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 

Heal the Earth

posted 27 Mar 2020, 04:25 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 27 Mar 2020, 04:26 ]

What a time we are experiencing and how fast things have changed! Being able to offer a class at Bratton Clovelly in the hall or outside was soon squashed within hours of writing my last piece.
I am seeing how peoples’ lives are changing-some for the better, some for the worse. A time for slowing down and healing within is how some see it; others are finding it mentally draining and very stressful. It is an exceptional and extraordinary time that we are all experiencing together. These words by Angus Clark-Living Movement Tai Chi, are so true and worth sharing.

‘A time, it seems, of difficulty, opportunity, shock, change, possibility. A time of seclusion and isolation at the same time as connection and coming together. A time of stillness, spaciousness, resting; anxiety, fear, restriction. What a mix!’

For me, the many years of practising Taiji and Qi Gong is proving to be invaluable, enabling me to stay completely balanced to help my family and others. How truly grateful I am for this connection-the grounding, breathing, flowing and embracing the stillness within.

"The power to find balance is within you"

Taiji is rooted in the Taoist philosophy dating back hundreds of years. Lao Ztu is a Chinese legendary and historical figure who is considered to be the founder of Taoism. Taoism is the philosophy that teaches us how to live in harmony with the world. The word Tao means the ‘way’- the pattern and substance of everything that exists. Lao Ztu is also credited as the writer of Taoism most sacred text-Tao Te Ching. It is packed with remarkable wisdom and messages of peace, resilience and living cohesively which reminds us what really matters in life. He is a central figure in Chinese culture, but his words can apply to people all over the world. On opening my copy of the Tao Te Ching this week, this quote really resonated with me- ‘look within and you will find everything you need’. In these words, Lao Ztu is saying- ‘knowing others is intelligence, knowing yourself is true wisdom, mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power’. We live in a culture that is geared towards doing, succeeding, making and wanting more, whether it is money or of ourselves. These actions, from a Taoist perspective, are considered ‘yang’ and are based on outwards and external movement. The Chinese concept of ‘yin yang’ describes nature in dualities with two opposite complementary and interdependent forces. In other words, two halves balancing together that makes a whole. Yin and yang always flows and changes with time-one aspect increases as the other decreases and this balance continues as a pattern in nature. As in nature, human life is all about balance. To maintain balance we need to spend time cultivating our ‘yin’, which is our inner experience. We need to slow down and reflect, enjoy being without having to do anything. Practices, such as Taiji and Qi Gong can help us slow down, so that when we do need to act more in the world and create, we have a deeper and more valuable reservoir of energy and balance to draw from.

We have no control over what is happening in the world at this moment, but we do have control over our thoughts. Fear is the dark, love is the light. This is an opportunity to truly cultivate your ‘yin’ so when a ‘normal’ life returns you will realise that it is okay to slow down and make time to practise Taiji every day-to make it a ‘way’ of life.

My thoughts are with everyone throughout the world and to beautiful Mother Earth, less pollution meaning she can breathe and heal. How lovely not to see vapour trails in the beautiful blue skies! Maybe this experience will be an awakening and re-connection for many people, young and old. Keep well in mind, body and spirit my friends and hopefully it will not be too long before we are reunited in our classes.  
Mandy-Instructor
 
“And the people stayed at home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

 And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses and made new choices and dreamed new images and created new ways to heal the earth fully, as they had been healed”.

Kitty O'Meara

Listening Behind

posted 20 Mar 2020, 04:02 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 20 Mar 2020, 04:07 ]

These are challenging and unsettling times for us all as we are in the grips of the coronavirus and the changes it is bringing to our lives with every passing day. Classes at Lifton and Lydford are now suspended as the halls have taken the decision to close for the foreseeable future. Bratton Clovelly hall is remaining open as Devon Communities are encouraging village halls not to close as they are the hub of the community.
Still having a venue to use, I feel spurred on to continue running the Friday morning class for those who wish to come along. The hall is following the government health guidelines and we know what measures to take to protect ourselves. Weather permitting the class will be held outside in the fresh air. My decision to keep this class going is to offer people a choice and I becoming increasingly concerned about the mental well-being of many. Fear is being generated at an alarmingly rate and I am seeing more and more anxiety and stress amongst people, and within my own family, as more restrictions are being put in place. This has a knock-on effect to our immune system and it is vital that we do all we can to strengthen it, not weaken it.

On a lighter note, what a great day we had at last Saturdays workshop-a mixture of fun and learning which was just what we all needed! The feedback, as always, has been fabulous and thanks to all who came along. I am at a stage of my learning that when observing Ben, I could see that every spiralling motion is generated internally and his high level of teaching continues to inspire me. Having practised meditation from an early age his understanding and knowledge of the mind aspect of Taiji enables him to explain it in a clear and concise way. He talked us through the six points to prepare ourselves for standing meditation (Zhan Zhuang)-head up, shoulders relaxed, chest hollow, dantien full, sitting into the hips and listening behind. We spend most of our time in the frontal lobe of our brain-external stimuli in this world today is vast-mobile phones, social media, television, the list goes on. Then we have the ‘chatter monkey mind’-the internal dialogue of the ego that just does not want to stop! Standing practise encourages us to focus on listening behind creating Wuji-ultimate stillness. To come away from the frontal lobe, he led us away from the third eye, over the top of the head, down the spine, between the legs to the perineum and to the dantien where all Taiji moves are generated from.
Most people live in the sympathetic nervous system-the fear or flight mode-which depletes our energy. The parasympathetic nervous system restores our energy. Energy follows the mind, so if you keep your attention focused inwardly, energy will collect internally. Intent is the master of the mind; intend your attention to focus on body and breath instead of thoughts, and that is what it will do. It takes practise and focus-but the goal is so worthwhile.

We are at a time now when we really need to bring these practises into our lives to help ourselves and others. I encourage you to practise all you have taken from the classes and workshops and build up a daily routine-warm up exercises, standing, silk reeling and Taiji form. The website will be kept updated as and when we get any information about the halls and a glimmer of light when all classes may resume.
 Keep calm, centred and grounded-and an open mind. 
Wishing you and your families continued safety and wellness. 


Spring Equinox blessings, love, light and healing to you all 

Mandy-Instructor

The More I Learn, The Less I Feel I Know

posted 1 Feb 2020, 20:51 by WestDevon Tai Chi   [ updated 29 Feb 2020, 07:10 ]

Last Sunday was Ben’s first workshop of 2020 with a mix of improvers and raw beginners. As usual, I always come away with something to mull over whilst driving home and, on this occasion, it was how little I know. I have embraced this sense of ‘knowing so little’, seeing it as being positive rather than negative. I feel I have progressed a little since I first took up Taiji-beginning to understand the basics and not just aimlessly waving my arms about quite so much now! I have also learnt that staying humble, having a beginners’ mentality, an ever-inquiring mind and the urge to know more are an important part of the journey. The key to success is yourself!

At first, I take Tai Chi up as a hobby, 
 
Gradually I become addicted to it, 
 
Finally, I can no longer get rid of it. 
 
I must keep on practising for my whole life-it is the only way to preserve life 
 
The more I practice, the more I want to learn from teachers and books. 
 
The more I learn, the less I feel I know. 
 
The theory and philosophy of Tai Chi is so profound and abstruse! 
 
I must continue forever and ever… 
 
It is the only way to improve and better myself. 
 
                                                 
Master T. T. Liang 
 

Our next workshop with Ben is on Saturday 14th March and is a great opportunity for us to learn just a little bit more! 



Imbolc blessings to you all
Mandy-Instructor

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

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