YANG STYLE SHORT FORM T'AI CHI
As taught by Kevin Schoeninger, M.A.
T'ai Chi practice has many benefits: from relaxation and stress reduction, to releasing patterns of mental, emotional, and physical tension, to improving your health, energy, posture, balance, and mental clarity. T’ai Chi embodies graceful, grounded, centered, fluid, and mindful awareness. Ultimately, T’ai Chi can transform how you relate to yourself and others—and how you move through life.
It's important to identify why you've come to T'ai Chi so that you can focus your efforts to get the results you desire. Remembering your purpose for practicing T’ai Chi will also motivate you when you find challenges along the way. Take a moment to reflect on why you want to practice T'ai Chi . . .
This class requires your full attention and participation. It is fueled by your engagement, questions, and practice. As with anything valuable in life, you'll get out of it what you put into it.
THE YANG STYLE SHORT FORM
We will practice the Yang Style Short Form as adapted and taught by Professor Cheng Man-Ch'ing. Professor Cheng brought this form to the United States in the 1960s. He condensed this form from the Yang Style Long Form by eliminating some repetition and a few postures in order to make it more accessible to the lifestyle of the Western world. As you will discover when you learn the Short Form, it is challenging enough in its length and complexity.
T'ai Chi Ch'uan is an "internal" art which seeks to develop and harmonize the human energy system in the context of a martial arts form. In this class, we emphasize the relaxation, health, and personal growth aspects of T'ai Chi.
As a beginning, T'ai Chi enables you to recognize and actively release tension. This opens the way for you to develop balanced, free-flowing energy which creates the conditions for optimum health and well-being. T'ai Chi has been called moving meditation, since the slowness and internal focus quiets the mind. The deepening of awareness integrates body, emotions, mind, and spirit. Ultimately, T'ai Chi can be practiced as a comprehensive system of spiritual-development. When you are proficient at T’ai Chi you can use it as a tool to shift into a state of relaxed, present, calm and centered, yet energized awareness—what I call a Core Energy State.
In addition to these profound effects, T'ai Chi just plain feels good. Practice T'ai Chi with present moment awareness and pure enjoyment and the rest will take care of itself. Of course, to enjoy T'ai Chi you've got to do it consistently. The good feelings you have in T'ai Chi are developed through daily practice. To get started takes just a few minutes every day.
To guide you in your T'ai Chi practice, we focus on five principles:
THE FIVE PRINCIPLES
1) RELAX DOWN: release tension around all joints so they become open and free moving. Drop your shoulders; let your elbows hang loosely; release tension in the low back and hips so the buttocks and hip flexors are soft. Sink your energy. Feel as if your lower body is filled with water. This is balanced by
2) STAND UPRIGHT: raise the crown point of the head as if it's suspended on a string from above; let the spine rise straight from the coccyx to this point. Tuck your chin slightly releasing any tension in the back of the neck. Feel as if your upper body is filled with helium.
3) BREATHE FROM THE LOWER DANTIAN: focus your awareness inward and downward to the center of your body, the lower dantian (an energy center approximately three finger-widths below the navel and one third of the way from the front to the back of the body). Imagine this energy center as a heavy sphere in your lower abdomen. Its weight sinks down into your legs and feet. All movement is guided by the waist around this center.
In T'ai Chi, we keep awareness "centered" in the lower dantian. Whenever your mind wanders to any other thoughts, feelings, or sensations, let those go and gently return your attention to breathing from the lower dantian. As you inhale, feel as if the lower dantian expands and fills up. When you exhale, feel as if the lower dantian relaxes inward and empties out.
Awareness expands from the lower dantian to fill the body as a whole. Feel the connection from the lower dantian to the top of your head. Feel the connection from the lower dantian to the soles of your feet.
4) SOFTEN YOUR HANDS: release tension from your hands, so they are soft, light, flexible, and sensitive. Don't curl your fingers or overextend them. Maintain a neutral wrist position. "Soft hands" relaxes tension, enhances the flow of chi, and opens the way for sensing life-energy. Feel the connection of your hands to your lower dantian. The rotation of the lower dantian spirals out through the arms. Allow your hands to be soft and sensitive, like cotton, and feel the air like thick clouds around you. Allow your wrists and hands to feel like they are floating.
5) SINK INTO YOUR ROOT & SEPARATE YOUR WEIGHT: feel your feet contacting the ground; your weight distributes evenly across the entire surface of each foot. Maintain a slight knee bend. Sink your weight into the bubbling well points, your roots (in the middle of your feet, just behind the balls of your feet).
Except at the start and finish of the form (when your weight is 50% in each leg), separate your weight distribution between your feet, either 70%/30% or 100%/0%. Being rooted comes from the weighted rotation of the dantian that "screws" your legs into the ground. Another sensory image for "root and separate" is to feel as if your lower body is full of water. Gradually pour the water 100% into one leg while emptying the other leg, then vice-versa.
At first, practice the five principles as a checklist. In time, they will blend into one feeling that you can shift into with a moment's attention.
Beyond the five principles, the following cues are also essential to T'ai Chi practice:
*Roll the tip of your tongue up to touch the roof of your mouth.
In the Yang Style Short Form we practice the postures in the following order:
To progress in T'ai Chi, practice daily. Even ten minutes a day will grow your skills. If you become frustrated in what seems complex, remember the five principles; these are the heart of T'ai Chi.
After going through the five principles at the beginning of each session, a fruitful method for practice is to focus on one principle at a time. In the first stages of learning T'ai Chi, focus on the fifth principle, root & separate, and on feeling solid contact with the ground. This principle forms a solid base for the other four. In time, the five principles become one sensation, a feeling of rooted, relaxed, upright, soft, centered, energetic presence which is maintained by focusing on the lower dantian.
At the finish of your daily practice, stay in the last posture and hold it. Breathe into your body as a whole. Feel your body as a whole from the inside. Feel the entire space inside your skin. Take a few moments to record the feeling of relaxation, energy, and awareness in every cell so you can return to it at any time. You can then return to this feeling whenever you feel rushed, tense, stressed, anxious, unfocused, distracted, lethargic, or overwhelmed. . .
BEYOND THE MOVEMENTS
We will also work with Push Hands, or two person T'ai Chi. Push Hands develops your ability to follow T'ai Chi principles while interacting with another person. You increase your internal and external sensitivity and learn to feel and respond to another's energy while maintaining your own center. In Push Hands the strong connection between T'ai Chi and everyday interactions becomes clear.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
Master Cheng’s New Method of T'ai Chi Ch’uan Self Cultivation by Cheng Man-ch'ing
Cheng Tzu's Thirteen Treatises on T'ai Chi Ch'uan by Cheng Man-ch'ing
Essence of T'ai Chi Ch'uan by Benjamin Lo
There Are No Secrets by Wolfe Lowenthal
T'ai Chi Handbook by Herman Kauz
T’ai Chi Magazine and Product Catalog: www.tai-chi.com
Qi Journal and Product Catalog: www.qi-journal.com
Some great articles: www.silvertigertaichi.com
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