Sunday 30 November 2014


Several students have recenlty said, "I can't balance", almost ignoring the fact that it takes balance to walk, which they manage perfectly well. What they really mean is they can't easily stand on one leg without wobbling or feeling unsteady. Blanket statements like, “I can't balance”, only reinforce a negative belief whether it's actually true or not. As humans we do like to think our beliefs are true and that often means a resistance to letting them go so there's no room for change. In this case it's the thought process that's in the way of finding the possibility of balance.

Taijiquan is a method of training oneself in all aspects of balance. Physically we become more stable as we feel a deeper connection through our feet and carry less tension in the upper body. Emotionally we become more centred by feeling where we over extend or are pulled by a reactive mind. Mentally we become more present by resting in the physical sensations of the body (the body is always in the present).

So our practice includes the whole person, inside and out. How we think and how we respond to our thoughts are equally important in terms of balance. One of the best pieces of advise I've ever been given is, “Don't believe everything you think!”

Mental/Emotional Balance

There are many things that cause imbalance: fear, stress, excitement, etc. All of these states are mental or emotional, you can't actually see or touch them. Of course you can see the results of them, you can see how they affect people, but they are all internal, they only exist inside a person, they are all created by thoughts. For example, when someone says they are afraid of dogs, it's not necessarily an actual dog as they can still feel some level of fear even when there are no dogs near them. The fear is caused by the thought of what a dog might do, jump up at you or bite you, even though it's not actually happening. Stress is a form of fear or anxiety. I'm not talking about big traumatic life threatening situations that trigger fight or flight survival responses, rather the day to day thought patterns that take you into either thinking what might happen in a future situation, or remembering what happened in a past situation. Neither of these are real (because they are not happening right now) but they can still set off a stress response throwing you off balance mentally and/or emotionally.

Next time you feel stressed, ask yourself if it is real or are you just thinking yourself into stress. If it is real, is there something you can do about it? If it's just your thinking, and you can recognise that, then you can choose to think differently. Simple, but not necessarily easy. It takes the practise of awareness, observation, and honesty. The results are very worthwhile.

Physical Balance

If you can walk unaided but feel unstable when trying to stand on one leg, there are many possible causes... fear of falling for example, or maybe a deeper belief that was planted in childhood that you're clumsy/unsteady on your feet. It can also be a disconnection from spacial awareness – so the more you can feel where your body is in space and its structural alignment, the more stable you will feel.
Have you ever noticed how a table or chair with four legs needs a very flat even surface to be stable, but a stool with only three legs can be stable on practically any surface? We only have two feet, but within each foot there is the stability of a tripod. Try this exercise...

While standing, bring attention down into the feet and feel how they contact the ground. This means feeling the sensations of pressure on the soles as gravity draws your body weight down into earth. Let the feet soften, gently move the body to feel the 'spot' where the weight is evenly spread between the centre of the heel, the ball of the big toe, and the ball of the little toe. William Chen, one of Cheng Man Ching's senior students, called these three points 'The Three Nails'. These three points are like a tripod and you have two of them! When this becomes familiar try it with your weight mainly on just one leg by feelng the 'tripod' in one foot, making sure the body is vertically aligned through that foot with your centre of gravity lowered, then allow the other foot to begin to float slightly off the ground. As the foot rises, make sure your body alingment (spine/central axis) stays vertical so that gravity continues to pull down through your foot and not off to one side. With practise your awareness and confidence will increase and you can let the 'empty' foot float higher and higher without disturbing your balance.

Friday 8 August 2014

Melting Tension

When approaching a practice session it is good to have an intention to 'work' on something specific, even if that 'specific' is simply being generally relaxed. It is so easy to have the intention to 'do' relaxing which obviously comes from a tense or controlling place, the exact opposite of what you're hoping to become.

Most of our practises start with some kind of 'Attention' posture. Remember that it's called 'Attention' because it's about paying attention to how you are right now, and feeling what is in the way of being how you'd like to be. The key here is Feeling. So... make it your intention to Feel.

Practising Sinking or Rooting, for example, won't do anything at all unless you feel. We have to come at it from the inside and intend to drop deeper into feeling before Sinking or Rooting can begin to develop. You can think about Sinking or Rooting whilst lowering your weight/centre of gravity, but you won't have Sunk or Rooted, you'll just appear to be a bit shorter than you were a few seconds earlier. Any tensions will still be present and may have even increased!

Feeling the melting of tension internally allows you to Sink. So Sinking becomes the end result rather than the starting point.

Have a clear intention and feel what you're doing, feel for your goal from the inside.

Monday 13 January 2014

Visualising Martial Applications

There are many approaches to the practice of Taijiquan. Here are a few
  • relaxation
  • health exercise
  • confidence building
  • energy development
  • meditative movement
  • martial art
  • spiritual practice
  • self-defence

This article is a response to a question I was recently asked, “What or who do you think about when visualising martial applications in a Solo Form practise?”

There are two answers to this: One is physical, the other energetic. They can both be applied to any Form, whether empty hand or using a weapon.

1. Physical
When playing a Form it can be useful to visualise an opponent. This gives a certain degree of definition to the shape of each movement. At this level of practice I visualise an opponent of exactly the same shape and size as myself, in other words a replica of myself, so as not to distort my postures by over or under reaching.

The fact that it is an 'opponent' (something opposed to the move I'm making) can easily create unnecessary mental and/or physical tension, thereby giving an opportunity to deepen my conscious awareness. The more clearly I can visualise 'myself' as the opponent, the easier it is to see 'him' as the embodiment of my negativities/ego. Then each time I strike or cut I can visualise the ego becoming less, the negativities being chipped away. But this cannot be done with any kind of aggression as it would only create more tension and negativity. Intention and clarity need to be underpinned by the fundamental principles of calmness and relaxation. This way of practising in turn leads towards the second answer...

2. Energetic
This is a much deeper level of practice, more subtle, more internal, more meaningful, and more difficult to put into the written word.

At this level it's about ebb and flow, receive and reply, yin and yang (Taiji in action). Here I am creating an oncoming force through feeling rather than thinking. Unlike the Physical method where it's a visualised body or limb coming towards me, this is an energetic movement through the air, like a current moving through water only more subtly through the air. As the current comes close enough it will influence my energetic space (life-force field) and I allow that to stimulate a returning wave of energy that, in turn, moves my body into the next posture.

To feel this process requires a deeper level of relaxation which allows a softer focus of attention (receptive, yin), enabling a sharper focus of intention (active, yang).