I had no idea what Tai Chi or Qi gong studies would look like. I had been practicing yoga for the last 10 years with a varying degree of enthusiasm. I found myself becoming injured often, during my practice. I’d recently learned why: I am hypermobile. So I felt like I was getting into the Asana (pose) easily but my body was not properly aligned! The larger classes meant that teachers were not able to correct the poses of individual students and meant that I’d been making the same mistakes for 10 years! And old habits are hard to change.
The popularity of yoga in recent years also means that there are many new teachers graduating and the market is becoming saturated with studios having to follow what the people want – and the people want a good workout. The connection of mind and breath, the original intention of yoga as a practice has become somewhat neglected.
Upon arrival at the Traditional Tai Chi School in Yangshuo, China, I was greeted by humble and down to earth masters of Tai Chi – masters who have trained for more than 15 years. The slow pace of each class somewhat surprised me. I was also surprised at how bad my coordination was! I had no idea how bad my posture was! I couldn’t even stand straight! I did mention that I have been doing yoga for 10 years, right?
But eventually the slow pace caught up with me; I was slowing down. My breath was calming, my eager mind slowing down, and I was able to go with the flow. Learning Tai Chi forms for the first time can be very disorientating, I have to admit. Realising that I couldn’t even stand straight let alone being able to relax my joints and muscles, let alone being able to sink my Qi, I felt so lost. How hard is it to relax my shoulders? Pretty hard, harder than learning to handstand!
As a practitioner of Chinese medicine, I have read tons about Qi. I could probably write about Qi for days. But during the 5th week of training at the school, it happened! I was able to feel my own Qi, between my hands. Despite the outside weather being 2 degrees (we were training outside), after doing some moving meditation training, my hands got warm. My Qi was finally flowing all the way down to my hands! It was as if I was born blind and heard all about the sun but had never seen it until that day: I opened my eyes and saw the sun for the first time. I knew it was there, I understood its properties but I hadn’t seen its golden rays until that day.
Tai Chi Chuan is ultimately a moving meditation: its elegant movements, philosophical take on “fighting”, union of breath, mind, and spirit are the core of its practice. I have fallen in love with Tai Chi for its beauty and its ability to calm my busy mind and allowing me to get into a meditative state without forcing myself to. As a health practitioner, I became acutely aware of its health benefits by slowing down the breath (tempering our autonomic nervous system), creating space in spinal structure (increasing blood and lymphatic flow in joints and tendons), and increasing balance and coordination of the body. I did find Tai Chi to be an all-encompassing exercise for mind, body, and spirit. Without a healthy mind, it is not possible to have a healthy body. I mean, full stop.
You will probably be asking some questions by now, so if you want to find out more head to my other blog post which outlines the origins and benefits of Tai Chi.
As I returned to Sydney from my 8-week love affair in China, I decided to share my practice with our patients at Project DAO. I’d also realised that this holistic ancient martial art, Tai Chi aligns so well with our mission of: treat, rehabilitate, prevent. It provides a full circle of health care.
So if you have made it this far, you should give yourself a chance to at least come and experience my humble Qi gong class one day. Book your spot for our drop-in classes or for our 10-week course which will be run by expert John who is flying in from China to share his knowledge. We are donating half of the fees of this class to the asylum seekers’ resources center because together we believe we can make the right changes in our community that spring from our inner peace.
Yanan Kim– Acupuncturist/herbalist & advocate of a good life
I was in my early 60’s when the opportunity to learn Tai Chi came my way. I really had no idea what learning it would entail or the amazing benefits. I considered myself to be reasonably fit, but I soon found out there was another type of fitness.
Tai Chi involves quite slow movements. “How hard can that be,” I thought! For me, it was a challenge, but with a wonderful kind patient teacher, I gradually got the hang of it. But it was always a challenge for me to remember all the moves by myself.
My Master was Whu Heng Dong, (Kim) and I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to be his student and now he’s a very good friend.
One on-going comment was always about how good this was for my health. This became quite apparent to me as I continued to have classes many times a week. My flexibility and balance improved a lot. For mature age people, this is very important.
At that time Kim did not have his own school, but it was always his dream. He usually held lessons in Yangshuo Park which was always very pleasant, but no good during rainy times. He now has his own school in Yangshuo countryside so no more weather problems. His school is built in old traditional ways which is very fitting with an ancient art like Tai Chi.
Yangshuo provides a wonderful, memorable environment to learn Tai Chi in. If that interests you, contact Kim and make plans. You will not be disappointed. Kim has fluent English and teaches in English.
In traditional Chinese culture “Learning courtesy comes before learning the art, and learning morality comes before learning the martial arts”, so the first lesson of learning Tai Chi and Qigong is not to learn the movement directly, but to learn Martial Arts etiquette.
The “Palm hold fist” salute is the most commonly used for the rituals of the martial artist. It originates in the traditional etiquette of the Chinese Han people, going back to the Zhou Dynasty more than 3,000 years ago.
How to salute:
One hand holds the fist and the other hand clenches the fist. Both of them
are closed in front of the chest. The fists are closed with four fingers and the thumb is slightly bent.
There are two types of “palm hold fist” salutes for martial artist:
1. Palm on the left and fist on the right;
2. Fist on the left and palm on the right.
1.Palm on the left and fist on the right: a martial artist’s fist is stronger than the palm, and so the fist is restrained by the palm to as a sign that its strength is not offensive; the left hand holds the right fist naturally and without stress. Bow slightly, cupping one hand in the other before one’s chest, shaking slightly, naturally, neither too strongly, nor too high. This is called the “propitious salute”.
2.Fist on the left and palm on the right (ie, hands reversed): this is called the “infelicitous salute”. It is mostly used for mourning. In any other circumstances it would be a sign of disrespect.
1.The left palm signifies civilization, morality, intelligence, and physical fitness. The thumb is slightly flexed to indicate that it is not arrogant
2.The right fist signifies the Martial art .
The left palm and the right fist together represent being endowed with both civilization and the Martial art, being eager to seek knowledge, and respectfully asking higher seniors or masters to teach it.
The use of this salute throughout the world of Martial Arts indicates the common culture of all Kung Fu and Tai Chi masters and practitioners.
With the development of modern society, the “palm hold fist” salute is no longer used outside the Martial Arts, and has been replaced by the handshake known in the West. The traditional “Wanfu salute” once used by women has also disappeared.
Nowadays, traditional etiquette will only be seen occasionally, on special occasions.
However, when you see others wearing different clothes and performing different “traditional salutes”, don’t take it for granted that you should imitate them. Try to understand the meaning behind the etiquette so as to avoid jokes, or giving offense.
Traditional Chinese medicine dates back to over 2,000 years ago and encompasses various therapy techniques including herbal remedies, acupuncture, and massage.
Traditional Chinese medicine revolves around the notion that qi, the body’s vital energy, flows through meridians, which are paths that connect major organs and bodily functions. Qi is affected by yin and yang, a Chinese concept also mentioned in our post about inflammation and colds in Chinese medicine. Yin and yang, loosely translated as “shady” and “sunny” respectively, are complementary forces that interact in all aspects of life. Qi manifests itself through yin and yang; in order to have optimal health, the amount of yin and yang in the body must be in harmony.
Another principle traditional Chinese medicine relies upon is the 五行 (wǔ xíng), or “five elements” theory. This theory breaks the universe down into five elements: metal (金 jīn), wood (木 mù), water (水 shuǐ),fire (火 huǒ), and earth (土 tǔ). These aspects of the five elements theory are used in applying therapy techniques, as each element of wu xing corresponds to a pair of organs in the body.
There is some controversy surrounding traditional Chinese medicine, due to the lack of rigorous scientific evidence proving whether or not the methods work. Nevertheless, traditional Chinese medicine is quite prevalent in Chinese-speaking countries today, and has also become a well-known form of alternative medicine all over the world due to its historical and cultural roots. Therapy techniques focus on regulating bodily functions through easing tension and improving circulation.
Here is an overview of a few different types of therapy techniques used in Chinese medicine:
1. ACUPUNCTURE, 针灸 (ZHĒN JIǓ)
Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into the body at specific points for a period of time. The needles are placed on acupuncture points, which relate to qi and meridians that connect to certain body parts and functions. When qi becomes blocked or unbalanced, illness arises. By placing the needles at points associated with the origin of illness, the flow of qi can be restored. Acupuncture is commonly used for pain relief.
2. CUPPING, 拔罐 (BÁ GUÀN)
Bá guàn is a technique that uses small cups, often made of glass, to create suction on the skin. Suction can be created in a variety of ways. One method involves lighting up an alcohol-soaked cotton ball and placing it inside the cup. The cotton ball is then removed, and the heated cup is quickly placed on the skin. As the air inside the cup cools down, the skin is drawn up by the pressure. This creates light swelling and bruising on the skin when the cups are removed. While the bruises are prominent, they are not painful and the treatment is generally a relaxing experience. Like the needles in acupuncture, the cups are strategically placed at certain points to balance qi and stimulate blood flow. Cupping is often used to treat respiratory problems.
3. GUA SHA, 刮痧 (GUĀ SHĀ)
Did you know? In the 1970’s, several Chinese immigrant parents were wrongly accused of child abuse, due to red marks on their children’s skin caused by gua sha! This practice involves repeatedly scraping lubricated skin with a tool, which could be a ceramic spoon, coin, animal bone, or shaped piece of rock. The tool’s smooth edge is firmly stroked across the skin, starting in the spinal area and moving along meridians to produce light bruises. Like other techniques in traditional Chinese medicine, gua sha is believed to release toxins from the body and improve blood circulation. While the process can be painful, its purpose is to relieve blood stagnation and tension and relax muscles through increased blood flow. Gua sha is used as a remedy for problems including chronic pain or fever.
D4. TUI NA, 推拿 (TUĪ NÁ)
Tui na, which literally translates to “push and grasp”, is a form of therapeutic massage that focuses on treating specific problems rather than simply providing relaxation. Various hand techniques are used, including kneading, rolling, pressing, and rubbing. Tui na often involves acupressure, which is a technique that uses fingers, hands, or the elbow to apply pressure to a specific point on the body. Similar to the other therapy methods, tui na aims to regulate the flow of qi in the body by targeting points and meridians. These techniques are often used to treat musculoskeletal conditions.
In solo forms, tai chi is a way to understand one’s self. It’s a way to feel the internal flow of energy, as well as any internal tension. There is no opponent except whatever negative thoughts, heavy emotions, or internal demons arise.
Tai Chi Push Hands: External Forces. With push hands, one must deal with external forces in addition to whatever internal stress one carries. Rather than feeling simply the air, one has a direct experience of the force and energy from one’s practice partner. A Training for Martial Arts. Push hands is a version of sparring in tai chi. It is the bridge to move from a fluid solo form to tai chi for martial arts. Two persons maintain arm contact while trying to unbalance and to push each other.
But, push hands is not a sumo match and it’s not about sheer mass or muscle power. There’s typically no hitting, kicking, although there’re some push hands styles where throws and joint-locks are all part of the game.
Push Hands for All Practitioners. It’s also possible to practice push hands in a non-threatening and cooperative way. This form of push hands is useful for all tai chi students, even those without an interest in the martial aspects of tai chi.
Push Hands for Relaxation. The key is to use relaxation, intent, awareness, sensitivity, and knowledge of the internal energies to push and to uproot your partner. It tests your ability to root and to remain relaxed and balanced, despite whatever forces are coming in from the external environment.
When confronted with an opponent or even a practice partner, it’s easy for emotions such as fear or anger to arise. Pushing to win can also take you away from a relaxed state. Focus to maintain a steady breath and a relaxed stance with good alignments.
When you’re tense or not well aligned, it will be easy for your partner to take your balance. This forces you to quickly recognize and to relax areas of tension—or you will find yourself easily off-balanced by your partner.
Circles in Push Hands. Like all of tai chi, push hands involves circles. Here, the hands circle back and forth between the two practitioners. One half of the circle defends, and the second half attacks.
Yield and Defend. For defending, the emphasis is on rooting or grounding, and deflecting or yielding to an attack. There is no attempt to directly oppose the force from your partner.
Attack. Immediately after yielding, counter and attack by using your partner’s force against him or her. If your partner has overextended and is tilting forward, you’ll find that only an ounce of force will be needed to send them off-balance.