Saturday, January 23, 2010

T'ai Chi Ch'uan Warm-up Exercises

When training in any physically demanding endeavor, it is very important to start each session with a good warm-up routine. This is especially true with Tai Chi because you not only need to Practice with a relaxed body but you must also have a relaxed and Centered mind. Below is an easily understood and effective warm-up regimen taught by a Chinese Master, Sifu Kuo Lien Ying, and presented here by one of his longtime students, Ellen Serber. This is just the Introduction page with instructions for proper breathing and locating your tan tien, or Center. Click on the link to get to the first exercise. Practice should be done every day because you are actually changing the way the neurons in your brain align and fire in new patterns - Neural Plasticity. One day missed is like losing a week's worth of Practice so Be the Warrior and Live your Tai Chi!



My Tai Chi Chu’an teacher, Sifu Kuo Lien Ying, had a limited English vocabulary. The few words that he did know, however, were well chosen. He often said, “every day,” meaning that we should practice every day without fail; “loose,” referring to the state our muscles should be in while exercising; and “beautiful” in support of one’s progress and as a reward for concentrating and practicing faithfully. Every day, loose and beautiful became the words that helped transform my life.

I discovered that if I warmed up and stretched early in the morning, before my regular activities began, I could set myself up for a calmer, happier, more productive day. Not only did I work out the stiffness of my muscles, but I began to observe that my attitude altered. I dropped away from anxiety while I was practicing; when I re-entered my daily routine, I came back a little more observant and less distracted.

I saw that this morning warm-up contributed to my health in many ways. I noticed that the deep breathing helped to remind me to breathe deeply all through the day . The stretching helped to solve my persistent lower back pain. The mental concentration led me towards meditating and self-observation, an ongoing journey.

The morning warm-up is best done outside. If this is not possible, any space with fresh air will do. I suggest that you open the window if you are practicing inside. Wear warm and comfortable clothes and flat-soled shoes. It is best to do the warm-up before you eat breakfast. As you do the exercises, breathe easily and fully. Let the belly relax.

Breathing and Balance

There are many different breathing techniques taught by Yoga and Tai Chi Chu'an instructors. In this warm-up series, I suggest that you breathe as naturally as possible, not forcing anything. Just be sure to relax the abdominal muscles so that the breath can move freely in and out of the body.

Some of us always hold the abdominal muscles in, either to reduce the size of the belly or out of unconscious tension. Sometimes we tighten the belly in order to stabilize our balance. There is another, more productive, way to balance. Instead of trying to hold on with the belly, or the shoulders, or the neck or jaw, try dropping the weight of the body into the pelvis, supported by the legs. When you stabilize from the pelvis, but relax the belly, breath moves more freely in and out of the body.

Finding Center

In Tai Chi Chu'an practice the center of movement is located about two fingers’ width below the navel and inside the body, slightly more to the front of the torso than the back. This area is referred to as the “tan tien.” It is the symbolic center of the body, not an anatomical body part. The tan tien is thought of as a storage area for energy. One objective of the morning warm-up is to “circulate energy” through the body and store it in the tan tien.

These concepts may seem strange when you first begin because they are not how we normally view our bodies. Energy (described as “chi” in Tai Chi Chu'an practice and “prana” in Yoga) is considered the essence of all living things, the essence that makes up all existence. The sensation of energy coming into the body, circulating, and being stored comes with practice. The more you relax and visualize this circuit the more readily it will be felt.

Balance and stability are aided by good postural alignment. The head over the shoulders, shoulders over the pelvis, weight placed equally on both feet. Finding center and finding a balanced standing posture are daily challenges. Each morning take a moment to stand with your arms at your sides, feet placed hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Relax your jaw, shoulders and belly. Imagine that your tailbone drops down to the ground and the crown of your head reaches up to the sky. Now, take your attention to the area below the navel and inside. Shift the weight on your feet right and left, front and back, finding as balanced a position as possible. Take a few deep breaths and then proceed to the morning warm-up exercises.

The morning warm-up exercises should be practiced with ease; no force, no aggression. If an exercise is painful, back off, do smaller, slower, fewer rotations or minimize the stretch. If this does not stop the pain, then discontinue that exercise for the day and move to the next. Always inhale while coming up from a head-down position, so that you don’t get dizzy.

Remember, the warm-up is meditation in motion, so attend to what you are doing, feeling the movements fully and staying conscious of your breath and alignment at all times. This aspect of concentration, of focus, is the part of the practice that takes you away from the constant mental noise of reviewing lists of things to do, things already done, or dwelling in feelings and emotions unresolved in the past or in the future. Use your morning warm-up as a break from those voices and emotions by concentrating on the sensation of the movements, the alignment of the body and the feeling of your breath.

Instructor: Ellen Serber

Click here to start the Exercises

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Please Help Haiti: Compassion is at the Core of Our True Nature

All teachings of the "One Truth" by every true Sage throughout history has focused on Compassion for our fellow men without regard to who they are . Compassion to the point of Pure Empathy is at the Core of our True Nature. I heard some of the initial broadcasts from Port-au-Prince near the epicenter of this massive earthquake and the horrific sounds of people everywhere weeping, praying, and screaming from unimaginable pain literally made me physically ill. My tan tien was feeling the suffering from people who are literally a part of me, and everyone else. The BBC was on the ground quickly and these hardened reporters were stunned at the sight of such devastation and sickened by the sights and sounds of such horrible injuries. There is literally a river of blood running in the streets that is coming from the bodies crushed under tons of concrete. There is a reporter on the radio right now trying to tell the story of this injured girl in front of him but is choking on his grief. Last night they interviewed the father of this little girl sitting on the ground next to him with compound fractures to both her legs, the bones sticking out, a severe gash in her head and skull, bleeding terribly, whimpering at times, screaming at others, and crying without stop. He said his other daughter was dead and he just did not know what to do. He was in shock. The entire country is in shock! And so am I!

Please do whatever you can to help these poor people. There are many groups on the ground right now. The Red Cross was already there and is hard at work doing what they do best, helping people. You can immediately donate $10 to them by texting: "Haiti" to 90999. You will receive a verification text immediately asking you to confirm your $10 donation by replying with "YES". You will immediately receive a confirmation that your cellphone bill will be charged this amount. They have received over a million dollars this way so far but this is just a start in the face of such a catastrophe. Doctors Without Borders and The Salvation Army have been and are there also needing help too. Whichever charity you choose, please choose one Now and make sure your donation is strictly for Haiti. We are One! We always have been and always will be so their suffering is literally our suffering. Please help! Please pray or meditate for them!


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Empty Space Revisited

I answered a question long ago on a Taoist Master's blog that ask, "What is the empty space?". I was relaxing just now when this question popped into my mind again. This imagery appeared to me of myself standing in the midst of our Source or God but with these layers of matter or energy separating me from the clear, untouched, and True Reality "outside" of me. These layers are a construct of the Ego in It's effort to gain control of everything. Therefore It puts up this wall to hide, limit, and distort our understanding of true Reality. This allows It to grab the wheel and jump into the driver's seat of our  vehicle of life and create It's own "reality".

I felt this same True Reality within me in my tan tien or Center and visualized this stream or flow connecting the "two". I then remembered the teachings of a Zen Master whose Community I am a member of. He said we are to become like a mirror inside our Core or Center of Being so that all perception of Reality is just reflected back exactly as it is. Of course we take notice but without any judgement or attachment. In fact, the clarity of this True Reality "outside" is sharper than a perfect photograph taken at the highest resolution imaginable and the "seeing" by our other senses is just as crisp. It then hit me what the empty space is. It is our True Nature. Our task here is to slowly remove this barrier layer by layer as we also work to tame our Ego through practices that calm and clear the mind. As this wall slowly comes down and the Ego slowly accepts It's new role as a casual observer, we begin to merge with this ancient and benevolent "entity". The Empty Space inside, the True Reality that dwells in the Center of us All. becomes One again with the infinite Empty Space that is our Source, God, or True Nature. The Ego retains It's "identity" yet experiences our natural Oneness with everyone and everything in this infinite Universe. This is "The Way" that a man eons ago discovered and followed in order to overcome the bondage of Karma and, thus, this material world. He appeared 2000 years ago and showed us "The Way" just as he had many times before under many different names, as he said. He was not the only one by far to overcome this world but relatively few have. This Way, though, has been passed down throughout the world and in every culture. Although the words and teaching methods are different everywhere, this One Truth, "The Way" as taught by Jesus, the "Way and it's Virtue" as written down by Lao-tse and taught by Chuang-tse, the teachings of Buddha, Mohammad, don Juan Mateus of Meso-America, and many more, remains available to All "with ears to hear" as Jesus said.

I have mentioned don Juan in many of my blog posts alongside Jesus, Lao-tse, and Buddha but I imagine many, if not most, of you have no idea who he is. don Juan Mateus is the Yaqui Native American Man of Knowledge or sorcerer that Carlos Castaneda met and inadvertently learned from in his famous Anthropological work, "The Teachings of don Juan: A Yaqui Indian Sorcerer". Now, do not let the word "sorcerer" bother you. Jesus could easily be called the same because of the "miracles" he demonstrated. He was crucified because of his works out of ignorance just like the witches in Salem, MA were hung for their wisdom. Wisdom frightens ignorant and stupid people so they immediately think it is evil. The Only Evil there is in this world is caused by the Egos of man, Period! Now, Meso-Americans like don Juan taught "The Way" in an easily understood way in my opinion. Instead of drops of water in the Infinite Sea of Self, Source, or God as I often use, they teach that we are bubbles of perception(Tonal or Ego) floating around in the Infinite Nagual(Source, etc). Their teachings in a very simplified description are to shrink the Tonal, which takes up the entire inside of the bubble of perception, until it takes up only one half of this space. Then they pierce the bubble so the Nagual can enter and fill up the now empty half of the bubble. A very interesting concept and one that is completely in line with the teachings of Jesus, et al. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend that you read the first four books. Many places sell them as a set because they comprise the entire teachings. Carlos Castaneda's later books concern his personal Path with Heart - very interesting but not necessary.

Merging the "Empty Space" within with the Empty Space that is our True Nature is why we are here. It remains solely up to each of us to find our Path with Heart that is "The Way" and to stay true to it until we too overcome this world and go Home. This will likely take lifetimes of dedication to accomplish. It is the most difficult thing man can ever do but we do not belong here. This is real but it is not Reality. We live here because of the Ego so we must remove this sense of control from It because everything is already perfect. This perfection is at the Core of every one of us right now. It is not like we are going anywhere because we never left. The Ego, however, has created such a grand illusion that It blinds us to the God Within and creates every problem and every evil there is. Sure, the Path is long but the key is to find the right one and never look back, as Jesus said. Do this, and the Wisdom and blessings start coming and keep coming in ever increasing amounts as long as you stay true to your Path. This, along with the Love that continually increases too, you take with you when you die. Nothing Else! This continues on in your next life but you must stay true to your Path or you will fall. Do not look back! This Is the most important thing you can ever do - actually, the Only thing of value you can do. It is the most rewarding thing too in the Greatest of Ways! One last comment about your Path. You will always help your fellow man no matter who he/she is. This is just natural, our True Nature, because we are All One. Helping another is the exact same thing as helping yourself. Hurt another and you hurt yourself too!

I would like to quote the latest short teaching from the very wise Zen Master I spoke of earlier:

"Each new year is a gateless gate in eternity; Know that IT wisdoms as your Only Moment Body; Leap into IT; let IT empty you of yourself."
 ~ Andrew Shugyo Daijo Bonnici, Ph.D.


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