A Journal
 
This section of the Site may informally provide a little information about West Devon Tai Chi how came into being ~ what it is doing ~ and where it may be heading 

Why Can’t I Get It?

posted 11 Sep 2019, 01:42 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 11 Sep 2019, 01:48 ]

This was a question I was asked in one of my classes and I am sure it is one that many frequently ask themselves. My answer was ‘don’t try to get it, just let it happen ’. From my own experience, we try way too hard to ‘get it’ and the mind plays a big part in overcoming this. The most important factor is to have the right way of thinking- check out my previous posting ‘All in the Mind’. I have witnessed all sorts of emotions in people on the journey and, usually it mirrors something about the type of person they are-perfectionists, egoistic, easily frustrated, anxious, impatient-the list could go on! Certain traits will make the learning more challenging, hence the words ‘letting go’ are often used.

As I have mentioned before there are no shortcuts in learning Taiji. The first step is to understand and manage basic body movements and this task is often painstaking and arduous for some, it all depends how you approach it-the mind again! The Taijiquan classics state ‘if one is persistent, eventually, he/she will achieve a breakthrough.’

I have just been reading a book ‘Illustrated Elements of Tai Chi’ by Angus Clark who founded the School of Living Movement based in Devon. I found it very inspiring and his words about practicing and learning Taiji are well worth sharing with you.

“Before making any plans to start tai chi it is essential to be convinced that it will be worth all the effort. The decision must not spring from a sense of duty (“I ought to get more exercise;” or ‘I really ought to do it for my health”) but from a yearning to give something to yourself, from an inner desire to learn tai chi. Practice must be something every learner looks forward to. It must never be enforced, never an activity that has to be stuck to because you have made a promise to yourself. A real desire to learn tai chi comes from deep inside, from self-love, a form of energy responsible for the well-being of body, mind, heart and soul. If you are really motivated, your commitment will work out because it is based on inspiration and not on discipline.”

Inspiration comes from within but it also helps if you can find a teacher/instructor that inspires you. Everyone has their own approach to teaching Taiji and you have to find a class that feels right for you. It is easy to blame the teacher if you are not progressing but it is worth remembering that, in most classes, the teacher is doing their best to work with a mixed range of abilities and it is tricky and challenging to keep everyone happy. If you find yourself questioning or getting frustrated with the way the class is taught then that is the time to look elsewhere.

Much of your learning has to come from outside of the class as well. Applying the basic body movements into your daily activities will help tremendously as will practising. Any time you find yourself waiting- kettle boiling, standing in a queue etc- do some movement whether it be shifting your weight from leg to leg, loosening the body and joints, doing a Taiji move; everything will help-‘ten minute heartfelt endeavour is better than an hour’s drudge.’ If you are struggling to ‘get it’ or you feel your progress is slow just remind yourself of the Aesop Fable- ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’. Who wins?

West Devon Tai Chi has been established four years this month and I give thanks, every day, that the classes keep on rolling and new faces are always walking through the door. It has, and continues to be, a real learning curve for me. Thank you all for your continuous support, kind words and inspiring me greatly on my Taiji journey.

Autumn Equinox Blessings to each and every one of you.

Mandy-Instructor

The Kua-What Is it? Where Is It?

posted 2 Aug 2019, 03:03 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 8 Aug 2019, 07:10 by Mandy Moor ]

Often a mystery for a long time, for beginners and some experienced practitioners, the kua does require some thought, attention and encouragement to release.  

The kua is the muscle on both sides at the inguinal crease; where the torso meets the legs. It can be seen as the central hub co-ordinating the upper and lower body. The muscles of the kua connect the legs to the spine-the iliopsoas muscle connects the lumbar vertebrae to the pelvis and femur (thigh bone), the adductors connect the pelvis to the femur. The springiness of the spine and legs is partially determined by the elasticity of the iliopsoas muscles.

The inguinal crease at the top of the legs is where the largest collection of lymph nodes in the body can be found. Lymph is a critical component of the body’s immune response system. Unlike blood, which is moved by the heart and vascular system, lymph is basically moved by muscular contractions. Nature is very wise-every time we walk or move our arms and legs, large lymph collectors (at the inguinal crease, or the armpits, for example) are activated, thus moving our lymph. Taiji simply increases this natural phenomenon, thereby strengthening a very important component of the immune system. Increasing the movement of the internal elements of the kua is one of the most significant and unique contributions to the health effects of Taiji and chi-enhancing body practises.

Relaxing or sinking the kua is a term frequently mentioned in Taiji practise. Through the relaxed (song) kua, together with the spiral turning of the waist, weight change in the lower body is smooth and the upper body is then able to take on a feeling of lightness. ‘Releasing’ gets you out of the habitual hip tension that prevails in our culture. It takes time for the kua to release, loosen and relax, due to tension in the body and lower back muscles being too tight. Forcing the kua to relax or sink causes more tension to be created. Continual work in progress for sure!

Everyone who attends my classes is well familiar with some form of squatting in whatever warm up routine we do. Squatting is an excellent way to begin stretching the muscles of the kua and developing flexibility. Being able to squat successfully improves hip, ankle and spinal mobility, stability and leg strength, and promotes healthy digestive and elimination functions. Any form of squatting can be challenging and, yet, with daily practice it becomes easier as the joints and spine get stronger, more mobile and more stable. A good practise is to squat to pick things off the floor or low shelves, or for lifting or putting down heavy objects. It is worth remembering that in reality squatting is a basic fundamental human movement rather than an ‘exercise’ to torture ourselves. There are many other exercises to help relax the kua and work in this area will help you reap the benefits in your Taiji practice and everyday life. 

'Happy Squatting’

Lammas blessings to you all

Mandy-Instructor

All in the Mind

posted 28 Jun 2019, 01:59 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 28 Jun 2019, 01:59 ]

 

'The mind bridges the vitality of the body and the spirit’

Getting to grips in one’s mind with the slow process of learning Taiji is a major factor that everyone, who takes the first step of this journey, has to accept from the outset. If not, negativity, frustration and an overwhelming sense that you will never ‘get it’ soon starts to creep in-sometimes as quickly as the first class! I have witnessed it so many times in classes I have attended over the years and, even more aware of it, having been running my own for 4 years now. In those early days of learning a teacher/instructor can be a great asset to keep you motivated but ultimately it is down to the individual. Taiji, like life, is a journey of self discovery.

It is not easy to drop into an established class but that is when a person’s mindset really plays a big part. Every class that I joined had already been up and running for quite a while but I just threw myself in and have never looked back. It was not until meeting Yuri and Ben that I fully understood, and appreciated, the depth of Taiji and I know that I have only just scratched the surface of the continual layers of each move. That alone keeps me motivated. I do my best to reassure people when they join a class that it does not matter where you start as the learning is a circle of continuous moves-when first starting Yuri’s classes I learnt the middle section first, the end and then the beginning of the form! Learning Taiji is mentally and physically challenging as most people soon find out and we just do it to the best of our ability, trying to eliminate our deviations on the way. As one gentleman said this week, “you never master Taiji as it never ends”. His mind has got to grips with it!

Workshops are a way of deepening your understanding and it is always nice to see so many people supporting them. It is great to have someone like Ben, whose knowledge and understanding spans many decades, lead these workshops. Again, you have to get the mind thinking differently-workshops are not the same as classes. Some people are put off by thinking we spend all that time doing Taiji but Ben has the gift of pacing the sessions so well-a gift of an excellent teacher. Get your mind round how very structured he is and you appreciate it even more! Thank you to all who came along to the last workshop-the feedback has been brilliant.

Summer Solstice blessings to you all

Mandy-Instructor

Learning with a Humble and Free Mind

posted 30 Apr 2019, 09:05 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 30 Apr 2019, 09:07 ]

 
As my Taiji journey progresses and I am very slowly gaining an understanding of this wonderful, intelligent art and its philosophy, am I fully beginning to appreciate the teachers/mentors that crossed my pathway in the early years. They all passed on great wisdom not only about Taiji but life in general. The one often foremost in my thoughts is Marcus Hayward, who I met in 1998 whilst living in Colchester, Essex. Just to observe Marcus walking down the street was a sight to behold-he just seemed to float along. Of course, I realise now that it appeared that way as he had minimal tension in his body! I recall him saying-“we need to go back to being like children again.” Never fully understood that comment in those early days but certainly do now as I observe Bella, my 3 year old granddaughter. Her natural movement has been, and still is, a joy to behold-her centre of gravity is centred and low, her squatting is perfect, there is no tension or stress in her body- and, to top it all, she has no ego! The disconcerting thing is we all had this freedom of movement but from an early age, probably once we started school and sat for longer periods of time, bad postures crept in that became, and still are for most of us, habitual. Marcus passed on many ‘pearls of wisdom’ in the 3 years I did Taiji and Reiki  with him, now 20 years later, they are helping me so much in my own practice.

I feel extremely fortunate in this part of my journey to be training, not only with Ben, but with Tom and Helen-Exeter Tai Chi. It is great to be able to experience and spend time training with all of them, as they each have something different to offer and tips to pass on from their own Taiji journey. In March, Tom and Helen spent 8 days training with Chen Ziqiang (nephew of Chen Xiaowang) and when I attended their April workshop they were able to pass on so much to help improve my own approach to learning and practising. The link below is a short video clip of the seminar they attended with Chen Ziqiang.


I have also found that when you come together at workshops there are always little tips or advice to pass on to each other. There is a great sense of being as one and nowhere for egos to take prominence. For me, Tai Chi is a very humbling experience, you learn so much from your mistakes and there is no place for the ego-you have to let it go. If you get an opportunity to learn and train with other teachers/instructors grab it; it is your own journey and everyone has some ‘pearls of wisdom’ to pass on.

Keep the mind humble and free so that it may remain receptive to good advice

( I Ching - Book of Changes )

Thank you all for your continuing support and kind words. Sharing and learning with you is a great experience for me, and as I often say- there would be no West Devon Tai Chi without you!

Happy Beltane blessings to you all.

Mandy-Instructor

Heavy Below, Light Above

posted 30 Mar 2019, 03:02 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 30 Mar 2019, 03:02 ]

 
“Engage the quads” are words that have stuck with most of us after last Saturday’s workshop with Ben and, boy, did we know it! There was a mix of people-a few having been on the journey for a year or more, others only a few months or weeks but, from the feedback, it was an inspiring and memorable workshop for everyone. All of Ben’s workshops have been really good but there was something about this one that topped them all. From warm ups, to the basics-standing and silk reeling, the form and the martial aspect -it all just flowed. As I have mentioned before, Ben’s gift of finding a perfect balance between the theory and practise is not something I have witnessed with any other teachers. He is very structured in his way of teaching, even to how he gets us spaced out into even rows! It can seem a little regimental at first but once you get over that you become completely absorbed in listening to him as he guides you through the method of learning Taiji and how the body has to move through the different stages of each move. The small tweaks and adjustments as we did the basics certainly engaged the quads and was a shock for some as he pulled their hips back and lowered them down. Standing for ten minutes as he made these corrections can feel like an eternity but as he said, “the legs are the bass guitar and the arms are the melody” - another wonderful analogy to help us understand the ‘heavy below, light above’ feeling. I often recall, when the classes in Bratton first started, asking one villager if she was going to try it. Her reply still makes me smile-“it is too delicate for me”. 

Professor Cheng Man Ch’ing was once asked, “When will my legs stop hurting?”

When your legs stop hurting, you have stopped improving,” was his answer.           

Thank you to everyone who came along and supported the workshop. Ten minutes standing mediation every day to engage the quads and calm the mind will benefit us all and be ‘a piece of cake’ when Ben returns in June. For me, roll on Sunday for five hours training with Ben in Bristol-I cannot wait! Spring Equinox blessings to you all.                

Mandy-Instructor

Initial Thoughts of a Novice Tai Chi Geek!

posted 22 Mar 2019, 07:54 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 30 Mar 2019, 03:03 ]

 
When Mandy initially suggested I pen something for this journal my reaction was to resist, journals are just too revealing. But after musing for a while my recurring thought was “why not?!” The experience of encountering even the initial stages of Tai Chi and Qi Gong have significantly affected my life, both physically and emotionally...

So, what have I learned over the past twelve months: well, it’s a great way to make friends and part of the reason sessions are so enjoyable is the wonderfully supportive atmosphere. I find this frees me mentally to enable the focus to be on the ‘mind half on the form and half empty’ and travelling to the rear of the head thing - still so demanding but the occasional moment of bliss can be achieved and trace memories of those rare and special times stay in my mind. I find being in the moment, excluding all else, can feed both the soul and the personality, affecting and benefiting all aspects of life through calmness and balance.

Secondly, it is fantastic to have found a form of exercise that doesn’t preclude me due to physical restrictions. Life experiences affect and alter the ways in which we’re able to use our bodies - this never crossed my mind in younger times, but now I’m reminded dozens of times each day. But now I’m learning to work with my body, using my limited knowledge to be confident and ambitious within those limitations. I've recently been up the loft ladder and been able to kneel down, both not achieved since my accident in 2004! Any Tai Chi movement can be adapted, I find it takes thought and time, generally because my ego gets in the way!

Thirdly, it is an absolute joy to attend sessions where the instructor is so committed to her task. I find Mandy’s dedication to her chosen path both admirable and inspiring, she is able to guide widely diverse groups of individuals towards a common goal. No one need feel self-conscious or inadequate, we are what we are, together to learn. I’ll take this opportunity to thank Mandy for what sheʼs giving me week by week, with all my heart.

Lastly, it’s not overemphasising it to say that Tai Chi is effecting my whole life, it weaves in and out of every days activities so that practice doesn’t become a matter for guilt that I haven’t been able to fit a session in. Now I’m becoming more mindful about my body use, Tai Chi moves apply everywhere, my partner is getting used to discovering me ‘in the zone and on task’ as he describes it (it was a good job he was on hand to remind me I would be moving forward the day I practised on the edge of Glebe Cliffs) and it’s the best way to empty a crowded sauna that I know!

So, here I am arriving home; calm, happy and at peace with the world...to find the beginnings of a boundary dispute with the neighbours, life eh!? Engage my learning...

May you all be ‘as rooted as a tree, as balanced as a cat, as powerful as a surging wave and as free as a soaring eagle’ (read that somewhere, no idea where),

                                       Jinny x   
Wishing you all Patient Growth.

Flowing in Movement

posted 31 Jan 2019, 10:11 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 30 Mar 2019, 03:03 ]

 
 Qigong (pronounced chee gong) is an ancient and comprehensive mind/body system similar to Taiji and sharing many of the same benefits but is simpler and easier to learn. It is the sibling of Taiji and they complement each other wonderfully. Qi means ‘breath’, and by extension it also denotes ‘energy’ and ‘vitality’. Gong is a general term meaning ‘work’, and is used in reference to any technique or skill that requires time and effort, patience and practice. It is an ancient exercise that helps revitalise your energy by practising gentle movements with deep breathing and mental focus (intention) to really help your root energy, your overall state of health and allowing your body to heal itself. It is based on good qi or energy circulation and the idea that when our energy is blocked that is when we feel sick, we don’t heal, we feel unwell and we cannot think clearly. So getting our ‘qi’ to move is the most important aspect of qigong practice. Most forms for qigong involve various degrees of gentle movement or stillness of the body, balanced with rhythmically regulated breathing, all quietly harmonized by a calm, unhurried and clearly focused mind. Soft, slow movement of the body prevents stiffness and stagnation.
 
‘Flowing water never stagnates, and the hinges of an active door never rust.
This is due to movement. The same principle applies to essence and energy. 
If the body does not move, essence does not flow.
When essence does not flow energy stagnates’ 
(Confucius 551BC-479BC

 As well as learning the Taiji basics and form, the classes are now focusing on going through some Qigong routines which may possibly lead on to a Qigong workshop this year-I am putting it out there so we will see! We have three workshops with Ben Milton to look forward to-23rd March, 15th June and 2nd November. A trial run of offering a morning only option will hopefully enable more people to come who cannot manage all day. As always, I am endeavouring to keep these workshops affordable for everyone so you all have an opportunity to experience Ben’s extensive knowledge and understanding of Taiji.

It is great to be back together again after the seasonal break and to see the enthusiasm has not waned. A very warm welcome to all the new people taking their first steps on the Taiji journey-keep with it and remember it is a journey that never ends!

Imbolc blessings to you all
Mandy-Instructor

Walk in Balance

posted 22 Dec 2018, 02:38 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 22 Dec 2018, 02:39 ]

 
 Balance, both outer and inner, is an ongoing process on the Taiji journey. More and more I observe people coming to the classes who are in a state of inner turmoil which never truly allows us to rest. This inner turmoil is the ego and only by passing over the personal dimension of the ego can equanimity and inner harmony come into being. Chen Xiaowang’s greatest quotes-‘half the mind on the form, half the mind empty’-is very challenging to achieve as the ego does not want to stop the relentless chatter that creates our thought patterns. The ego can certainly get in the way of learning Taiji and negativity can soon creep in when people realise that it is very challenging and frustrating at times. It teaches us so much about ourselves and eliminating the imbalances within us has to be the biggest lesson. To ‘walk in balance’ can be compared to a complete meditative wakefulness-harmonizing with nature and the laws of the universe and observing your life from a higher perspective.          
 
Learning the routine (form) is the ‘vehicle’ to finding balance-body,chi,emotions,anger,depression-to know yourself  (Chen Bing) 

The last class of the year at Bratton Clovelly fell very nicely on the Winter Solstice so I threw an invite out for a Taiji Solstice gathering earlier this month. Personally, I celebrate this more than Christmas so it was nice that so many were able to come along. A guest appearance from my dear friend, Adrian Brooks, who very kindly led us through a lovely meditation, was a tranquil closure to the classes for 2018.

Throughout the year there have been a few people drop out but also many new people join-it always seems to balance out somehow! To everyone, thank you for your continuous support of the classes and workshops throughout the year. There would be no West Devon Tai Chi without you! I am very much looking forward to continuing our Taiji journey in 2019.

Wishing you all a Happy Winter Solstice and a peaceful New Year

Mandy-Instructor

Roll With It

posted 8 Nov 2018, 09:22 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 8 Nov 2018, 09:26 ]

I am not much of a planner or a very organised person, as living in the now is a place that I endeavour to be most of the time. However, offering workshops to keen Tai Chi practitioners does involve some planning and organisational skills and, for the last two years, they have flowed really nicely up until last Saturday. On this occasion, Ben was all geared up to do his second workshop of the year and 19 of us were eagerly looking forward to a few hours of inspirational teaching. Rolling with it was put to the test that day though when Ben wife’s contacted me that morning to say he was really sick. With everyone arriving, I had two choices to send them away or step in myself. So with everyone being enthusiastic enough to stay we rolled with it!
 
Having just been up to Bristol the previous Sunday training with Ben, I focused on what I had picked up from that session; yet another understanding of relaxing the kwa or kua. This is the muscle on both sides at the inguinal crease at the top of the legs. Song Kwa-relaxing the kwa-is a term frequently mentioned in Taiji practice. The kwa facilitates coordinated upper and lower body movements. Through the relaxed kwa, together with the spiral turning of the waist, weight change in the lower body is smooth. Turning of the waist from left to right and the shifting of weight in the legs rely on the kwa being relaxed and loose. However, when the kwa are relaxed the weight burden on the legs increases! People often say to me-“I have strong legs”- but it soon becomes apparent that their concept of strong is totally different to the leg strength required for Taiji. Having done years of running I thought my legs were very strong but when Yuri introduced me to silk reeling, oh boy was I mistaken! Ben used the analogy of primary and secondary -primary being ‘off locking’ of the knees and secondary, relaxing the kwa-’sitting into your knickerline’-was a term Ben casually used, which has really stuck with me! Basically, you know when you have sat into it as you feel it in your thighs, they switch on! So, by doing standing mediation, silk reeling and the first few moves of the form we looked at relaxing the kwa. By the feedback afterwards it seems everyone had felt it in the legs-always a good sign you are getting the message across! 
 
Apart from being an intelligent system of exercise, the understanding of the underpinning philosophy can help one to grasp the fundamental aspect of the art. Like many ancient cultures, the Chinese philosophy is based on the concept of harmonizing with nature rather than dominating it in an effort to make it conform to human desires. One of the many things Taijiquan teaches us is to roll with changes, and what life guarantees us is that there will always be changes, positive and negative. It is the law of the universe, and the balance of yin and yang energies is always present.
 
Follow the rules, be flexable in applying them and remember,   

nothing is absolute
  (Chen Xiaoxing) 

Thank you to all who attended the workshop, for your support and words of encouragement, and so kindly donating towards the cost of the hall. Another date will be arranged for Ben, fingers crossed everyone will be able to come along but we will just roll with it!

Mandy-Instructor


Quiet Mind

posted 24 Oct 2018, 12:00 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 8 Nov 2018, 09:26 ]

The more I practise Taiji, the more I understand how important it is to find a way to quieten the mind. My daily Zhan Zhaung practise (standing meditation) can vary from day to day. It is all dependent on how long it takes to empty my head of the relentless thoughts. The mind just wants to chatter insanely! The other flip of the coin is the external distractions…can your mind be totally calm when your environment is noisy. Challenging indeed but something we continuously practise in Taiji. To remain in a calm and balanced state when everything around you is chaos is a must in today’s world.
 
Having just read Chen Taijiquan:  Masters and Methods by Davidine Siaw Voon Sim and David Gaffney - a book written over many decades interviewing some of the great Masters of Chen style - I would like to share one of the questions that was put to Chen Xiaoxing,  principal of the Chenjiagou  Taijiquan School and brother of Chen Xiaowang. 
 
Question: What state of mind should people have when they practise Taijiquan?
 
Chen XX:“Today’s society is very fast-paced with people experiencing pressures and demands from all sides, Consequently, many are looking for some form of activity that can ease the mind and allow them to pursue some form of self-expression. Taijiquan is ideal for this purpose. Taijiquan practise requires a calm state of mind that cannot be matched in any other type of exercise. It is a good form of aerobic exercise, while at the same time being extremely calm, slow and continuous. 
 
When training pay attention not to be disturbed by distractions. From the age of about thirteen to twenty, I trained with my eyes shut. In the beginning, I did this so I could shut out the distractions around me. By the time I was twenty it didn’t matter how chaotic the surroundings were; I would not be distracted, even with my eyes open. Although calmness is required while training, it does not mean the surroundings need to be quiet. Your mind should be quiet however noisy your surroundings. Because Taijiquan theory requires stillness within movement, it trains both internal and external aspects simultaneously. Externally, it trains the body; internally, it regulates the mental state. If we play a routine following all the requirements, then, even in the depths of winter, you will pour with sweat. Taijiquan is an excellent movement system for body sculpting, for maintaining a balanced state of mind, and for regulating the respiratory systems.” 

 
Taken from the same book are these words from Zhu Tiancai-“Possessing the ability to go into a quiet state is an integral part of practice. However, to be capable of truly being in a quiet state is dependent on the mind being free of anger, scheming, impatience, anxiety and other negative thoughts, directed either inward towards yourself or outward towards others.”
 
Reading these words really emphasised to me the importance of learning the skill to quieten the mind in all aspects of our Taiji practise. It is a vital tool for life and worth pursuing however challenging it may be. A Buddhist saying is=“our mind creates our world”. Our thoughts, if we let them, can create a reality that does not even exist! 
Your Biggest Opponent is Yourself (Chen Xiaoxing) 

To help us in our training of the mind, as well as the body, we see the welcome return of Ben Milton to Bratton Clovelly on Saturday, 3rd November. Some people have mentioned that a day workshop is too long for them so I have introduced the option of attending the morning only. Look forward to seeing you there-Ben’s wealth of knowledge and understanding will inspire us as always I am sure! 

Samhain blessings to you all
Mandy-Instructor


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