HoM — Tai Chi

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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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The Tai Chi Sphere

By Sorcha Hegarty

Tai chi seems to be full of circles. We have already talked about the symbolic connection to the Taijitu symbol, but that seems rather an esoteric point for what is, fundamentally, a martial art. And yet, circular motions are at the heart of practicing tai chi. The circularity of the movements is there by design. Movements on a curved line are efficient, conserving energy, and if the curve is shortened suddenly, that energy is condensed into tremendous force. The ancient masters who developed tai chi knew what they were doing, and graceful as the form is, the martial application is never out of sight!

Tai chi symbol

Some tai chi teachers talk about the tai chi sphere. This is a way of visualizing your personal space, getting to grips with the way that qi extends beyond skin and bone, and understanding the underlying structure of the movements. When practicing tai chi, picture a sphere that extends down to the floor, resting on one spot, with its centre point at your centre of gravity (the dantian). This sphere moves with you, its outer surface is the reach of your arms, but it is symmetrical, extending above your head and behind your back where you can’t see.

Visualizing the sphere also draws you focus to which foot should carry the majority of your weight. In the form, aside from the opening and closing stances, there are few moments when the weight is evenly distributed on both legs. Usually, one leg bears at least a little bit more weight. A sphere only connects to the ground at one point, and so it’s ready to roll or bounce in any direction. Try to visualize the sphere moving with your weight, with the point that connect to the ground passing from left foot to right as you move through the form.

Sphere

Another property of a sphere is that the outside rotates, while the centre is still. When practicing tai chi, we know to try and let our movements flow from the dantian. A sphere also has a straight axis going right up through the middle. Let your spine become this straight axis. As you move your body through the tai chi form, it stays straight and relaxed, never bending or leaning, while the arms, legs and hips rotate around it. The centre is held straight while the movements in flow around it.

In combat between opponents, the tai chi sphere helps you to stay centred, and to find the best way to counter their movements: with the precision, balance, and “spring” of a sphere.

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2014


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Tai chi classes and qi gong starting next week

Alda of House of movement has been really busy training in Manchester, polishing the different forms that she knows, learning new things, liaising with other instructors to bring you further training, and finding the confidence to know that she can offer high standard tai chi classes in Dublin. Alda had to turn down a few students in the previous courses organized due to lack of spaces available, so now she has decided to open a new tai chi for beginners course.

The tai chi classes will run on a weekly basis every Wednesday evening at 8:30pm. Here are the details:

Wednesday Evening - Tai Chi 11 Form Classes - Book now!

Level: Tai chi for Beginners
Start Date: 19 February
Time: 20:30-21:30
Venue: Zephyr room, the Lantern Centre, 17 Synge St, Dublin 8 (free parking at the back)
Cost: €70 for 6 week course

For more details about the venue or other courses (including qi gong courses), click here.

QI GONG CLASSES

If you are more interested in qigong classes, there is a new course starting also on Wednesday at 7:15pm. Here are the details:

Wednesday Evening - Mawangdui Daoyin Shu Qigong - Book now!

Teaching: Draw a bow, Stretching the back, Wild duck swimming, Dragon flying

Level: All levels
Start Date:  Wednesday, 19 February 2014
Time: 19:15-20:15
Venue: Zephyr room, the Lantern Centre, Synge Street, Dublin 8
Cost: €70 for 6 weeks

More info here.


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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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Qi – Small Word, Big Concept

By Sorcha Hegarty

This bi-weekly series will focus on the basic principles of tai chi and qi gong, for beginners and experienced students alike who want to know more about the fascinating philosophy behind their practice.

The literal translation of qi is “breath”, but it’s more commonly translated to mean “energy”. This doesn’t just mean the kind of electrical or kinetic energy we learned about in Physics class – qi is the energy of life, and the universe.

bowl-of-steaming-riceThe idea developed over time in Chinese philosophy, starting with steam rising off a bowl of rice. There must be something in the rice, philosophers reasoned, that nourishes the human body – energy that is transferred from the food into the muscles and organs to sustain us. And we need more than food to survive: we need air and water too, at a bare minimum, so there must be the same vital energy in those things. In fact, there must be the same energy in everything around us – an energy that pervades and binds together the whole cosmos.

The name they gave this universal energy was qi, and it informs the underlying principles of tai chi and qigong. We’re born with a certain store of qi that we inherit from our parents: this is called Yuan Qi, and we can conserve it, but not replenish it. So, unfortunately, no matter how much tai chi and qigong we do, none of us will live forever – our Yuan Qi will eventually run out! In Traditional Chinese Medicine, this explains why some diseases are inherited, or why some people have a stronger constitution than others.

But there’s another kind of qi that we do have control over: Acquired Qi. We get Gu Qi from the food we eat – we all know that a diet based on fresh, unprocessed food will give us much more energy than one based on junk food. Kong Qi comes from the air we breathe, and the way we breathe it: spend a few minutes on deep breathing, and see if you notice an effect on your energy. The Gu and Kong Qi mix in the chest, and then combine with the Yuan Qi to form True Qi. This has a yin and a yang aspect: the yin aspect is called Nutritive Qi, and it flows through the meridians and nourishes the organs, and the yang aspect is called Defensive Qi. It goes to the surface of the body to warm it and forms a protective barrier against illnesses like colds.star-wars-yoda

If any of this sounds familiar to science fiction fans – it should. George Lucas based the Force in his Star Wars movies on qi!

Tai chi is what’s known as an internal martial art, which means that it focuses on building up qi rather than building up physiological strength. The idea is to strengthen the qi first, and then focus on the martial applications second. This is why tai chi incorporates qigong exercises. Quigong literally means “cultivation of qi”. The rhythmic breathing takes in extra Kong Qi, and the mental focus and physical movements get sluggish or blocked qi flowing again.

This is the reason that tai chi and qigong are considered to be such good practices for health and energy, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, they nourish our bodies with the energy of the cosmos.

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2013


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Body awareness

by Sorcha Hegarty

It’s surprising, how easy it is to ignore our bodies. You’d think that would be hard to do: there they are, after all, with us all through our lives. But did you know you can always see your nose? It’s true! No matter where you look, your nose is in your field of vision, and I bet you’re noticing it now. It just goes to show how efficient our minds are at “editing out” information.

 

Some of us are better at ignoring our bodies than others, but we all do it to some extent. We stay up late even though we’re tired, forget to eat when we’re hungry and then eat far past the point of fullness, and drink things we know we’ll regret in the morning. And then we punish our bodies for not being the right size or shape, putting them through crash diets and strenuous exercise regimes that can often do more harm than good.

Cuerpo

As we lose the connection with our bodies, we lose the connection with our health. Ignoring small signals like appetite or tiredness makes it easier to ignore more significant symptoms. Prolonged fatigue and stress leave our immune systems ravaged and wide open to colds and flus, especially at this time of year. With the winter months closing in, taking care of our bodies isn’t an indulgence: it’s a necessity.

 

Body awareness is a habit, and like any other habit, it takes practice in the beginning. Tai chi can help with this enormously, as it grounds us in body awareness and mindfulness. Each tai chi class sometimes includes a few minutes of standing. The instructor offers guidance so that students connect to their bodies, including checking different parts of the body, releasing tension stored in the muscles and really sinking into connection. Tai chi class also incorporates qui gong warmup exercises, which connect the movement of the body strongly with the breath. Silk reeling is an integral part of tai chi class, and the repetitive, slow, focused movements bring the mind and body into even deeper communication.

 

The graceful movements and meditative pace of tai chi lets us appreciate the wonderful things our bodies are capable of, and see our physical selves in a new and beautiful light.  Your body is your only home for the whole of your life, and taking care of it through tai chi will ensure it’s a home you’re happy with for many years!

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2013

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