The Tai Chi Body

Back home, recharging from my November journey to the Rocky Mountains and back, I am encouraged to build a Tai Chi body – a very different physical specimen than the one I’ve been inclined to build in the gym. Forget the weights. Stop flexing and relax. No six-pack abs required. Relax the breath into the abdomen, hollow the chest and sink the tailbone.

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Brush knee, or perhaps the Vulcan greeting. I come in peace.

What kind of warrior is this? “Soft in the middle,” like Paul Simon’s Al? Yes, and soft in the arms, too. Relax the shoulders and hips, loosey-goosey. Relaxing inwardly, I am soft enough to take and/or redirect a blow, if it comes to that. But who wants to fight such a gentle man? That is the warrior I aspire to be through Tai Chi, the internal martial art.

Tai Chi masters are seldom imposing physical figures. Most tend to be small – even diminutive, like Professor Cheng Man-Ching. Working out for them may be quietly sitting, or standing in one position for an hour. Or pushing hands with partners who help, and whom they help, to improve balance, flexibility and root. In this video, Wu Tai Chi Master Qiao Song-Mao demonstrates the awesome power generated from inside the body with seemingly little external effort.

Mastering Tai Chi means relaxing your external muscles, but also getting in touch with your internal organs. The power of Tai Chi comes from the inside, by relaxing deep into your being while channeling vital energy (qi), strengthening the connective tissue (fascia) and developing the torqueing capabilities of the body’s rotation, which are accentuated through the circular motions of the Tai Chi forms.

Thanks to my generous hosts and teachers along my road to discovery, I have exercises now that will help me condition my body for Tai Chi, and all the benefits that entails, including the silk-reeling exercises used especially in Chen Tai Chi to train the body’s torqueing ability. I’ve also learned new sets of warm up exercises and standing postures, as well as subtle changes in my form and Qigong exercises.

Besides the hands-on instruction, I now have a two-disc DVD on the Yang long form, with Michael Paler of the Tai Chi Association of Colorado Springs demonstrating each move. He is really good! The 108-posture long form repeats many of the movements I’m familiar with through the Cheng Man-Ching 37-posture Yang short form, but the mix has been confusing to me. Now I can follow along, eventually expanding the time I spend with a single run-through of the form from 8 to nearly 25 minutes.

Next up is organizing push-hands practice among the Tai Chi players in my area, although the weather is somewhat inhospitable for outdoor play. So, I will focus on building a new soft body, stepping up my Qigong exercises. I am working to sink the energy (qi) to the vital center of the body, the lower dan-tien, and channel it through the meridians for healing and strengthening the internal organs, circulatory system and connective tissue.

So much to do, and so little time! Based on lessons from my recent Tai Chi tour, I’ve developed a workout regime that only takes an hour and 20 minutes a day, and can be divided up throughout the day. Morning exercise works best for me because it helps me focus. Notes: The Bear Posture is a specific Standing Post (Zhan Zhuang) exercise. “Circular Breathing” is Qigong focused on a particular breathing pattern. The walking distances here are from 2 to 4 miles:

Sunday (1 hour, 20 minutes)

  • Warmup Stretching/Qigong (10 minutes)
  • Form (8 minutes)
  • Bear Posture (7 minutes)
  • Circular Breathing (4 minutes)
  • Walking (45 minutes)
  • Qigong (6 minutes)

Monday (1 hour, 20 minutes)

  • Warmup Stretching/Qigong (10 minutes)
  • Form (8 minutes)
  • Walking (45 minutes)
  • Standing post (5 minutes)
  • Silk reeling (5 minutes)
  • Qigong (7 minutes)

Tuesday (1 hour, 20 minutes)

  • Bear Posture (7 minutes)
  • Circular Breathing (5 minutes)
  • Form (8 minutes)
  • Walking (60 minutes)

Wednesday (1 hour, 20 minutes)

  • Warmup Stretching (10 minutes)
  • Walking (60 minutes)
  • Qigong (2 minutes)
  • Form (8 minutes)

Thursday (1 hour, 20 minutes)

  • Dragon and Tiger Qigong (9 minutes)
  • Form (24 minutes)
  • Bear Posture (10 minutes)
  • Circular Breathing (9 minutes)
  • Silk Reeling (8 minutes)
  • Meditation (20 minutes)

Friday (1 hour, 20 minutes)

  • Warmup Stretches (10 minutes)
  • Form (8 minutes)
  • Walking (45 minutes)
  • Standing post (10 minutes)
  • Qigong (7 minutes)

Saturday (1 hour, 20 minutes)

  • Meditation (20 minutes)
  • Circular Breathing (5 minutes)
  • Form (16 minutes)
  • Walking (30 minutes)
  • Bear Posture (9 minutes)

Snow Day Option (1 hour, 20 minutes)

  • Meditation (20 minutes)
  • Dragon and Tiger Qigong (9 minutes)
  • Bear Posture (8 minutes)
  • Form (16 minutes)
  • Silk Reeling (7 minutes)
  • Meditation (20 minutes)
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