Taiji – the art of doing nothing

L is for Learn, the second letter in the word CLANGER in Phil Hammond’s acrostic:  

  • Connect
  • Learn
  • (be) Active
  • Notice
  • Give Back
  • Eat Well
  • Relax and
  • Sleep 

C for Connect was the theme of January Autumn Voices blog and now Learn is the theme for February. Learning taiji has been a life-long endless passion of mine. I’ve been teaching taiji for over forty years and I’m still learning new practices. For those of us getting older, it is reassuring to know that learning new skills grows new brain cells. Try brushing your teeth or lifting a kettle for a month with your non-dominant hand – new synapses in your brain will begin to grow.  

To learn taiji, it takes practice, practice, practice and more practice. But the Chinese don’t use that word – they don’t practice taiji, they play taiji. This month I’m offering an introduction to taiji and qikong (there are many different spellings for these two words). Each week I will include short films summarising the daily practices – which you can think of as ‘playtime’ –  to learn and do at home or, even better, outside (weather permitting). You are also welcome to join my pre-lunch drop-in class on Zoom on Tuesday mornings from 11:30am to 12:30pm – it is recommended to play taiji on an empty or nearly empty tummy:

You are invited to a Zoom meeting. Taiji for Beginners
When: Tuesdays 11:30 AM

Register in advance for this meeting:
https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIvcO2przIvHNwA5dT8lg2zzQSKc7EgMZFR

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the class and you can drop-in to any or all the classes in February.

This is a 28-day ‘learn taiji’ challenge with a new set of exercises to practice/play every day for a week. Before you start, it is important that you abide by the fundamental ‘rules’ for beginners:

Dragon Spring Living Taiji & Qigong
Fundamental ‘Rules’ for beginners

No Struggling
No Straining
No Reaching
No Stretching
Don’t Do anything

Struggling happens when you ask too much of yourself, when there is conflict between what you want and what is realistically possible.

Straining happens when you stop listening/feeling what you are capable of, thereby creating pain and possible injury.

Reaching happens when you see others achieving more and you begin to compete with them. 

Stretching happens when you apply too much force and your strength or power weakens, becoming thinner or ‘stretched’. 

Don’t Do anything means seeing what is required, having a clear intention to move towards your goal, applying just enough effort to begin and allowing it to reach its full potential within the limitations of your ability. 

Fully Experience your human being-ness, let go of your human doing-ness.

Fundamental ‘Rules’ for beginners and what they mean…

Essentially these ‘rules’ use different words to say the same thing: feel for and stay within your ‘Soft Limit’. This way the body remains soft and becomes more flexible and supple, which in turn creates an inner ‘elastic’ strength based on energy rather than muscle and is achieved through true relaxation.

These ‘rules’ were written by my taiji brother Alec Jones (published here with his permission), and you can find more information on his website: https://www.dragonspringtaiji.co.uk/ and you can join Dragon Spring for a small annual fee and have access to many forms of taiji/qikong practices.

ATTENTION

The first practice is simply called attention. Why attention? Attention is such a critical capability of human beings that philosophers have reminded us that we are our attention. What I pay attention to is who I am. If I pay attention to the stress and the strain of my everyday life at home or at work, I will be creating a mind that gives birth to a stressed and strained person. If I pay attention to my advancement and growth and learning, then I become a more satisfied and balanced human being. 

Paying attention is not easy and most people don’t do it very often. To pay attention, a person has to have thoughts instead of the thoughts having him or her. As most of us drift through each day, our thoughts are automatic and impulsive.

Paying attention is a learned skill, one that takes practice. It requires a necessary ability to step back mentally and observe what your mind is doing, to observe as an ‘impartial spectator’; your thoughts, feelings, preferences and moods.

Many of the clues to feelings and preferences and moods are available from within the body. Taiji and qikong are practices that increases our capacity for attention.

Here is the film to guide your through this practice:


SELF-HEALING MASSAGE

The second practice for the first week is called a self-healing massage. Some of my students prefer the name ‘body M.O.T’ and the recommended sequence is below. I prefer to start with anywhere in my body which feels tight, uncomfortable or sore, and gradually include the rest of my body. The theory in Chinese medicine is that most disease is caused by congestion – a blockage of energy – and the purpose of taiji is to create flow. Palming your eyes, unwrinkling and circling your ears, vibrato all over your face like a cello player, continue gently tapping all parts of your body – down the insides of your arms, up the outside, up the front on belly and chest, down the back on either side of the spine, down the outsides of your legs and up the insides. Give more attention to your own unique areas of stress.

Here’s the link to the guided practice film: 


SELF MASSAGE… DO IN

(Repeat each movement at least three times)

1. Rub hands together till they feel warm (above the head it will strengthen the heart).

2. Make loose wrists and fists; tap all over head and down the back of neck. Massage the scalp from forehead to neck (it lightens the head – makes the thinking sharper).

3. Working on the face, rub forehead with three middle fingertips. Massage temples in a circular motion 9 times both ways (it reduces headaches front and temples).
– Pinch eyebrows with thumb and index finger from centre to outside of brows.
– Massage the eyebrows gently: circle with 2 fingers 9 times both ways and press with 2 fingers under eye socket. Warm hands and cover eyes. (This will remove stress from the vital organs – the eyes are the window of the spirit and the opening of the liver).
– Massage the nose gently. Using side of index finger, rub up and down the side of the nose till you feel warm and breathe deeply. Squeeze nostrils – force air in then exhale 9 times.
– Massage upper and lower gums – use fingertips.
– Massage under cheek bones – use fingertips.
– Massage under jawbone using thumbs – up to the ears. Rotate jaw and massage gums with tongue (clean tongue strengthens organs, especially the heart).

4. Massage the ears:  
– Rotate, pull and flick off top of ears.
– Rotate, pull and flick off middle of ears.
– Pull down on ear lobes.
– Rub front and back of ear with fingers in a V shape.
– ‘Umm’ the ear three times.
– Cover ear with one palm and tap on top with the other palm (it stimulates the nervous system)

5. Massage the neck using one hand, then the other – put head back to relax it. Wipe front neck from chin to base 6 times. (The seat of the thyroid and parathyroid glands – courage and speech – it will increase the body’s metabolism). Rotate neck.

6. Hold out left arm – support under elbow with right hand.
– Tap with loose fist over right shoulder.
– Tap down inside of right arm and up the outside of the right arm.
– Rotate thumb and each finger, pull and flick off. Squeeze base of nail.
– Shake out right arm. (Repeat same process on left arm).

7. Detoxifying organs and glands.
– Lightly slapping and tapping over the organs and glands helps to shock the toxic sediment and increase circulation and chi flow to these areas.
– Thymus Gland – controls the immune system.
– Make a fist, inhale, thump gently down the middle of upper chest from collar bone to nipples 9 times. (Do not talk in the process). ‘Gorilla Sound’ – lungs and heart.
– Tap gently whole chest area clockwise.
– Rub back and forth over liver, stomach and spleen. ‘Wood Chopper’ – liver. 

8. Massage abdominal area in a clockwise direction. Tap up the right side of abdomen, across top (below rib cage) and down left side of abdomen to stimulate the large intestine. Smooth off stomach in clockwise direction.

9. Bend forward, legs bent.
– Tap down either side of spine.
– Tap on base of spine (sacrum).
– Tap on buttocks.

10. Tap down outside of legs.
– Tap down back of legs.
– Tap up inside of legs.
– Tap up front of legs. 
– Brush off towards the feet.

11. Tap the kidney area (it will help to shake loose the sediment, crystals, uric acid that got caught in it) 

12. Place hands back on abdomen. Breathe deeply with long slow out breaths. Feel the flow of energy in the body


CIRCLING JOINTS

Beginning with the head/neck, only semi circles with the neck in all directions, then slowly circle all the major joints in your body both directions. Move what you can and co-ordinate with your breath.  Move in all directions possible. The hips, for example, should be your most flexible complex of joints and can be circled in eight different directions

Here’s the link to Circling Joints: 


Tao-Te-Ching 76

We are born soft and supple;
dead, we are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding 
is a disciple of life.

The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.

I welcome comments and questions from people who engage with this 28-day challenge.

Larry Butler
playspacepublications@gmail.com

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