Awareness in Taiji Qigong
Awareness in Taiji Qigong
The fundamental aspects of training Tai Chi and Qigong are posture, awareness and breath. Awareness is important to train as you need to be present in your movements to be able to perform. Awareness is an expression of mindfulness as you maintain a point of focus for a sustained period of time.
Awareness can be applied to every principle and body mechanic concept in both stillness and movement. Including the following categories of awareness:
- Proprioception: Sensing where your body is in space in relation to itself and the space around it without using your vision.
- Kinaesthetic: Awareness of your internal body movements. Sensing what each part of the body is doing. To be able to detect motion in your own body e.g. body weight, weight shifting. To control and co-ordinate a movement. Muscle memory. To move without relying on vision.
- Postural: Awareness of your structural alignment in relation to gravity, comfort and health. Knowing whether you are aligned well or not.
- Equilibrium: Awareness of balance and stability in your posture in stillness and movement.
- Peripheral: Awareness of the surroundings in the outer part of your vision, what you are not looking directly at.
- Tactile: Using touch and feeling sensations through the skin to make sense of your environment.
- Ting Jing: Tactile listening skills during partner work and push hands. Detecting your partner's body movements and intentions.
- Emotional: Being aware of specific emotions as they come and go.
This article will explore awareness in relation to mental awareness and having presence in your Tai Chi and Qigong movements.
Awareness training starts with grounding. This means to get out of your head and get into your body. You cannot develop awareness if you are stuck in cognitive left brain thinking, analysing, planning, learning, talking etc. There are three stages of grounding to explore:
- Ground through movement, to become aware of your body as it moves.
- Ground through sensation, to become aware of the sensations and feedback the body signals as you move.
- Ground through breath, to become aware of the breath, the movement and sensations as you inhale and exhale.
Relaxed attention is needed, too much focus will constrict you, too little focus will cause you to gap mentally and jump out of your body once again. Become an observer, paying attention when you are aware and also when you gap and become distracted.
Gapping is natural, we are so used to being up in our heads most of the time and our minds are designed to multi task. Yet, with a fast paced life, it can get harder and harder to focus one one thing for a sustained period of time. Think of scrolling on social media or half listening when in conversation. What has your full attention in life? And what happens when you do not train awareness as a skill? You experience skills fade. It gets harder to stay in awareness.
When you become distracted during your Tai Chi and Qigong practice, without stopping or interrupting, bring the mind back into the body. Return to awareness. Avoid letting the distraction take over. The thoughts and feelings will try to drag you along and out of yourself, returning to a left brain activity. The left brain will always try and take control as it tends to be dominant. Instead, gently acknowledge the distraction, release any judgement you have on becoming distracted, and gently return awareness to the body.
Release the mind from expectations and release yourself from the pressure to perform. Come with an empty cup to your training. This means to avoid preconceptions and prescribing. If you force awareness to feel a certain way or try to force yourself to replicate the image of someone else's awareness experience, this is not authentic. Let your awareness come to the surface naturally. Set your thinking brain aside, set the choreography aside and set your thoughts about how you are performing aside. Simply be aware as you move and breathe. Move for the experience, not the results.
The power of pausing. My Taoist teacher Casey Kochmer calls a single movement of pause a micro meditation. Pausing is part of awareness training as it creates space to become aware. I teach pausing as part of the heavenly breath Qigong exercise to demonstrate how the body responds. Pause at the end of the exhale, when the body is in the yin stage. Listen to the body settling and find a moment of sensitive silence. Observe the body at peace in that moment. This is neutral. Foster moments of pause in your daily life to develop awareness, to ground and to bring yourself back into your body.
Developing awareness and sensitivity is like changing gears on a bicycle, as you move into a different groove. You get out of your head. You step aside from yourself. It may feel challenging at first until you become familiar with the new gear. When the gear is oiled by continual practice, this is where ease is found. In your Tai Chi and Qigong practice, spend time developing body awareness as you move. Notice when distractions lessen and a gentle focus is easier to maintain. Your Tai Chi and Qigong practice is a training ground for your life, notice how becoming aware positively influences other areas of your life. Worth the effort.