It wasn't until I recently went to a Tai Chi retreat up in the Catskill
Mountains that I started to grasp Tai Chi beyond the form. Unexpectedly, I
was guided to let go of the form I had learned, and begin to discover its
essence, power, and boundless joy.
I had been studying a 13 movement Tai Chi form almost every day for 2
years, and prior to the retreat, I was practicing more than usual and came
to the retreat with my knee hurting. Instead of getting discouraged, I
decided to see the situation as an opportunity that I might learn something
Before the Tai Chi week, I spent most of my practice time focused on
performing each movement as precisely as possible; from the Opening,
through, grasping the birds
tail, ward off, and rolling back, to finally embracing tiger, and return to
mountain. I paid attention to distribution of weight, pushing from the
center line, not going over the
knee, and awareness of the Tan Tien. Sounds like work? It was!
Tai Chi is ultimately a movement meditation. It expresses yin and yang,
external and internal, mind-body, flow, and authentic expression. The
benefits include mental focus, physical vitality, range of movement, energy
cultivation, centering, balance, and flexibility.
My knee injury brought my work-oriented approach towards Tai Chi to a
standstill. As I sat down to watch, I started to experience Tai Chi
Our retreat schedule was set up to include time for the form and time for
inner processing - contemplation, writing, and dream practice. By going
from a yang active
time to a yin internal time, and then back to yang activity, it became
apparent that the schedule itself was Tai Chi.
In one of the contemplation periods it came to me that I usually practiced
very mechanically. One move- pause- second move- pause. This realization
mirrored throughout the week when I decided to practice my form. My teacher
would give me feedback such as "You have to flow more," and "You have
learned my form, now its time for you to claim your own Tai Chi." With our
daily schedule, my inner realizations, and my teacher's comments, I became
aware I was leaving out the very best part of Tai Chi: its essence! The
Yin qualities were deficient. For example, feeling, flow, ease,
effortlessness, and my individual expression.
As this discovery settled in my mind, I pondered how I might integrate this
new awareness and begin to experience it. I started by visualizing water,
one wave, flowing into the next wave and the next. I then decided to trust that I
already knew the movements and began to play and experiment more. At one
point we practiced the form blindfolded. This also increased my ability to connect with the internal essence, relax, and have fun.
When I look at my life, my Tai Chi is a complete reflection. I have been
working on allowing my yin nature its due, to trust its power. I am
honoring how easy and
effortless things can be when I don't push, force, or work at it. I am
finally learning to let go of the form, allowing it to happen - and at the
same time staying deeply inwardly connected.
As Tai Chi is teaching me to let go and flow, so is life. By allowing my
movements to flow like water from one to the next, I can feel how life can
be just as organic. I believe this could be the secret to great Tai Chi and thus a great life. This is Tai Chi beyond the form.