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Nuts and Bolts

When I first started learning Taiji, basics and principles were words never used. It was not until seeing  my first teacher, a few years after he had decided to give up his classes, and he said, “I have gone back to the basics” that I had heard that word used in the learning of this art. Now, after being introduced to the basic foundations six years ago, my legs definitely know the meaning! Not to mention, discovering the unnecessary physical and mental tension that has built up in my body over the years that I never realised existed. The words ‘let it go’ have become my daily mantra!

The basics are the ‘nuts and bolts’ of Taiji and without the understanding and learning of these you can spend years just mindlessly waving your arms around.  So here are a few words to explain what these basics are and what we focus on in my classes.

  • Zhan Zhuang (pronounced Jan Jong) is standing meditation. Standing is the first and most important foundational step in Taiji. It builds up and releases an extraordinary flow of natural energy that is dormant within us. There are no recognisable external movements although it is a highly energetic exercise system. In contrast to many other exercise systems, Zhan Zhuang develops are 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. The standing posture greatly develops the strength of the legs. 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. 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 return to a natural, comfortable and healthy posture. Although some people find it torturous to begin with, standing is the key to calming your mind, finding your body and the stillness inside which is where movement comes from.
  • Changsigong (silk-reeling exercises) is a method of movement distinctive to Chen style. It is a spiralling movement which trains the body to move smoothly and naturally from the feet to the fingertips. The key is that internally and externally the rotational movements are even and balanced and the body moves as one unit-one part moves and all parts follow. All Taiji movement is achieved through silk-reeling energy containing the three components of relaxation, extension and turning, with the centre (dantien) initiating the movements. The slow even twining nature of the movements provides a means of eliminating stiffness and improving elasticity and flexibility. It also stretches and strengthens the muscles and tendons. Any Taiji form is basically a collection of Changsigong variations but as one goes through the moves mistakes are overlooked and forgotten immediately. Practising Changsigong gives one a chance to discover and eliminate any deviations in one’s basic movement patterns.
  • Zou Bu (Taiji walking) enables one to learn how to step well. As we get older we slowly lose the ability to walk in a well-balanced way, something that was so natural to us when we took our first steps as a child. There are many variations of Taiji walking but all follow the principle of learning how to maintain an upright structure, balance and connection whilst stepping slowly. It is challenging to do well but without the distraction of the arms waving about one can totally focus on moving in a balanced way.

Being natural is the first and foremost principle of Taiji 

These Taiji basics are essential tools to avoid getting stuck in a kind of robotic stage of moving that prevents us from experiencing the fluidity of Taiji and a natural way of moving through one’s own sense of proprioception.  Learning Taiji is a journey of self- discovery but don’t just take my word for it, try it for yourself!

It has been great to see some new faces in the classes this year and a couple of familiar faces return. The doorway has now opened for West Devon Tai Chi in Lifton- first class will be commencing at the new Community Centre on Thursday 1st March and there has already been lots of interest. So come along and get stuck into the basics and fully experience the art of Taiji. Check out the website for times and dates. Everyone is welcome-you are never too young or too old to begin the journey. Look forward to seeing you there!