Yesterday, Sunday, during tai chi in UP, I tried something for the first time.
Since Irene was there in charge of counting sets, as opposed to doing this on my own during daily practice, I was able to really focus on correct breathing, form, and--get this--energy visualization.
To be able to move energy is an important goal in tai chi practice. It's something I have always aspired for, and my more-than-a-decade of on-off tai chi practice somehow has led me to this. It makes me happy, and humbles me, to at least be able to START on this work. I am grateful to have reached a certain maturity in the art that I am now READY to start energy work.
I am not saying I have already perfected form and breathing. I just get the feeling that, somehow, and by some strange twist of chi, my body and spirit are now ready to deepen my appreciation and practice of this martial art that I have practiced since the nineties.
Anyway, I would like to share some of the insights that came to me during this very enlightening shibashi session.
When you do energy work in tai chi, it is not just the energy within your body that you are trying to move around. I feel that somehow, you are also establishing a particular relationship with the energies around you: the atmosphere, the people practicing with you, the Universe. This is felt during certain movements: your energy body blends with energy around you that somehow the physical borders that we see with our eyes (the outlines of our physical bodies) are blurred. You merge with what is around you, in energy. This tai chi experience underlines the basic truth that we are one--one with each other, one with the Universe. It was a good feeling to reach this realization, which added a spiritual dimension to a physical practice. It is what tai chi is all about anyway.
When your practice is sincere and correct, ego disappears. While every practitioner should always be strict about form and breathing (the physical aspects of tai chi), this somehow takes a backseat when true practice pushes soul consciousness to the fore and lets you forget about "looking good" for a while. The form becomes automatic and less of an effort. It is not a conscious concern anymore of the person practicing. To move and breathe in the right way becomes second nature, and the practitioner can now give full focus towards inner work. Important note: One cannot attain this level of focus unless one has "perfected" the physical requirements (form and breathing) of a certain routine. For example, I am able to give focus on energy work only during shibashi, but not while practicing TCA (Sun Style) or any of the Yang routines. Not yet, at least. There is a long, long way to go.
Tai chi is faithful to those who love it and practice it with a sincere heart. It will not let you down. Discipline and consistency are not my greatest strengths, so sometimes the lazy bug would bite me and for weeks I'd survive without so much as lifting an arm to do a basic qigong exercise. But one would discover that, upon returning to tai chi, while you will definitely be rusty with the moves and sequence, your inner self would have retained the deeper lessons. Proper breathing will still be there, the softness of movement remains, the knowledge about proper execution will be present. Basically, the ingredients to doing good tai chi will not easily leave you. Not if you have practiced it a long time, and definitely not if you love it tenderly with all your soul, heart, body, and chi.
Photo courtesy of Elmer Esma.