The Buddhists practice 'nowness', is what we call 'mindfulness' today, a single point of focus. Our Tai Chi and Qigong movements are an expression of mindfulness, they are often described as a moving meditation.
The body can lead the mind into relaxation, by deliberately slowing down our physical movements and combining this with deep diaphragmatic breathing, this slows down our central nervous system and helps us enter into the parasympathetic state (the relaxation response). A by product of this is calming of the mind and a reduction in mental chatter.
Most people spend all day every day up in their heads, disconnected from their bodies. The monkey mind keeps everyone busy darting from one distraction to the next. With modern technology everything is cognitive and left brain dominant, if not screen based! Tai Chi and Qigong help you to take time out from your thinking and seeing brain. The movements encourage right brain use, increasing your body awareness and observation.
How often do we concentrate on our bodies during movement? When you are walking are you focusing on your feet, or knees? Without using your eyes, do you know what your feet look like, feel like or how they are positioned? Body awareness is a skill that can be developed, the same as co-ordination, the same as driving a car and learning to write. Being aware of your physical body is important to daily life, to save injury, stumbles and falls.
Tai Chi is a complex movement practice to learn, however it is not a thinking or seeing art. Your intellectual brain, your eyes and fast thought processes won’t help you much. Training the physical body to move through mind intent in a sophisticated way, with softness, flow, alignment, purpose and spiralling shapes, each alone are difficult skills to develop.
It may look like we are waving our hands in the air, in reality our hands are the last thing on our minds! We have the most motor control over our hands, so if we focus on these, then our brain behaves in the normal way. Tai Chi and Qigong pushes us out of our comfort zone, challenging our normal physical and mental patterns. We lead from our core and ground through our legs into our feet with a fluid heaviness, echoing the qualities of water.
The beauty of the complexity in training Tai Chi, is that it is difficult for the monkey mind to take a hold. The focus needed to perform the movements keeps our minds looking inwardly into our bodies, there’s little space for mental chatter. It’s a great example of a healthy distraction. We keep refocusing our minds back to our body and the movements. This helps to encourage clarity, focus, concentration and longer attention spans whilst moving away from cyclical thinking, jumping from one thought to the next, worry and anxiety. Whenever our minds wander, we lose connection with our physical body, our thinking brain takes over and our single point of physical focus is lost. Anytime we become distracted we pause and relax, allowing the body to continue through the trained muscle memory. This is a great skill to learn, the power of pausing.
Tai Chi and Qigong are a way of switching off the thinking brain, a chance to leave your daily life at the studio door and enter into the world of grounding. There’s no better way to calm the mind than to move the body slowly.
Read further about Tai Chi and Qigong for a natural boost of serotonin, dopamine and endorphin levels here.