Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The positive and the negative aspect of any side effect in chi kung

In the practice of chi kung, the same side effect can be either positive or negative! A side effect that many literature talked about is "trapping of chi" in certain part of a practitioner's body. The general comment is that it is bad for the body and should be avoided; and it (unfortunately) affected a student of the art, a qualified coach is to be consulted. Dropping out the practice may end up to be the unavoidable final solution. And, if the trapped chi is inside one's head, it might lead to headaches or even trigger an onset of psychosis! Does it sound scary?!

Chi is powerful energy. When it is trapped in certain part of our body, it will try to "reach out" and to "neutralize" itself. The target of reaching out is another chi (or excited) point. In the most generalized situation, it will try to reach out to our stretched hands (and fingers). For seasoned practitioners it will reach out to their feet and stretched toes. For the most seasoned practitioners, it will reach to to any internal points energized by the practitioners themselves. In tai chi chi-kung it is our joints (that's why tai chi classics, opening our nine [meaning many or more] joints), plus our Dantian. In meditation, they are our chakras. In microcosmic circulation, it is our spine.

Now for practitioners who are progressing along their learning path (which incidentally include the most seasoned practitioners), there will be cases, such chi movements might be blocked. With a path is blocked with chi still coming along the way, chi will be highly concentrated in one point (or small area), making the practitioner very uncomfortable. It can be very scary when one experiences it the first time. This is the negative aspect of chi kung side effect. Some students will drop out when they encounter this.

Luckily there is a positive side. Trapped chi is really a challenge to a practitioner who aims high. With or without the help of his teaching, a courageous practitioner will try solution (suggested movements and/or focused points) advised by his teacher (such suggested solution is likely to be not enough because his teacher doesn't share the student's same internal sensation and without feedback to any progress. Only with feedback can a student further fine-tune his solution accordingly), in addition to that he will also need to try to improvise, and by trial and error, divert chi through the path that has been blocked.

His improvisation and trial and error methods, using his own body as his experimental subject, he will be able to make big progress in his practice - both opening the blockage and know his body far more. Courage and dedication to his art is essential. And only through such experience (there will be many, but will be getting more and more controllable), can a practitioner progress to the highest level and become a true master of the art himself. Chi kung is a sophisticated and complex internal discipline. Only masters who have gone through such experiences (and benefited from them) who are qualified to teach.

The above comes from my own experience: learning and teaching.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The myth of astral travel

"Astral travel" is a by-product of chi kung or meditative practice. It is also a myth. A myth in the sense that there is a far better explanation of the phenomenon than our soul travelling outside our body. My explanations come from my knowledge of psychology (I majored in psychology in University, with continual personal study of relevant subjects after graduation), my study of experiential writings of chi-kung and meditation practitioners (and those who have no practice experience but have astral travel experience, due to heredity, or special make of one's mind/body), my study of Taoist classics, my discussions with those friends of mine who have such experience, and last but not least my own empirical experience.

For certain special people, it comes naturally with vivid dreams or vivid imagery during their waking lives. For most people, such vivid dreams (or vivid imagery during meditation) comes from learned experience of deep meditation. The images (or experience) are always vivid. The person seemingly have logical thinking during such experience, so much so, the person sometimes can logically argue (and therefore convinced) that they are not in the waking stage but is in a different zone (whether it is vivid dream ("I am dreaming') or "out-of-body" experience ("my soul is traveling in different time/space") depends on the belief system of the person). Oftentimes, images can be remembered vividly after waken up. Some experience can be so vivid that details can be richer than what can be found in reality (for example, the image or personality of a friend can be in more details when compared with real life experience).  Such experience sometimes can be proved to be that it can help to solve everyday logical problems (not too surprising though, when people without such experience sometimes claim that after a good night sleep, difficult problems have been solved).

It is interesting to note that religiously minded meditators sometimes believe that such inner experience is more important (and sacred) than everyday experience. Not too surprisingly though, since when a devoted meditator meditates daily in secluded places, nothing interesting really happens around him. His vivid dreams draw rich and interesting resources from his past experience, including both conscious and unconscious, the latter including that, for whatever reasons, has been suppressed from his conscious thoughts.

As I said in the beginning, chi-kung and meditation practitioners can have such experience as a by-product. And as by-product goes, it should not be a major training objective of one's training. For me, it serves the purpose of an interesting psychological construct which can help me understanding myself better, in particular any suppressed unconscious thoughts that may surface to my consciousness during my vivid dreams. If a practitioner takes it light-heartedly, he will not become superstitious.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The three ways to do tai chi forms

Most people have heard about the three different ways to do tai chi forms: the square form, the round form and the fast form. The "general practitioners" usually only do the round form. For serious practitioners who use tai chi as the main, or only, system to do workout, understanding and practice of the three different forms are required. And here I am talking about serious training, through which a practitioner can reap full benefits - and therefore a practitioner will/can feel "strong workout/exercise effects" after his training session. Below is the theory behind these three forms, needless to say, actual learning and practice is a more complex matter and most likely will require the personal coaching of an experienced teacher.

Square form: in doing thee square form correctly, a student must carefully align his structure, in particular those joints responsible for the next movement (primarily shoulder and/or hip joints). Like shooting an arrow a slight movement to the opposite direction will be beneficial to initiate the movement.  The internal sensation is finding the points of maximum resistance while the objective is to open one's joints (and strengthen it at the same time). Analogy in Chinese calligraphy is 楷書 (regular script)。

Round form: This presupposes a prior training of square form. With prior proper joint opening/strengthening, round form aims at "rounding the angles in the joints" (as per points of joints being aligned during square form). The movements themselves will look simplified when compared to the square form. Without prior training in square form, round form will look structurally weak. With prior training in square form, the curved angle will have power to deliver a strong rounded structure. Analogy in Chinese calligraphy is 草書 (cursive script)。

Fast form: The fast form as it name suggested is to be executed (visually to an outsider) faster than both square and round forms. Prior training in square and round form is required. Its form is similar to round form but can be much more cursory and is practised in such a way that a sudden explosion of power while doing like the round form. The explosion of power is fast and quick. And the power comes from overcoming the internal resistance of our body (primarily our joints), and thereby trained our body's ability to externalize power with full-body connectedness. A practitioner here is free to choose which individual movements he wants to externalize his power for training purpose. 

The above is the gist of tai-chi's training method as in internal martial arts. It is an excellent way to improve our health and strength for people of any and all ages. Needless to say, full-contact combat training (conditioning side) has to include elements of external martial arts (for example, should include hitting a heavy bag for strengthening one's "points of contact" and building up the line of power transmission between the body and the "points of contact"). But the fact is that those who are interested in full-contact combat will most likely not be interested in tai chi, and those who are interested in tai chi will most likely not be interested in full-contact combat. As a result, the training of modern tai chi will be sufficient using the three different forms (square, round and fast) as far as the interest of students is concerned.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How to breathe in doing tai chi

How should we breathe when we do our tai chi form, of whichever lineage? The correct, but not so correct, answer is 'normal breathing'. Why not so correct? It is because we have to learn power breathing first before we can do proper tai chi form using normal breathing. And tai chi form has to be done using normal breathing that can have the effect of power breathing. If the above doesn't sound too strange to you, read on!

Before we can put down something we have to lift it up in the first place! It is essentially the same in the practice of tai chi. Tai chi is moving meditation. A student has to do it slowly with a meditation mind in a meditative zone. And only in a meditative zone can a student relaxes his joints and allow his breathing muscles to do their proper job, in addition to allowing inertia and the force of gravity to take part. Such meditative approach however will be ineffective without prior conditioning of one's body - or "lifting it up first".

How to train our body (or lift up our body)? There are two basic areas to be trained: the first one is opening one's shoulder and hip joints, our major joints, primarily using the method of "finding points maximum resistance", and the closely related second one is learning how to do power breathing.

I have explained the former in previous posts. Breathing needs more explanations here.

Firstly, tai chi breathing, when doing tai chi forms, requires a practitioner to be able to generate chi both while inhaling or exhaling. When a student can do it this way, he can forget about when to breathe in, when to breathe out; his simply needs to breathe as his movement flows.

Secondly, while breathing (inhaling and exhaling), our breathing muscles (primarily our diaphragm) must be able to open our joints (hence joint opening has to be/is being trained together with power breathing). Power breathing is like weight lifting. The weight to overcome here is the "sluggishness of our joints".

Thirdly, such power breathing has to be trained separately (with some prior joints opening training) and preferable with the personal guidance of a good teacher.

Traditionally, such training is to be done separately from tai chi form. And it is traditionally call tai chi nei-gong or tai chi chi-kung.

The training sequence should be: first tai chi chi-kung (both power breathing and joint opening), second tai chi form and finally tai chi chi-kung and tai chi form in sequence during a training session.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The concept of touch in coaching

In the internal arts, the most important things happened inside one's body. In training, it is the internal that affects the external. The primacy is in the internal, which however, cannot be observed! It creates a problem for the teacher.

The way to overcome it is through touch. In the modern world where teachers and students are treated as sellers and buyers, with limited emotional attachment (which in the past the relationship is more paternalistic, like master and disciples). Touch is, or can be, problematic, more so, for the opposite sex. So much so, nowadays some teachers do away with touch altogether. And so much so, some teachers have lost the skill of touch in their training repertoire (assuming that they have picked it up in the first place, apparently some of them never). 

In my opinion, the use of touch to gauge the internal chi of a student is an important training skill of a teacher of the internal arts. Reserving the technique in door is not a solution, because touch can be problematic in the modern world - for both teacher and student, and can create discomfort or misunderstanding in either side.

The correct approach is firstly do coaching in the open rather than in private. And secondly limit the touch to the arms (hands, elbows etc) and the shoulders. My experience is that limiting to these areas will be good enough, in most cases, for a good feel of a student's chi level and for the teacher to manage his/her student's chi accordingly. Should an external point force is needed to stimulate chi in a particular area, the use of an external object (wall, table or tennis ball against a hard surface) will be good enough. 

Needless to say the above is my personal opinion, different teachers might have their different approaches to the subject. As the old saying goes: the proof is in the pudding.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The primacy of finding resistance

If you ask me what is the most important training concept conducive to good progress in the internal arts, I will say it is the finding of internal resistance (in both the stationery form and the movement form). It is more obvious in the movement forms and less obvious in the stationery forms.

In the "external" arts, which include lifting weights in a gym and moving our body forward as in jogging. External resistance has to overcome in order that exercise effects can be felt and workout benefits can be obtained. In the internal arts, it is all about finding internal resistance to deliver the exercise effects. In the external form, an appropriate resistance has to be used (from light to heavy in lifting weights in a gym and from variation of speed and duration for jogging, still taking these two as examples). One major difference between external and internal: the amount of external resistance can be seen (or externally determined) while the amount of internal resistance requires a student to "experience internally" (made easier with the assistance of good teacher, but not essential for some students).

Hence, when you do your tai chi form (or tai chi chi-kung/nei-gong), if your internal sensation (and your overall workout effects) tells you that "it is so easy to do the movement", most likely you have not been able to find the appropriate amount of internal resistance. In the movement forms, internal resistance should primarily be found in the movement of your major joints (shoulder and hip/pelvic). When you cannot find it, your teacher will tell you to "relax and open" (Song 鬆). And he is right. If he is a good teacher, he will also warn you against, the other-side-of-the-coin, collapse (relax without open, 塌). And he is right again!

In stationery form (more so in seated than in standing) the issue of finding resistance is more difficult to teach and for the student to "feel" or "learn". The criteria of success though is easy to define. For example, if you do your microcosmic circulation (小周天), if you cannot feel a strong resistance in or around your spinal cord when you move your chi up, most likely you have not reached the state. Don't worry, practise more (preferably under the guidance of a good teacher). Likewise, when you are doing chakra opening of, say, opening your heart chakra, you cannot feel that there is a resistance working against such "trial opening", you still have a (long) way to go. Again, no worry, the process of "trial opening" is internal workout per se, provided that you are focused and alerted to finding just a tiny bit more of resistance, and trying to work against it, during each session of your practice.

How about the scenario that you completely fail to understand what I am talking about? Probably you have not passed the preliminary stage and you should spend more time in doing zhan zhuang and a few simple movement forms. Zhan zhaung is far better than seated meditation for beginners - needless to say, my personal opinion only.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Who are the readers of Taoist Meditation?

Have you been wondering who are the readers of Paul's Taoist meditation blog? The following is today's statistics provided by blogger.com, for the top ten:

United States
57%
United Kingdom 
11%
Ukraine
7%
Russia
7%
France
5%
Canada
4%
Germany
3%
Australia
2%
India
2%
Singapore
2%
100%

Obviously most readers came from English speaking countries. Notable exceptions are Ukraine(I didn't expect that!) Russia, France and Germany.
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