“If you could find the perfect exercise that marries the brain and physical body, perfects balance, lowers blood pressure, and brings out the yin and yang of a person’s personality, would you do it? An exercise that is a martial art for protection; allows one to dance through life and practice past ninety years of age; and is helpful in retarding the aging process? Of course, this is a nobrainer.”
In China at 5:30 a.m., I entered the square of the city expecting to watch Beijing wake up. To my astonishment I found much of the populace already doing their favorite exercises. Birds in cages were hung on the trees and much like the opening Olympics in China, people in unison were practicing Tai chi. Birds sang, people gestured with smooth, gentile and graceful movements to a slow motion pace that seemed out of sorts with life’s efforts. The only way I can compare what I saw that day seventeen years ago is to refer to it as meditation in movement.
The Chinese believe that there is a life force which runs through the body. That life force Qi is the power of life and when it diminishes, the body dies. The Tao is an ancient Chinese book that explains how one can live in harmony with nature and with others. One of the most famous sayings is, “If you want to find happiness you need not be in a hurry.” If you explore this concept you can see that it is quite a positive one, even for those who do not feel happiness now, there can be in the future a time for happiness. In our world of haste we often forget to smell the flowers, we take our general health for granted, we forget the miracle of our senses, and we remain unaware of much of the world around us.
There is a yin and yang that exists within us. Think of the law of opposites (moon-sun, male-female, heavy-light), and you will begin to see how Tai chi can balance out our own negatives and positives. When we have a more balanced life, we can balance work and recreation, relationships and professional life.
Earlier I mentioned slowing down. The fact that Tai chi is done slowly coincides with the yin and yang energy. Think of the aforementioned opposites of male aggressiveness and female yielding. We are all part of the male-female equation. I am sun and moon, part of the universe. Here is an exercise so that you can feel the chi life force run through your body. The strongest way you can experience the sensation is in your hands. Cross your hands at the wrists, your thumbs forming the letter v with your palms toward you. Place your tongue at the palate near your front teeth. Now move your hands forward and then down toward your belly bottom. This is your tantien, an area like the chakras in yoga, the seat of energy. Then move your hands up towards the eyebrows and look through the space between the thumbs. You might at this point feel tingling in your palms and wrists, or heat in these areas. At your forehead in a pyramid form, go down the center of your body, energizing all the internal organs.
Tai Chi poem as an exercise
I sink my left hand on my right wrist
Finding the needle at the sea bottom
Which faces west so I turn east My hands up, turning like a fan
My left hand, across my right, palm up
My weight shifts from my front left foot Yin (light foot) to my yang (heavy foot)
Turning south with arms extended to the side I face the fiercest opponent: myself,
Knowing fully well negative emotions must be defeated,
So I breathe in (cool breath)
And breathe out (hot breath)
Like so many dragons relaxed at play.
When doing this exercise try to go inside your body. Try to feel the chi (energy) in your hands first and then throughout your body.
One additional exercise that is practiced as an adjunct to Tai chi is the Horse Stance. Stand with legs hip wide apart and imagine yourself sitting on a stool by bending the knees. Now place the palms at the waist facing inward and hold for about a minute or until it feels uncomfortable. Don’t forget to breathe in and out.
All exercises should be done once a day. Do the exercises slowly. Remember to smile. Think of yourself as a dragon at play. If possible face a mirror until you remember the exercises. If you see a dragon peering back, you have arrived.
Marc Kaplan has been practicing yoga for half a century. He has been helping students learn yoga, Tai chi and Chi kong at a variety of locations including the YMCA, synagogues, and several senior citizen centers. As a former teacher in the New York City high schools, he wrote a career education text, and has taught in the community college system teaching History and Creative Arts programs. He is the author of “Head in the Clouds,” a guide to yoga for airline travelers. He also started a Green Party in the Bronx, New York, and is a devout environmentalist.