Chi-related disciplines can be done light-weight or heavy-weight. Shall we do it light or heavy? Most people will probably answer in a safe way: it depends on the conditions of a student. My contention is that: it should of course depends on the conditions (and also training objective) of a student. Yet the best approach is always to do it in a heavy-weight manner, relative to the conditions (and training objectives) of each student. Let me explain.
Recently I talked to a friend of mine who is the training manager in a multi-national corporation. She told me that the in-thing nowadays is a program called "Mindfulness". My readers might have noticed that I have written a post previously on the subject - after I watched a local TV news program featuring Mindfulness training in Hong Kong. Essentially Mindfulness is a light-weight meditation program (beautified with modern management lingo, and it is becoming more posh after Google management are onto it wholehearted, as was reported in the media). Mindfulness exercise was also featured in 60 minutes some time ago. The presenters and gurus (local and 60 alike) always focused much on the effectiveness of the program (to the much delight of would-be students) its ease of learning (i.e. light-weight), effectiveness being supported by research, academic and otherwise. And in this 60 minutes episode, the master stressed one point: It is not New Age! (as if New Age is bad) And most Mindfulness guys proudly present their art as "non-religious". It is an attitude, a mental elevation to the state of "being" (remind us of "Being and nothingness" of existentialism which is now arcane in most part of the intellectual world), it is not an additional task, but a state of being "outside all tasks", focus on the present, and there is mindful eating, mindful walking....etc etc. Sounds grand!
"Not a cult, but a revolution to Americans' well-being (...or something like that)" proclaimed an American politician and a student of Mindfulness!
A few years ago, I met an Aussie lady in Australia who told me that she had taken meditation lessons for more than three years. She told me loads of theories and benefits about meditation/mindfulness and its relation with modern psychology and physiology. After knowing that I am good at chi kung, she ventured to ask me whether I had ways to cure pains at her back and neck. I asked her to do her normal meditation pose for me to see. She sat down and rest her palms on her laps and she quickly got into a calm meditative state. After her mediation session (which lasted for 15 minutes), she told me that she felt relaxed and happy. And she told me that she could do it for an hour or more. Her mind was clearly engaged during her session, just like what I later observed on TV on those students of Mindfulness. I told her that she needed to add something more to her meditation: to actively engage her body with chi cultivation.
I taught her zhan zhuang. She got the feel of it quickly. After a ten minute session of zhan zhuang she told me that she had a completely new experience. She felt her whole body being engaged (without the need to mindfully asking her body to do). It all came so naturally, and she could feel chi filling her body. "Now I understand what is chi!" She was happy. I told her that with regular practice her body would be strengthened and could probably be free from pains, those pains had inconvenient her for many years.
The beauty is that with zhan zhuang engages both your body and mind, a student will not need to listen to initiating talks and reasoning of some guru who needs to be there to lead you in light-weight programs. In heavy-weight program, the most important teacher is your body, your body will teach you the inner details. The most important teacher being within, not outside.
In a future post, I shall talk about how middle-age and old-age students can practice tai chi and chi kung in a heavy-weight manner.
PS: Mindfulness in Chinese is 内觀, literally meaning inner observation. This is an essential requirement of all chi-related and meditative practices (in tai chi lingo it is called 聼勁, literally meaning listen to your internal power flow). Modern Mindfulness practice borrows this classic concept for their own light-weight disciplines. It is not bad, it is only light-weight.