western culture, we’re used to thinking of opposites as being in conflict with one another. A lot of our stories are about Good vs Evil, Light vs Dark, Hero vs Villain. These opposite forces are in opposition (see, it’s right there in the language!), and each one has the goal of completely annihilating the other. They are framed in such a way that we understand that one is better and the other is worse, even if it isn’t immediately apparent which is which. We expect it to be so. Good, after all, is just better than evil!

 Good_vs_Evil

 We aren’t used to thinking about opposites as being in harmony, or needing one another to exist. And yet, without understanding their fundamental interconnectedness, the concept of Yin and Yang is difficult to grasp.

 

Yin and Yang are opposites, and they constantly consume one another. We can see this in the famous Taijitu symbol, which looks as if it’s in motion even when it’s still. Yin, the dark half, is still, passive; associated with night, the moon, and the feminine. But in its centre, Yin creates a little point of Yang. Yang is dynamic, active; associated with daytime, sun and the masculine; but in the heart of Yang, it activates a little seed of Yin. Neither one can exist without the other. Imagine if you had to choose between never being still or never resting: you couldn’t do it. And even if you could, whichever option you chose would quickly become unbearable. The two principles have to exist in harmony, in balance.

yin & yang

There is a regular progression in the world where Yin takes over from Yang and Yang from Yin. At this time of year, in Ireland, Yin’s deepest point, midwinter, has passed, and a little bit of Yang is coming back into the world. We can see it in that slight stretch in the evenings, a little bit more sunshine seeping into the wintry days. The cycle of the seasons; like the cycle of days; follows the pattern of Yin/Yang, in stately harmony. Yin and Yang goes beyond the subtle energy, or qi, that we discussed in previous posts; Yin and Yang is the interplay of all the opposite elements that make up existence (though of course, qi has a Yin/Yang aspect to it, too.)

 

Taichi can be seen as a way of applying the principles of yin and yang to the human body. It balances movement (Yang) and stillness (Yin); attack (Yang) and defence (Yin). The circular patterns of tai chi movements are said to be based on the Taijitu symbol itself; so that every motion made echoes the harmonious duality of the universe.

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2014


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4 tips to choose a tai chi teacher

If you wish to start a tai chi class, sooner or later, you will have to face this decision. So what to do? Will you choose the first one on google search list? Maybe the 3rd or 4th because they are probably less expensive? Will you pick up the name that resonates with you or perhaps have a quick visit to each website and see which one you prefer? It is not easy to choose a tai chi teacher and here are a few tips that may help you:

1) Check the teacher qualifications

There isn’t a standard accreditation for a tai chi teacher all over the world, but most qualified tai chi teachers will be able to tell you who they train with and explain their Chinese lineage. This may also appear in their website. If it doesn’t show in their website, ring a tai chi teacher and ask.

It may also be wise to check their masters’ website. They would generally have a list of current qualified tai chi instructors.

2) Asses your availability and willingness to commit

If this is your first time approaching a tai chi class and you don’t have much time available, it would probably be better if you choose a local tai chi teacher. What you wish to create is a habit of becoming healthier. If you need to make too many efforts to go to a tai chi class, you’ll end up finding lots of excuses for missing them.

If you have done tai chi before and are looking to seriously commit for your health or personal interest, look for what you consider the best.

3) Choose the approach you prefer

Most tai chi teachers will mainly focus on one, two or three of these approaches: martial applications and self-defense, health and spirituality. Pick the one you are more interested in. Most tai chi instructors will touch on the three approaches, but emphasize one or the other. Choose the approach you prefer and your teacher accordingly.

4) Select a teacher you like and trust

An American tai chi instructor told me once that he had done many martial arts in different places in the USA and he had gotten to one conclusion: it is not the martial art you do; it is the teacher who teaches it who is going to influence how you learn. There are many good tai chi teachers in Dublin, so pick a tai chi instructor that you resonate with. If you don’t like or trust your instructor, it doesn’t matter how many qualifications s/he has, you will not be embracing his or her teachings.

So choose tai chi instructors that you like and make you feel good while you’re learning.

Tai chi can be very rewarding, so choosing the right teacher is important. Check how committed you are to tai chi, check your local area for teachers, find out about their qualifications and approach, and make sure you will have fun with your new teacher.


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Qi Awareness

By Sorcha Hegarty

 

We’ve talked about qi, and we’ve talked about the dantians, but when it all comes down to it, how does that relate to you, and your tai chi practice? What does qi feel like?

 

The answer is a little bit like trying to describe what the colour red looks like to a blind woman. You might use a lot of words, but seeing red is an experience that resists easy description. Similarly, the feeling of qi in your body is an experience, and one that can vary widely in how it presents itself.

 

While I can’t tell you exactly what qi might feel like for you, I can tell you what to watch out for, and what to focus on, to increase your awareness of qi.

 

Tai chi symbol

 

People may experience qi sensations without being aware that this is what they’re feeling; when we don’t have the words to describe something, we tend to put it to the backs of our minds and forget about it. So how do you know that what you’re feeling is qi?

 

Because the tai chi and qi gong stance was developed for qi cultivation, sensations may arise while we are in the stance. Most people feel something, maybe tingling or itching, in their hands or fingers to begin with, others notice an odd smell or see colours with their eyes closed. Some feel the temperature changing – either hot or cold. If you notice something like this, you can determine whether it’s a physical sensation or a qi sensation by deliberately dropping your focus. If the sensation fades, then you know what you were feeling was qi, and you know what to look out for the next time.

 

For me, qi sensation first manifested as heat. While standing, I would get uncomfortably hot, but almost as soon as we started moving again, my body temperature would drop back to normal. I knew that what I was feeling was energy, because there was nothing external to explain that rise and drop in temperature, and no one else was feeling it. After a while, I started to be able to keep centred during silk reeling movements, and that’s when the feeling moved to my hands and arms. It was if the air thickened and became viscous, almost solid. It pushed back against my hands when I moved them. This was a huge help in my tai chi practice; the path of least resistance through the air guided my movements.

 

Remember that feeling the qi is not necessary for there to be a positive effect from tai chi, and moreover, it is not an indication of skill in tai chi or qi gong by itself. People can have a stronger awareness of qi when they are ill or in poor health, for example, and that’s certainly not what we want to aim for! Cultivating qi awareness can be a guide and a help in your practice, but it does not need to be the focus.

 

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2013


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Are you in the right class?

As our house of movement grows, new qi gong and tai chi classes are added, so please read carefully to make sure that you are in the class that brings most benefits to you. At the moment, I run 3 different types of classes: tai chi 11 form, health qigong Mawangdui, and qi gong & meditation.

You want to go to a tai chi class, but…. have you considered qi gong? Read more…

TAI CHI versus QI GONG

Most of you start coming to tai chi classes to improve your general well-being. Some of you have done a martial art in the past (karate, taekwondo…) and are looking for something similar. Some of you do not really mind about fighting or martial applications. You just saw the movements, loved them and wish to move in such a gentle way. Some of you have an illness or physical/psychical condition that you suffer in silence, and you hope to be helped by these ancient practices.

11form

To the first group, I’d recommend my tai chi classes and attending Master Liming Yue regular tai chi workshops in Dublin. To the second group, I’d advice to check both tai chi and health qi gong classes. Both tai chi and qi gong exercises are gentle and beautiful, but while tai chi is based on martial applications, qi gong is based on animal movements and other aspects of nature and it has a strong link to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

 Bird

To the third group I’d say to check out qi gong classes before making up your minds, and choose according to what you love. At times, illness is the way that our bodies has to communicate with our minds. Any of my classes is good to practice “listening to our bodies”. Some qi gong exercises can be particularly beneficial for certain conditions, but they need to be practised regularly, so qi gong classes may be the best for this group, depending on the condition.


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Dantian: The Powerhouse

By Sorcha Hegarty

In the last article, Qi – Small Word, Big Concept, we talked about qi, the life force and vital energy that underpins the basis for tai chi and qi gong practices. Qi comes in many forms, and is stored in the body in the dantians.

Dan_tiansThere are three main dantians in the body: the Shang Dantian in the forehead, connected with consciousness and spirit, the Zhong Dantian at heart level, is where the Gu Qi (from the food and drink we consume) and Kong Qi (from the air we breathe) mix together into a form that the body can use, and the lower Xia Dantian, about three fingers below the navel, is where the acquired qi is combined with the Yuan Qi (the life essence inherited from our parents) to form True Qi.

Usually, in tai chi and qi gong, when someone mentions the dantian, it’s the Xia Dantian that they’re referring to. This is also known as the “golden stove” of the body, and in terms of cultivating qi, it’s the most important one to focus on.

In purely physical terms, the Xia Dantian is located three thumb-widths below the navel, and about two thumb-widths in. This is the human body’s centre of gravity. When we’re moving, fighting and trying to keep our balance, focusing on moving from this point and maintaining an awareness of the centre of gravity helps keep us stabilized, and makes it harder for an opponent to unbalance us.

The dantian is so important to qi, though, that the emphasis on it goes far beyond the fact that it’s the centre of gravity. The lower dantian is the body’s powerhouse – where all the vital energy is stored. When we focus on the dantian in meditation, breathing, standing, and during the movements of tai chi and qi gong, it doesn’t just keep us physically rooted. Cultivating a strong store of qi helps keep us emotionally grounded throughout our lives. It’s very easy to be derailed by other people’s stresses and dramas as we go through life. That sense of calm that we can feel during qi gong or meditation is quickly lost in the hustle and bustle. The dantian is like the roots of a tree, holding us steady against life’s buffets and blows.

In traditional Japanese culture, the dantian is called the “hara”, or belly, and masters of calligraphy or martial arts are said to be “acting from the hara” – what we might call being “in the zone”.

LeafTai chi emphasises being both hard and soft: being strong and flexible at the same time. Think of a tree with deep roots and very flexible branches: the branches can move freely, responding to whatever the wind blows their way, but the connection with the ground is never lost: the tree stays firmly placed and strong, bending but not breaking. Energy follows attention, so keep your mind on your dantian, and watch your qi grow.

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2013


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How to choose the right qi gong class?

Classes at House of Movement

 

As our house of movement grows, new tai chi and qi gong classes are added to the main ones, so please read carefully to make sure that you are in the class that brings most benefits to you. At the moment, 3 different types of classes are run: tai chi 11 form, health qigong Mawangdui, and qi gong & meditation.

 

You want to go to a qi gong class, but….

What QIGONG class?

At the moment, there are two options: Mawangdui qi gong and qi gong & meditation classes.

Drawing a bow

The Mawangdui qi gong set is a beautiful sequence of 12 qigong movements, each one of them focusing on a particular meridian in the body. Each movement is beneficial for that meridian, but is also linked to other meridians and acupoints. Some of the benefits will be explained in both qi gong class. Some of the movements need some time to be learnt, and may be challenging as we are often prone to push ourselves too hard. It may take time to relax and only move as our body feels comfortable moving. In time, we’ll get less explanations and more practice and it will be easier to relax. Mawangdui qigong movements are so special and delicate that they are worth waiting for.

450px-A_Buddha_Toy

If you like simple, easy-to-learn qi gong movements, based mainly on the breath, and wish to enter into a meditative state most of the class, the qi gong & meditation classes may be what you’re looking for. The easiest qi gong exercises from different health qigong sets are selected to enter into a meditative state while moving, sort of a moving meditation, and then we’ll explore still meditation. If you went to meditation classes in the past, and would like to meditate but find it difficult to sit still for a long time, starting a practice of simple qi gong exercises may be a gentle way to get into it.

 

House of movement allows you to move in different ways, from the warrior mind set of the tai chi classes to the calm meditator mind set, and exploring some qi gong exercises based on animals and nature.


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Tai Chi for Sceptics

When people talk about tai chi, they often use words like “qi” and “dantian”, or terms like “meridian lines” or “energy flow”. It can all be a bit confounding, really, and it can arouse your inner sceptic. But don’t let unfamiliar terminology put you off taking a closer look at tai chi.

Acupuncture_chart_300pxTai chi started out over 350 years ago, in a village called Chen in Henan Province, China. It began as a martial art practice, developed in line with the teachings of Chinese Medicine. Today in the West, the martial aspect has mostly been eclipsed by the health benefits of tai chi. Chen-style tai chi, the kind practiced in House of Movement, is the closest of the five main schools to tai chi’s martial roots, which you will learn about in tai chi classes.

In Chinese medicine, the explanation for why tai chi works to promote health has to do with the same principle that underlies acupuncture. Put simply, qi, or energy, flows around the body, through channels called meridian lines. When the flow of qi is disrupted or blocked, illness occurs. Tai chi works to unblock the qi and get it flowing again, thus treating and preventing many medical conditions.  Now, Western medicine does not yet have an explanation for tai chi’s health benefits. Some researchers believe that the fascia network (the connective tissue surrounding muscles, bone and blood vessels) provides an anatomical explanation for the Chinese meridian lines. Doctors and researchers are working on it because the fact that tai chi does have health benefits is beyond question. Numerous studies have proven the benefits of tai chi practice.

So what might it be? First and foremost, tai chi is wonderful exercise. It’s gentle enough that almost anyone can do it, movements can be modified for beginners or people with disabilities, and it can be adapted to any fitness level. The warm-up movements at the beginning of tai chi classes improve flexibility, and the slow, free-arm motions and lowered stance strengthen the muscles of the core, arms and legs.

Focus on the body and concentration on breath and movement brings the mind into a calm, meditative state, where there is little room for the mental chatter that takes up so much of our lives, and leaves us stressed and exhausted. Indeed, this may be why tai chi practice has been proven to be so effective in reducing stress. Stress has such a detrimental effect on both our physical and mental health, that this alone would be a good reason to give tai chi classes a go! But tai chi has also been proven to be an effective complimentary therapy for chronic pain, gout, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, osteoarthritis and sleep disorders, to name but a few.

Regular tai chi practice can make a huge difference in your life, improving physical fitness, promoting mental health and laying the foundations for a calmer, more in-tune version of you. So whether you’re interested in improving your fitness, getting your stress levels under control, or just experiencing a different kind of exercise class, tai chi classes with House of Movement could be just what you’re looking for.

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2013


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Qi gong – Life force in motion

I’ve been trying to write a post about qi gong for a long time because I love qi gong. I discovered it by chance while doing tai chi, as one of my teachers introduced it in his classes as a separate element of training. I love the qi gong movements so much that I would like everyone to have a taste, to experience them, to love them, as I do. And the pressure of wanting to impress you makes the writing tough.

Qi gong is usually translated as “energy work”. Hardly a good translation of these concepts because in Chinese philosophy ‘qi’ and ‘gong’ mean much more than what you probably understand by ‘energy work’. ‘Qi’ is one of the basic energies which circulate through our bodies according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is sometimes referred to as vital energy or life force. ‘Gong’ is practice, training, or something that takes time to master. Qi gong requires continous practice and it consists of gentle exercises which can balance your qi levels.

Qi gong is composed of three elements: physical exercises, breathing, and attention to the movements. You need to bring your mind’s attention to your body while keeping a natural breathing pattern, and making your body move in a specific way. Generally, qi gong movements are repetitive, so they can be learnt faster than a tai chi sequence.

Qi gong is very popular in China because it can be done by people of different ages and physical conditions. It is gentle with the body, following your natural rhythm. Once you learn the precise structure and become more relaxed while doing the exercises, you will start feeling the ‘qi’ energy in your body. It will manifest as warmth, tingling, or other sensations.

Qi gong is an important part of traditional Chinese medicine, both as a preventative and as a healing method, as some of the qi gong movements help unblock the energy blocks in the meridians.  Have a look at this article for more info. I could not write it better: http://www.beyondhuman.com/qigong-healingpower1.html

Enough words now! I was probably lacking words in my earlier attempts to explain qi gong because qi gong needs to be experienced. If you wish to have a taste, check the timetables for qi gong classes or look for a teacher near you.


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Why do I do tai chi ?

Recently, I was reading the article “Why do you practice tai chi” in Patience tai chi. And it got me to start asking myself questions. I am prone to self-enquiry as it is, so a new door was opening for me: what was the reason for my tai chi practice? Believe me, the moment I started to ask myself that question, I had no idea. And I bet you I still have no idea. But my mind looks for certainty, so it’s telling me a few stories about the reasons for my tai chi practice, and they seem to be quite reasonable and convincing. Here is what my mind says:

It is good for your health. Your lower back pains are over.

It is cheaper than a GP visit every second month.

You take responsibility for your health, so you are the boss.

You meet beautiful & relaxed people.

You are becoming a beautiful and relaxed person.

Your skin feels softer than ever.

Your brain functions better and your concentration has improved.

You have more energy for the numberless things you are interested in.

Your mood has improved so you always feel like doing all of those things.

You don’t get as angry as you used to, and laugh more often.

The chi feels better that a surge of adrenaline.

It actually feels so good that you don’t want to stop practising.

You feel more grounded, as if you had roots, and that gives you a sense of belonging.

You feel spiritually connected to the world.

Obviously, if my heart was to speak, only one line would be enough to answer what reasons I have for my tai chi practice:

I practice tai chi because I love it!


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Who can do tai chi?

Some of you email or ring me concerned about being unfit, too old, or having a condition that may prevent you from doing tai chi. Here is an example of common questions:

- I am pregnant, can I do tai chi?

- I am over 60, can I go to your classes?

- I had an injury in my hip years ago, is it ok to do tai chi?

As a quick answer to above questions, here are some articles which may interest you: Tai chi during pregnancyTai chi & old ageMedical research on tai chi & health. Many pregnant women do tai chi, many over 60s or 70s do tai chi, many people with previous injuries or different conditions do tai chi, so I guess the general answer to the question ‘Who can do tai chi’ is: Practically everyone.

Now, having said that, each body is different, so you need to figure out if it is ok for you too. In fact, one of the first things you need to learn in a tai chi class is how to become more in tune with your body in order to feel the benefits of tai chi. Depending on your condition, you may need to avoid certain exercises (e.g. particular warm-ups). If this is the case, just don’t do the exercise. If in doubt, I would advise you to check with your doctor.

So who can do tai chi? You can. Check it out and see it for yourself!

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