Fundamentals of Chi Kung and T’ai Chi Ch’uan
For most people, there is a belief that the mind exists and resides in the head, in that place called the brain. The brain is believed to house cognitive thinking, the interpretation of what we see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and it performs all calculations. Is the brain the “mastermind” ? In a sense this may be true. It is however a very narrow perspective of this thing we call the mind. When you consider that the body also participates in communicating to the brain with gut feelings, nervous reactions, and instinctual hair raising fear, one can begin to broaden the understanding of what may be – constructs of the mind. For if it were true that the mind existed only in our brain, then our experience of life would only exist in our heads.
In teaching my students the meaning of what I am speaking of when I say the mind, I start with a simple exercise:
1. With your feet parallel and shoulder width apart, overlap your palms and place them on your lower abdominal area.
2. Put your mind where your hands are. In other words, feel where your hands are on your body. (If it helps, close your eyes.)
3. Now imagine your breath can also touch the area where your hands are placed. (Your lungs do not go down there, so do not use force – just imagine.)
4. After a period of time (about 1 minute), think (for 20 seconds or so) about what you may have to do later.
5. Then put your mind back to where your hands are on your body and breath.
Where did your mind go? Maybe it focused on your stomach as you began to think about eating; or you imagined going to a friend’s house; possibly an emotion came up when you remembered that you needed to have a serious talk with a family member. Thought, imagery, emotions, feelings, the body – all are a part of the mind. The entire body and everything that goes with it is the mind.
Mental logic, reflection, conception, imagination, hope, ideas, expectation, opinion, are all centered in the brain. Emotions may possibly be centered in the body, but are translated into thought consciousness by the thought process of the brain. One feels emotions, rather that thinks them. In most cases we conceive or realize that we may have a broken heart, or we are filled with joy, sadness, jealousy, anger, grief, sorrow, etc..
Thought is the main orchestrate of intent. It enables the individual to focus their intention and awareness. The main characteristic of thought that supports the intention and awareness is its ability to interpret, focus on, organize, and guide variables into information that becomes thought movement. This thought movement is then transformed into a quality of inherent consciousness. When ones intent becomes conscious, it is then transformed into an energy wave that can manifest in a physical or chi (energy) movement. Chi is often referred to as “Life Force” or energy. There are many different forms of chi. The Universe has chi, the Earth has it, and we have chi.
Chi Kung is the daily practice of working with one’s energy with the intention of balancing and integrating the mind, body, and spirit to prevent illness, stabilize the vital health of the body, and increase one’s longevity. This practice may take form in a type of physical exercise using movement, visualization, Earth and Universal energy (imaging it passing through the body), breathing techniques, meditation, Acupuncture, herbology, essentially anything that affects the body’s energy system. Chi Kung techniques can be specific to different the varying systems of the body. For example, one can practice a Chi Kung exercise that will primarily affect the skeletal, cardiovascular, viscera, respiratory, lymphatic, or nervous system. Permeating all of the Chi Kung techniques is the notion that all of existence are varying forms of synergistic chi.
T’ai Chi Ch’uan Form is often characterized as a “Meditation in Motion” or a dance of the Universe in miniature. The Form is constructed of individual postures that are strung together by transitional movement, performed in a continuos fashion. Performed slow and graceful, the practitioner has ample time to scan and reflect on relaxation while in motion. The most important aspects of concentration while doing the Form are: relaxation, the shifting of ones weight as if wading a stream, postural alignment, letting the waist guide the centripetal and centrifugal motion of the limbs, and continuity of motion. Moving in this way has a direct affect on all of the body’s systems simultaneously. Just think of what relaxation alone can do for ones health on the physical and mental level. You can then imagine, with daily practice, how this art may affect the general well-being and lifestyle of the practioner.
There are hundreds of individual Chi Kung exercises, a number of sets and forms, and different styles of Chi Kung. Most of these are performed in solo. T’ai Chi Ch’uan is a style of Chi Kung because it has a direct effect on ones chi through its relaxation technique. Although T’ai Chi Ch’uan is a derivative of Chi Kung it is uniquely an art form in and of itself. Its focal emphasizes of relaxation and concentration, brings together and balances the mind, body, and spirit; and because T’ai Chi Chuan is also a martial art, it enhances the individual’s intuition and protective prowess when under threat. It is far more a tonic for the general well-being of the individual than so specific as in Chi Kung. Unlike Chi Kung which primarily is performed solo, T’ai Chi Ch’uan has an interactive component (called Push Hands or San Shou) which explores how two forces should harmonize when they come together.
Concentration, focus, and intent, conscious or unconscious moves our energy or chi; guides it like a basketball to a hoop or like individual to their home. Through the practice of Chi Kung or T’ai Chi Ch’uan one can consciously engage their thinking mind with their body and spirit mind to become whole and aware of their being; while at the same time enrich their general well-being by being connected and mindful of how they feel, helping to prevent some illnesses and sustain ones vital energy.