Monday, February 07, 2011

My journey into the world of Taiji

Towards the end of 2010 my own journey has taken on a slightly different path. I have now taken up Chen style Taiji despite my teacher's advice not to do so. I asked him one day what he thinks of the idea of I taking up Chen style Taiji. He said that I will be neither here nor there. I think he means that Taiji will have a contradictory effect on my zhineng qigong. He also said that I will not have sufficient time to practice both arts at the same time; leading to mastery of neither. His advice is reasonable and kept me from taking up Taiji for a while. I believe my teacher but intuitively I feel that Taiji will help me progress further in my objective of progressing further in my qigong work. Thus my decision to give it a try.

I started Chen style Taiji in November 9, 2010. First few lessons I find that Taiji is rather physical and see no reason why it should affect my qigong practice which is heavily biased towards mind work and introspection. Trying to remember all the steps is a tremendous challenge to a person like me who has advanced in age and therefore less agile mentally than a younger person. I almost gave up at some point but managed to persevere. Continued perseverence for three months, I am glad to say that now I am firmly into Chen style Taiji while maintaining my roots in zhineng qigong. After three months I am slowly beginning to find that Taiji can be practiced in just as relaxed a mental state as qigong.

Contrary to what my teacher as well as what many of my zhineng qigong colleagues has advised I find that Taiji is quite similar to xingshen zhuang (level II of zhineng qigong) in that both forms leads to unity of body and mind. In my opinion I think what Pang Laoshi has done is brilliant: He had managed to take out the essence (which is body and mind unity) from the complex art of Taiji into a series of simple forms known as xingshen zhuang.

In xingshen zhuang, the mind is trained to introspect by the very important eight verses. An accomplished practitioner of xingshen zhuang will be able to experience what it means by "head is heaven, feet is earth". On the other hand, Taiji requires deligent practice of the basic moves to enable the practitioner to be able to experience proper grounding of his feet. When proper grounding is achieved, the Taiji practitioner begins to 'feel' his lower dantian whereupon he will feel his body becoming even more relaxed as he executes the movements. Further grounding/relaxation leads to the feeling that all movements of Taiji originates from the lower dantian, a sign of achieving body-mind connection through qi.

In my own experience, the combination of xingshen zhuang and Taiji has helped me to achieve unity of body and mind much faster and with a more profound experience than I would have achieved if I were to rely on just zhineng qigong or more specifically on xingshen zhuang alone.

Does the above mean that my zhineng qigong teacher has given me the wrong advice? The answer is no. Prior to embarking on Taiji I had practiced zhineng qigong diligently for close to eight years and I have already grasped the essence of zhineng qigong: built up a store of internal qi through level I "peng qi guanding fa" and through xingshen zhuang (level II) achieved a certain level of awareness of mind-body connection. In other words I have already got the roots of qi and dantian awareness through zhineng qigong. With this foundation firmly established Taiji, which starts from physical movements to achieve muscle relaxation and eventual grounding of feet and dantian awareness (the exact opposite of the zhineng qigong approach) does not in any way affect my zhineng qigong practice.

It would have been different if I had been a beginner of zhineng qigong. I would be trying to use my mind to focus inward (introspect) while in Taiji I would be using physical movements to work my way inward. One art is more 'yin' biased while the other is more 'yang' biased - a direct contradiction to one another. A contradiction that a beginner would find hard to reconcile.

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