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 

Inspiration

posted 16 Jan 2020, 02:46 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 16 Jan 2020, 03:41 ]

Happy New Year everyone! Great to see you all getting back into the swing of the classes after the festive break. There was 24 at Lydford on Monday-most we have ever had there! 

Taiji is a wonderful and boundless journey and although it is important to find your own inspiration from within, sometimes inspiration from others, whether it be words or actions, can help us on the way. I was very inspired by an interview with Master Chen Bing and was going to pick out a couple of the questions to share with you but every answer he gave, to all the questions, were so inspiring and relevant to our learning that I decided to include them all. Here is a taster for you to check out, the rest are the video page of the website. 

Why would someone decide to start practising TaiChi?


I will be training with Ben on the 26th January at Bristol, so another day of inspiration as we explore the foundation exercises-Zhan Zhuang (standing meditation), Chan Si Jing (silk reeling)and the first part of the Laojia Yilu in the morning, Push Hands and Laojia Erlu training (cannon fist, a much faster routine!) in the afternoon. I am always buzzing with anticipation when one of Ben’s workshops draws near as another opportunity to pick up a ‘little gem’-maybe two or three this time! 

Last week, a gentleman said to me- ‘I see Taiji as a companion on my journey’-words that ring so true in my heart too. Looking forward to stepping further on the journey with you all in 2020.
Mandy-Instructor

Exercise to Calm the Body and Mind

posted 13 Dec 2019, 11:12 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 16 Jan 2020, 02:46 ]

When you stand, you are like a tree 

You are growing from within;

Your feet, like roots, draw power from the earth 

Your body, like the trunk, is perfectly aligned 

You are unmoving, strong 

Your head open to the heavens like the crown of the tree 

You rest calmly, the universe within your mind 

(Master Lam Kam Chuen)

Zhan Zhuang, is an ancient exercise developed in China. It is pronounced “Jan Jong”, and is best translated as “Standing like a Tree”. It is practised in a well-balanced standing posture, holding the arms in front of the body in a rounded position, which increases the flow of energy and builds up internal strength. It can also be done in sitting or lying positions. The standing posture greatly develops the strength of the legs and is the most fundamental exercise in Taiji. It builds up and releases an extraordinary flow of natural energy that is dormant within us. For most people, training in Zhan Zhuang is a complete surprise in the beginning. There are no recognisable external movements, although it is a highly energetic exercise system. In contrast to many other methods, it develops our internal energy in a very efficient way, instead of consuming it. The system is based on a unique fusion of relaxation and exertion which stimulates, cleanses and massages the whole body. When the legs are strong, then the upper body can relax and sink down into them, making the top more flexible. This seemingly simple exercise also improves postural alignment and balance, and develops acute body awareness, deeper breathing and a tranquil mind.

With regards to the importance of proper posture in Taiji, an old Chinese medical text states, ‘When posture is not proper, energy is not smooth; when energy is not smooth, mind is not stable’. Even the smallest point of posture can make a big difference in how smoothly the energy circulates through the body during practice, and this in turn determines how energy influences the mind. Conversely, if the mind is not stably balanced prior to practice, energy will not flow smoothly through the system, and this in turn will throw posture off balance. For most people, it’s much easier to start by balancing the body rather than the mind, therefore, establishing proper posture in the body is the first step. In Taiji and Qigong, posture is the foundation upon which a strong, stable practice is built.

For many of us, bad postures have simply become bad habits. Zhan Zhuang creates a state of being which helps to “unlearn” all these bad habits and to return to a natural, comfortable and healthy posture. In time, we become able to apply the structural principles in all the chores of our daily lives. Through the practise of Zhan Zhuang we are able to take advantage of our whole potential-physically, mentally and spiritually-without becoming exhausted. This is achieved in a completely natural way without the need for fighting ourselves. Enjoy the process and let your practise be your rest.

This photo of grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang, calmly waiting for the kettle to boil, was captured by a lady whose house he was staying at in Seattle. It really sums up what I say to everyone in my classes, - ‘practicing for 5 minutes here and there really pays off’.

Click image to Enlarge

As the classes draw to a close for 2019 I would like to thank you all for your fantastic support and enthusiasm throughout the year. It has been wonderful to see so many friendships being made through the learning and sharing of Taiji. Special thanks to Sally, Kerry and Garry for stepping up to help the groups of new people take the first steps on the journey-from the feedback received they appreciate it as much as I do! My thanks to Kerry for also keeping the website up and running.

Wishing you all a Happy Winter Solstice and peaceful New Year

Mandy-Instructor

Thanks a Million

posted 11 Nov 2019, 11:56 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 11 Nov 2019, 11:57 ]

My sincere thanks to all who attended Ben’s workshop. It was great to see so many stay for the whole day to enjoy his excellent teaching skills. Writing a few words is not enough justice to how beneficial these days are and if you have a desire to learn and further your understanding of Taiji then these workshops are not to be missed. 

The majority of the feedback is verbal but I would like to share some messages that summed up the day perfectly.

---------------oooooooooo---------------

“Thanks a million for bringing Ben down to us for another great workshop. His skill as a teacher is superb with his down to earth explanations of the positions, both in chi gong and the form. He brings a strong but, at the same time, gentle presence to the class, so that no one is left feeling isolated through lack of knowledge or ability. I came away with much more than I brought. Thanks again and many thanks to Ben”  

“What a fabulous day.  Knackered but full of new stuff thanks Mandy,
Just what I needed.  And of course thanks to dear Ben”


“Great workshop, so glad I made the effort, felt so much better for it, invigorated” 

“Thank you for an inspiring and worthwhile day”

---------------oooooooooo---------------

It is wonderful to hear what every person has taken away with them. Each one has something different to contribute and share with others who were not there. Ben will be returning in March, May and October next year-check out the website for the dates.

My vision has always been to keep classes affordable for everyone, and it is the same for the workshops. So, once again, thank you for your support in keeping West Devon Tai Chi moving forward.

Mandy-Instructor

Concrete Flip Flops

posted 28 Oct 2019, 12:36 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 30 Oct 2019, 07:27 by Mandy Moor ]


As well as training with Ben throughout the year at Bristol, in May and October I join him, and his students, for a weekend of training in Padstow. A group of thirty of us trying to absorb, and understand, a little more about this intelligent structured exercise system that has no limits to the vastness of its teachings of the internal balance of mind, body and spirit.

These weekends usually follow a regular pattern, starting with a few Taiji conditioning warm ups-always more to learn about these too! Then it is straight into thirty minutes standing meditation exercise. From my own experience, stilling the mind from the constant chatter is very challenging but, with Ben giving us encouraging words and continual 'hands on' postural corrections, the time passes remarkably quickly. This October, ten minutes in, he told us to feel rooted and heavy in the feet-‘imagine you are wearing concrete flip flops’. I didn’t think much more about that one until I got home but now it has become one of my many ‘little gems’ on this never ending journey. The feeling of heaviness in the base is what we want to maintain in Taiji and the many varied analogies that Ben is renowned for helps to reinforce this. Of course, building up the leg strength to feel that heaviness is another matter altogether! Then we are on to a lengthy session of silk reeling and the rest of the day is spent breaking down the moves of the form-so many repetitions! Plus, a ‘specials’ hour after lunch and we never quite know what is on the cards for that until the day!

For me, two full days of soaking up more Taiji with Ben is brilliant and always reinforces to me how lucky I am to have crossed his pathway. Yesterday, it was topped up with another five hours at Bristol-the learning just never stops! This Saturday sees Ben return to Bratton Clovelly for another workshop and another great opportunity for me to further my learning alongside everyone else. It is being well supported again and it is always nice to see people from other classes come together. A good day will be enjoyed by all I am sure. Looking forward to seeing you there; with your concrete flip flops of course!

Samhain blessings to you all 
Mandy-Instructor

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.

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