Getting into “best” mindset for T’ai Chi

For beginners at T’ai Chi, or those coming to the Retreat Day with no previous experience of T’ai Chi…

With the children now in their second week back at school, I’m finding myself talking to them about doing their best.  It has cropped up quite a bit – not a Brownie visit can go by it would seem without my feeling the insuppressible urge to yet again deliver my polished “Remember to do your best” speech.

However, as I prepare to start the new T’ai Chi year (weekly classes are starting next week; and I’m also preparing for the Retreat Day which is on Saturday 5th October)… I’ve noticed that I have developed a completely different standpoint. I wanted to share this particularly with beginners – both new beginners to T’ai Chi and to those who are continuing beginners  – because taking this alternative standpoint could make all the difference in breaking down some tricky barriers to learning.

Hard toil: giving 100% isn't always the best option

Hard toil: giving 100% isn’t always the best option

We all like to know we’ve done our best (don’t we…??)  But when it comes to learning T’ai Chi – putting in your best efforts as we know those to be in our Westen culture – is not going to net you the same rich rewards as simply applying yourself in a more relaxed, laissez-faire fashion.

That’s a difficult concept to someone who has been everything from a Brownie through to Duke of Edinburgh  Gold Award-winner!!  For those who like and constantly crave the “tick” of knowing something – and knowing it in its mouth-watering entirety – this is a radical new approach. And one which doesn’t sit so naturally if you’ve been wired to give everything 110%.

Despite the fact that I consider myself wired to hit everything with top effort, Isomehow find myself, in fact, able quite capably I think, to operate in both “worlds,” in both mindsets.  As my day-job is quite an academic one (I research technical conferences and develop conference agendas, finding suitable global experts in their field to share their views and what’s current in their niche industry) – I’m used to being able to deal in detail – it’s so relevant in the world of events.  In Left/Right brain terms, throughout that conference agenda-developing process, my brain is equally able to tap into the Right side of the brain, which is so good at delivering the overview under which all that lovely “Left brain” detail hangs. 

Already I’m discovering that for such a Left brain dominated task such as agenda writing, I’m still sensibly tapping into the more intuitive Right side of the brain.  I’m concluding that I approach the agenda-setting task from both ends of this spectrum.  My Right brain is allowed to “hang loose” and provides the more general connections I need up until such time as my Left brain can deliver particular pieces of finer detail.  Both sides of my thinking brain inform each other, as I constantly re-categorise the whole gamut of information I have across my conference and seminar programmes.

solar panelLet’s take the topic “solar panels” since that’s something I know about.  I should share with you at this point that I know:

  • there are different types of solar panels (some produce electricity, others produce heat) This is high-level, more general knowledge
  • there are right and wrong ways of mounting solar panels I have heard presentations on brackets used for mounting solar panels – this is fine detail
  • there are developments in producing solar PVT (combination of solar PV and solar thermal) Quite general understanding, which turns more specific as I talk to the experts about the pros and cons of amalgamating these two technologies – so this is both general and specific
  •  there are incredible developments in building-integrated solar products General list of developments; but also some very niche specifics of the use of graphene in solar cells
  • the Government recently reduced the feed-in-tariff which producers can earn from producing their own electricity At the time, I read in some depth the industry’s responses to this particular change in policy

At all times I am developing my own understanding of solar panels from both general and very specific angles.  And my brain is completely at ease with doing this simultaneously. As I come across a new concept, my brain finds a suitable place to store that information and then sets to work over time in establishing its connections to my information repository.  It starts off as either a very specific piece of technical information for which I need to work out a context – or it’s a very loose topic heading which I need to find more information about in order to embed it into the rest of my knowledge base.

If we then apply this to our T’ai Chi learning, it can allow us to learn about the wider benefits of T’ai Chi; its principles and rich history; its connections with Chinese philosophy; whilst at the same time learning some very specific moves.

Zen garden: T'ai Chi learning allows for some structure, and for the rest to "hang loose" about the edges

Zen garden: T’ai Chi learning allows for some structure, and for the rest to “hang loose” about the edges

However, if we come to T’ai Chi classes just to learn the movements without allowing the Right side of our brain to provide the wider framework, we’ll miss out on the intuitive part of our brains, which are so good at providing very loose connections and contexts in the background – and we’re left alone in a room trying to learn a soulless dance with a Left brain telling us to “do our best.”  That not only spells disaster; but insodoing, you’ll miss “the journey,” you’ll miss the joy of learning in an open relaxed way; you’ll miss the Eureka jumps your brain is able to take when you relax and let go.  In fact, if you approach your T’ai Chi learning with a 100% effort-is-best approach, you’ll find that T’ai Chi won’t make so much sense and won’t come to you so easily.

So my advice to beginners and to those looking to deepen their understanding – is to consider these clichés and just see where they take you:

  • Go with the flow
  • Ease off at the edges
  • Relax and enjoy the ride
  • Less is more
  • KISS (keep it simple stupid)
T'ai Chi: takes a lifetime to learn, so relax and enjoy the journey

T’ai Chi: takes a lifetime to learn, so relax and enjoy the journey

T’ai Chi takes a lifetime to learn; this is one of those occasions when the detail can be filled in later.  For now, just concentrate on the wider concepts and you’ll find that you’ll reach your “goal” much quicker.  :)

I’m looking forward to welcoming lots of new faces to T’ai Chi this term and would recommend that students keep a brief T’ai Chi diary, which helps enormously with appreciating at the end of the course (or, in the case of the Retreat Day – at the end of the day) just how much progress you’ve been able to make – beyond “just” the movements!

 As with all my posts, I would very much welcome your thoughts and comments.

Wise old owl, T’ai Chi sage

I’m not claiming to be wise, old or a T’ai Chi sage – but something in me yesterday changed… and I felt strangely wiser than I did the day before. I have put this down to consciously reaching out to my T’ai Chi principles in a period of general overwhelm. I quite simply took a proper step back from what I was doing.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve heard people advise that taking a step back helps you to see the fuller picture; it gives you fresh a perspective… but what’s been different for me this time is that I have done this from a T’ai Chi perspective. I’ll explain.

Taking a step back in T’ai Chi

Taking a step back in T’ai Chi (and indeed in other martial arts) is a great technique for throwing your opponent off-balance. By “opponent” I mean any kind of “aggressive force” – either from the people around me, or from Life’s little knocks. In T’ai Chi we don’t meet force with force – instead, we keep momentum, moving in a continuous circular motion, which helps to deflect the opponent’s strikes.

I have mentioned before in this blog the Monkey Steps movement. Low into the legs, the T’ai Chi practitioner makes small, wide backwards steps very slowly, whilst pressing one palm away in front of the chest, and simultaneously drawing the other upward-facing palm back in towards the body. There is a feeling of complete balance and total co-ordination as the body moves in symmetry. The main point to make about the Monkey Steps, is that – as you retreat from the opponent, you are remaining strong in yourself – true to your self, and confident from within. It’s like saying to the world – ok, you’re throwing all this at me; but I’m still strong in myself and can deflect these strikes with calm, smooth movement. Importantly, I’m not suggesting I fight back with force.

The monkey in Chinese philosophy

In Chinese philosophy, the monkey represents human nature. They talk of “monkey thoughts” cropping up which distract you from your focus. In T’ai Chi, we learn to calm the mind and to bring the mind into the present moment. As a thought comes into the mind, we learn to just acknowledge it – and then dismiss it for another time. It’s quite liberating to meditate this way.

Taking a step back from overwhelm and issues beyond your control

So, in taking a step back from my overwhelm (and a few tricky bits to boot!), I felt reconnected with the confident Me. I felt strong; I felt a real sense of clarity. I was able to simplify issues and readdress them with a remarkable calmness and steely inner-confidence. I felt a weight had been lifted and that made me feel happy. I was grounded. My afternoon ran particularly smoothly. I was in control of the things I was doing; I’d let go of the areas I had no control over. In those instances, worrying about it wasn’t going to change anything, so I might as well not worry about it.

Wise old owl: tapping into T'ai Chi principles is powerful!

Wise old owl: tapping into T’ai Chi principles is powerful!

I shared all of this with my T’ai Chi students last night. We had a really interesting discussion and I’m hopeful I’ve helped others set about trying this out on their work issues too. I asked them “After feeling so wise about all of this today – do you think I’ll still feel like this tomorrow?” I really wanted to bottle that feeling of being champion and yet so calm, confident and clear about what I was doing. It’s not quite 9am as I’m writing this, and I really think I’ve cracked it! On the surface, I guess we’ve heard a lot of this before – but for me (and in the words of one of my students last night) – knowing something and believing it are two different things. So my tip for this week is – Take a step back…take a big step back and really assess the essence of what you’re doing. And do this away from your daily task list. Reconnect to your “why” and it will give you greater clarity. Getting such fresh perspective is really powerful!

I would love to hear what results you achieve!

Retreat Days: permission to start doing things a bit differently

 

The Retreat Day (which the T’ai Chi Room is organising with a host of partners) is a perfect opportunity to shake things up a little and make a break from the norm. As a full day in which to focus on yourself, Retreat Day Goers benefit from switching off, getting away from the hubbub that is daily life – and perhaps best of all, having the “head space” to reassess life. “Sometimes people need permission to go off and do something,” Annette Rainbow explains. Annette is one of the therapists at the Retreat Days.

“I have found that people need to be told what to do. It’s always helpful to have a routemap or some ideas to work with at home.”

Annette has been a part of the Retreat Days ever since its early ideas stages. Using this retreat to assess and make changes lends itself brilliantly to a softly softly approach. Retreat Day Goers spend a relaxed day with T’ai Chi, Yoga & Pilates classes all laid on, as well as a relaxation or beauty treatment. Integral to the “retreat” element is also the health & wellbeing talks, which clients can really benefit from once they have had a chance to really unwind and “de-clutter” their busy minds. Clients also take away with them a resource pack, which is brimming with ideas on organic skincare routines, massage techniques, gentle exercises, tips on good posture and breathing, meditation and healthy living recipes to reinforce the healthy lifestyle messages when clients are back in the real world.

I caught up with Annette, giving me the best excuse to book myself in for my own relaxation treatment!!

Annette Rainbow: Retreat days give clients a chance to re-assess life and permission to make a few changes

Annette Rainbow: Retreat days give clients a chance to re-assess life and permission to make a few changes

Annette, what brought you to aromatherapy massage & reflexology?

In the first 10 minutes of an introductory course I was hooked! I very quickly planned how much the full course, couch, oils etc. would cost me and how I was going to afford it.

I am a great believer in the body healing naturally. I think that there are other ways than simply prescribing drugs – new avenues of health.

On the massage course I was fascinated by the human mind and body. I wanted to use massage to help people – so I set up my aromatherapy massage business.

Helen:

It’s obvious, Annette, that you really believe in what you do. And it doesn’t stop there does it? There are so many other strings to your professional bow…

Annette:

That’s right, Helen.

What are the more diverse treatments you offer now that your business has grown?

I like to treat people as they present themselves to me “as a whole.” This can be massage, aromatherapy massage, deep tissue, Indian Head, Japanese face massage, reflexology, hormonal reflexology. I do quite a bit of work with fertility and am pleased to be able to report a really good success rate for this side of my work. It’s so rewarding.

I also offer counselling sessions – Neurolinguistic Programming, Time Line Therapy,® Hypnotherapy. I have helped people with phobias (the phobia can be gone in days), addictive behaviours, sadness, fear, guilt issues and bereavement.

Then on the more physical side – Abdominal & Colonic Massage; and Walker Technique, helping people with discomfort and pain.

Helen:

For the Retreat Days, you are happy to offer a bit of a bespoke treatment for clients who come to you, which is great because it means you can provide a massage which is relaxing, but which might concentrate on a frozen shoulder for instance…

Annette:

I’m a “fixer” – I like to work on problem areas so that clients leave feeling some relief from niggling pains. I use deep tissue massage for anything which is stuck and for lower back problems.

I can get to work quite quickly – I’m quite resilient myself, so there will still be lots of scope for some relaxing or uplifting massage techniques.

I go to lots of festivals in the summer so I can boast great stamina!

For the Retreat Days, I will be offering clients a treatment to suit their needs on the day. I would describe this as a combination treatment of – Indian head massage, reflexology, possibly some Walker Technique (if appropriate) and some abdominal massage.

Helen:

That’s fabulous – we’re thrilled to have your breadth of expertise! And all to suit the client! You will also be giving a short talk first thing about self-massage techniques, so all Retreat Day goers can benefit from your tips…

You spoke about Walker Technique – what are the benefits of this treatment?

Walker technique works on the fascia tissues. It can be used to relieve frozen shoulder, migraines, labyrinthitis and sinus problems.

What do your clients say about you?

First, that I am professional and this is an important driver for me. This isn’t a hobby. I get referrals from GPs and other therapists, so my reputation and word-of-mouth recommendations work well for me.

Helen:

I have been a client of yours for some years now – I would add that what I always appreciate is your aura of calm. And I love your cosy log-cabin treatment room!

What would you say are the main benefits of attending a Retreat Day in 2013?

I think that the Retreat Days provide a unique opportunity to just stop, relax and to learn a few new tricks about keeping yourself healthy, happy and long-term relaxed!

More about Annette

Annette Rainbow has a strong desire to help people through a varied menu of treatments. Annette also likes to teach and delivers tailor-made talks and will be delivering a short demonstration of self-massage techniques at the Retreat Day on 22 June 2013.

Annette’s contacts

t: 07790 813986 / e : annette@rainbow-touch.co.uk / w: www.rainbow-touch.co.uk/ t:@AnnetteRainbow

Retreat Days, featuring T’ai Chi, Yoga & Pilates

To book your place on this wonderfully relaxing, uplifting, rejuvenating day, please visit www.thetaichiroom.co.uk/Retreat_Days and download the Booking Form. For telephone/email enquiries please call 01993 822725 / email helen@thetaichiroom.co.uk.

Still availability for: Saturday 22 June 2013 (8.30am – 5.30pm)

Venue: Middle Aston House, Oxfordshire.

We look forward to giving you a warm welcome.

Emptiness: reconnecting with the inner you

Fabulous discussion at last night’s class around the impact of “emptiness” on T’ai Chi practice. I’m touched that students shared so much of themselves on this – so a warm “thank you” to all.

Emptiness is uplifting: reaching the inner you

Emptiness is uplifting: reaching the inner you

 

I wanted to distil a few key points – there are some quite profound lessons in life to be drawn from looking at emptiness and T’ai Chi practice. (I’m always drawing lessons from T’ai Chi!)

The concept of emptiness and inner stillness has its roots in Chinese philosophy. I’d like to refer to Buddhism and Taoism, which both have close links with T’ai Chi. Lau Tzu (possibly an older contemporary of Confucius) also talked about emptying your mind of all things in the old T’ai Chi classic The Tao te Ching. I need just to say that there are many idiosyncracies of the Buddhist and Taoist views of emptiness, which go way beyond this post(!) – but I have pulled out a few points which resonate with T’ai Chi practice.

 

Meditative aspects of T'ai Chi encourage a state of "emptiness"

Meditative aspects of T’ai Chi encourage a state of “emptiness”

T’ai Chi, meditation & emptiness

T’ai Chi is a meditative exercise and it’s the meditative state of mind which “emptiness” brings. Emptiness is a state of mind in T’ai Chi. Last night we each shared some examples of how we can use this relaxed state of mind in our everyday lives – when tricky situations arise which we find stressful, it is possible to condition ourselves to respond to a trigger – and tap into this “empty” state of mind – even without the movements. It’s like finding from within a cosy, safe place where there are no worries. We are protected from outside negative forces.

Enjoying the absence of wanting etc.

Within this space we’re calling emptiness, we feel without attachment, without desire, without dissatisfaction, greed, stress, anxiety or frustration… even if this is just for a short period.  T’ai Chi practice is a great opportunity just to let go.  With some time away from this collection of “wants” – through “emptiness” in T’ai Chi practice, we can gain a certain clarity of thought.

 

T'ai Chi symbol

T’ai Chi symbol

T’ai Chi symbol: what’s it telling us about our practice?

The T’ai chi symbol represents the constant flux of change. From this you can infer that everything is impermanent, and the argument, when played out in full, goes that problems come and go; feelings come and go; perceptions come and go. It becomes futile to worry about something which will change. One example from a student last night was that often she will be worrying about something – and without action (i.e. emptiness) – it somehow rights itself on its own. Inaction isn’t always a good idea – but it does have its place in our toolbox of “alternative perspectives.”

So the T’ai Chi symbol with its continuous curved lines, shows constant change. For T’ai Chi practitioners, we should note that the T’ai Chi Form (sequence of slow, graceful movements which lasts around 20 minutes from start to finish) needs to be practised as one continuous movement. We should think about there being no beginning and no end to the moves; one posture flows directly into the next, just like the curved lines in the symbol. More advanced students will start to “remember” the sequence by their continual flow of weight – something of a “Eureka” moment when you can predict what comes next just by the fact that, for instance, you have your weight fully in the right leg.

Enjoying emptiness in practice

Emptiness in T’ai Chi provides a quiet stillness. For me, I’m not taking this as an exercise to fully “check in” with how I’m feeling – I don’t converse in that way – it’s more of an awareness. In T’ai Chi we are encouraged to empty our minds of all thoughts; if a thought does crop up, we are to acknowledge it, and dismiss it… for the present moment at least.

After the end of the walking exercise in class, I will always invite students to “rest into the stillness” – that’s your stillness, whatever it means to you.

Last night students kindly shared with the group what they felt stillness meant to them in practice.  Here are the many benefits it brings:

  • A general awareness of our bodies & breathing
  • A calming influence (both in practice and as a “space” we can learn to tap into without even requiring the movements)
  • A state of mind where nothing matters (for that moment; we are in constant flux, remember)
  • A place to reconnect with yourself
  • Tuning into a general sense of who we are, and our interface with the world
  • An awareness of our inner strength & resources
  • A place in which to build confidence
  • An understanding of what we offer to the world

For me, the idea of connecting not only with myself; but also viewing my T’ai Chi practice as my interface with the world was an important one.  Not everyone felt the same about this, although one student came up with exactly the same example of this as me: there is a movement in which we collect energy in our palms and then turn the palms to release the energy. At this precise point, we both have the feeling of sharing what we have to offer with the room (in my student’s case) – and with the world in my case.

I use T’ai Chi’s principles to help tackle life’s little obstacles. Understanding this place we’re calling “emptiness” somehow strengthens those skills.

Ironically for me, it’s through this meditative movement that I am able finally to learn how to stop!

 

Retreat Day: Let your inner self blossom

Retreat Day: Let your inner self blossom

Retreat Days: reconnect to the inner you & feel nourished with time just to “be”

Retreat Days cater well for those just wanting to “stop” for a while – to empty your mind and tap into the inner you. It’s a great opportunity to have a proper break away from whatever is keeping you on the move all the time – away from your busyness.

Kind to body, mind & spirit – the Retreat Day allows you to “zone out” for a while; breathe deeply; stretch; relax & rejuvenate.

Places still available for the Retreat Day, featuring T’ai Chi, Yoga & Pilates:

  • Saturday 22 June 2013
  • Full day of relaxation & gentle exercises
  • Including meditation, breathing, stretching
  • Health & wellbeing talks
  • Nutritious two-course light lunch
  • Relaxing holistic massage/ beauty treatment
  • www.thetaichiroom.co.uk/Retreat_Days.aspx
  • Or call me on 01993 822725
  • Works well with a few close friends (the day is programmed so you will see each other!)
  • Takes place at Middle Aston House, Bicester, Oxfordshire (accommodation available)

Now I have some questions for you. Please share:

1. What’s keeping you busy just now?

2. How do you nurture your inner self?

3. What are your techniques for achieving some stillness in your daily/weekly routine?

4. How do you find clarity of mind – when you really need to take a step back and “see the wood for the trees”…?

Looking forward to hearing your strategies…

Warm wishes,

Helen, T’ai Chi Instructor and Organiser of Retreat Days, featuring T’ai Chi, Yoga & Pilates.

www.thetaichiroom.co.uk/Retreat_Days.aspx

 

Give up the quest for Perfectionism – “Go with the flow” instead

 

On Saturday I sponsored Tina Sederholm’s stunningly brilliant performance – “Evie and the Perfect Cupcake” at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival. To deliver such wit; and insightful content all in a seamless 53-minute piece of poetry was breathtaking!

 

Helen Blantz (sponsor) meets Tina Sederholm (poet) at Chiplitfest, April 2013

Helen Blantz (sponsor) meets Tina Sederholm (poet) at Chiplitfest, April 2013

Tina very kindly thanked the festival team for hooking her up with the “perfect” sponsor(!); our messages do resonate extremely well. Here’s how I explained that in my guest blog post on the Chiplitfest blog (www.chiplitfest.com/blog/page/2/)

Evie and the Perfect Cupcake – sponsored by The T’ai Chi Room

“Perfectionism” – now there’s a can of worms to feast on (but maybe not literally; I think I’ll stick with cake!) I’m excited about the reviews I have read on the key messages in Tina Sederholm’s “Evie and the Perfect Cupcake.“ I’m delighted to have been asked to sponsor this performance because so much resonates with me:

I organise alternative spa days where I teach T’ai Chi. I am particularly interested in the idea of “letting go.” I am often looking to get the message across to busy, stressed students that not giving 110% effort in everything we do can actually be a whole lot more beneficial…

I feel a strong connection with the notion that striving to reach perfection is a goal of “empty calories,” if you’ll excuse the pun. There’s no “nutritional” value in this constant drive to get on the fast track. Striving all the time to reach perfection first of all burns us out. Secondly and somewhat ironically maybe, it reflects so many missed opportunities through such blinkered vision…

The alternative is to “ease off at the edges” and to “go with the flow” in life. Together with opening up your senses to what’s going on around you at any one time (mindfulness) – I call this winning combination “taking the scenic route.” It’s so liberating!

My final point can quite succinctly be expressed in a T’ai Chi movement called “Step back to repulse the monkey.” As you may or may not already know, T’ai Chi can have multiple benefits (it improves strength, balance, flexibility, general sense of wellbeing etc.) It can also have amazing impacts on stress, anxiety, depression and insecurities around self esteem. “You said you’d be succinct!” I hear you cry – so here’s the movement:

Stepping backwards slowly and mindfully, students deflect outside pressures/ problems/ external aggression/ self-criticisms with graceful “warding off” arm movements (dare I say “wax on/ wax off,” or am I now showing my age…?!)

The key point here is that the student remains low in the legs and strong from within. The student has not met force with force – he is much more open-hearted and generous-spirited than that… This is what builds confidence in who you are – so it doesn’t matter what life throws at you – you’re strong. Maybe not perfect – but beautiful and confident in who you are!

Poetry & performance: Chiplitfest, April 2013

Poetry & performance: Chiplitfest, April 2013

Looking forward to having cake with Tina Sederholm – I’m Helen Blantz, T’ai Chi Instructor at The T’ai Chi Room, and Organiser of Retreat Days, featuring T’ai Chi, Yoga & Pilates (www.thetaichiroom.co.uk/Retreat_Days.aspx).
Proud sponsor of “Evie and the Perfect Cupcakewww.chiplitfest.com

Not forgetting a shot of the cupcakes!

Sponsor provides some "not so perfect" (!) cupcakes for the audience to relax & enjoy!!

Sponsor provides some “not so perfect” (!) cupcakes for the audience to relax & enjoy!!

T’ai Chi principles for beginners

I have already referred to T’ai Chi’s principles in my early blog posts – but what are these? Here’s my guide to T’ai Chi principles for beginners:

Slow down

So often beginners rush into the class with their mind still on what has already happened that day and half an eye on what’s still to be done that week… I advise all students to slow down – just bring the mind quietly into the present moment. Try to stop the mind from chattering – if a thought does come into your mind, just acknowledge it and then dismiss it. At the end of the meditative walking section of my class I encourage students to be aware of the stillness around them and to relax into this. Believe me, it’s wonderful!

Relax into the movements

Try to release any tension you may be holding in your body. Take time at the beginning of your practice to run checks through your body to ensure that you are relaxed into all of your joints. Pay special attention to the shoulders – these should be relaxed and down; but not forced.

Curves, not straight lines

T'ai Chi is practised in curves

T’ai Chi is practised in curves

Curve your elbows gently; bend slightly into the legs. When you push forwards from the shoulders, do so with slightly curved arms. We never lock the joints.

Opposites

Be aware of shifting your weight between left and right; be aware of outward stretching movements, and their opposing retracting moves. In general, breathe in with an inward movement, and out with an outward movement. Also, as your arms rise, this usually indicates a slow inward breath. T’ai Chi requires and encourages co-ordination. Feel how your moves co-ordinate (between left and right; also between arms and legs; also between opposite arm and leg). Be aware of creating a full leg before you lift your empty leg. Always place the foot firmly before you bring any weight into it.

Use the meditative walking part of the class to develop an awareness of opposites, and benefit from a heightened sense of co-ordination and control.

Flow

In T’ai Chi we practise the moves as if they are one continuous movement. Feel your weight shift between R and L legs. This is where you will become much stronger, and improve your overall balance (great for preventing trips and falls). It will also allow your body to start predicting which movement comes next (the whole Form when practised from start to finish takes around 20 minutes).

Internalise your movements

Bring your mind into the movement; don’t worry about what’s happened before the class; if a thought does come into your mind – acknowledge it – and then dismiss it. Be mindful of what you’re doing and live in the moment. Also concentrate on your lower tantien as an energy centre.

Keeping a short T’ai Chi diary on how you feel at the end of each class will confirm your progress on mindful movement.

Feel a good connection with the ground

Feel your weight going under the ground. Sink your weight into the legs. You should feel strong to the middle, then quite fluid in the upper half of your body.

Energy

Think about energy flowing through your body; also feel your palms collecting energy. Energy is more than just “heat.”

Ease off – the “less is more” principle

Be happy with giving less effort; let it go. This is a difficult concept for new beginners! The early warm-up exercises are so often practised way to fast – use these to slow yourself down. It might feel a little unnatural at first – but give it a go. Once you accept it’s ok to ease off, there’s a whole new world out there!

In T’ai Chi we never stretch more than 70%. We always work within the limits of our own bodies.

Go With the Flow

Improve your T'ai Chi practice: Go with the flow

Improve your T’ai Chi practice: Go with the flow

You will have heard this phrase used in many day-to-day situations. As a martial art, T’ai Chi can be used to yield the forces of an opponent. The theory is that in T’ai Chi you don’t meet force with force. As your opponent comes towards you, in T’ai Chi you yield before countering with an approach. In Part II students will come across “Monkey Steps” in which you will yield, walking backwards but still remaining strong in yourself. This is a wonderful feeling – a very powerful movement.

If you apply this to your learning – giving 110% attention to acquiring the moves is less likely to net you your ultimate goal of learning T’ai Chi. This is often difficult for beginners to grasp. Understandably beginners are keen to learn and often seek out too much of the detail. Try a “Go with the flow” approach, and if you want to feel that you are “doing your best”, concentrate on getting the general direction right first. Prioritise the legs. The arms don’t lead.

Clarity

Through clarity, you can build confidence. As a learning technique, using strong clarity in your moves will help your body to understand the moves, and will in time allow you to “remember” next steps. If you have been shy in pulling in your right toes when taking up the Birds Beak stance, for example, your body can be forgiven for not knowing that its next move should be to turn the right foot to north (because it will already be pointing north). Over-exaggerating moves is not to be encouraged either – T’ai Chi does not encourage this (think of the other principles under Go with the flow and ease off). T’ai Chi is all about finding a balanced approach. This is something which we could all benefit from in our everyday lives.

Simplicity & and using less effort

T'ai Chi: keep your moves simple

T’ai Chi: keep your moves simple

With practice, and with the technique described in “Clarity”, keeping your moves simple will ensure you get the most benefit from your T’ai Chi. Try not to over-complicate; readjust your body if on occasions a movement doesn’t feel right (e.g. if you have stepped into a stance with is too wide).

Wishing you all improved, relaxed practice!

For more info on T’ai Chi beginners’ classes, please see www.thetaichiroom.co.uk

Or for a T’ai Chi “taster” session – see Retreat Days, featuring T’ai Chi, Yoga & Pilates at www.thetaichiroom.co.uk/Retreat_Days.aspx

Warm wishes,

Helen

Simplicity, a spring clean & a shredder!

I’m slowly progressing to a simpler way of life. A life with less complexity… at least I have a drive for a less complex existence. It makes me feel free! It makes me happier. It lets me see the wood for the trees.  In a work sense it undoubtedly makes me more efficient – when you simplify projects, tasks & process, you identify proper purpose and you can then get back on track pretty quickly.  What’s not to like?

Here are a few examples of how striving for a simpler existence has cropped up in my life within the last month:

  1. I have recently finished a large chunk of work – I called it a “sustained peak” (it lasted a while!) When I surfaced the other side I was overwhelmed by all the tasks I had dropped (quite rightly I had prioritised and these seemingly lowly tasks simply didn’t make the “cut”!) Too conscientious for my own good, I had planned to just “dig a little bit deeper” and trawl through it all; but the task was so immense I simply couldn’t tackle it that way. Without giving it too much thought at the time, I simply created a 2013 archive folder in email and moved entire inboxes into their new home.  I have visited a couple of times – but how liberating to just start again!  I also unsubscribed to all emails relating to shopping (did you know most sites actually email you daily? Exactly how often did I think I would need to be buying snow outfits?!!)
  2. I felt so good simplifying my Outlook on life, if you’ll excuse the pun – that I gave my documents the same treatment. Wow, on a roll…!
  3. Next – old (paper) work projects – ALL of them – had to warrant their very existence. That’s where the shredder came in. Actually this is still an ongoing process – the more I do, the more I realise – I just don’t need all the clutter!
  4. Taking “simplicity” in its wider sense – I was planning a day out with grandparents today - we had a couple of ideas and then found ourselves adding to it – “while we’re in the area” – in fact “over-designing” our trip. My children are fortunate enough to get lots of days out – for them it would be much more beneficial to slow down, do less rushing around and spend time just chatting to their grandparents – much simpler! And a much more enriching experience!
  5. I have recently joined Lucy Eckley (marketing extrordinaire) in her Marketing MeetUps. It’s a small group of local sole owners who choose a marketing project they have been meaning to get around to implementing but for whatever reason haven’t yet started.  It’s amazing what some external accountability and a monthly deadline can do for you, ha ha! I’m so grateful to Lucy and fellow punter, Jo – for both giving me the prompt to get on and start this blog (“Thank you”!) I want to relate that to my thoughts on simplicity – there have only been a couple of MeetUps so far and I thought I knew the exact steps I wanted to deliver; however, when I pared back – simplified & clarified – I drew some quite surprising conclusions!

So, here’s my challenge to you this week -

Try and simplify everything for a week – see how much time and effort it saves you.  Also see what you missed in terms of your “old ways” (I’ll bet it’s not much!)

 1392434_99783354 water drop

Here’s what I’ve found since making moves to simplify:

  • I ate better
  • Some tasks didn’t actually need doing (result!)
  • A colleague complimented my clear approach to an email she had been struggling to draft to clients – she actually recognised that her “overload” at the time was clouding her ability to communicate in simple terms (“I’d like to be more like you” was her response – what a compliment!)
  • I started again on some tasks – and did a much better job
  • I have recognised that under (immense) pressure I default to relying on process – quite natural and definitely adviseable to use a “checklist” approach when under pressure – but sometimes a step back, simplifying the task – can get you there quicker.
  • Some things don’t need doing straight away (my priorities may differ from those around me)
  • Saying “no” really isn’t that bad
  • Simplifying things somehow makes me more confident; my capacity for doing “just the right things” has grown

…And just like T’ai Chi’s principles around perspective, confidence & living life in the moment - life’s little concerns just got smaller… and the detail of the simple things just got more important. Simplifying things has left me feeling re-aligned. I have more time for people; I am more connected.  Life’s a whole heap more fulfilling!

What do you think? I would love to hear from you

Warm wishes,

Helen

How would you define wellbeing?

What does “wellbeing” mean to you?

What exactly are we looking to achieve when we say we’d like to feel an improved sense of wellbeing?

The new economics foundation (nef) has developed “five key ways to wellbeing” at
http://www.neweconomics.org/projects/five-ways-well-being

The question of how to define wellbeing has really sparked me. In answering this seemingly superficial question, I have unearthed something of a “window” into all the things which are important to me and my values; what my real drivers are; and from all of this I can map a clearer direction. (Note how I have left actions out at this stage – there’s a reason for that, which I’ll come to later.)

To me, wellbeing is…
1. being “at peace” with myself
2. being “in harmony” with all those around me – family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, community
3. feeling free from overload & clutter
4. being in good health & pain free
5. feeling physically fit, active, exhilarated & loving life
6. feeling close to nature
7. feeling properly connected to those closest to me
8. engaging my “community spirit”
9. feeling able to be “me”
10. feeling able to stop and just “be”
11. feeling equipped and confident so that I can cope with life’s little knocks
12. feeling a wide sense of justice

As someone who has worked from home for the past seven years, it’s no surprise then that getting up at 6.30am on the bank holiday to help out at the Scout Group car boot sale actually gave me such a boost! It was the social interaction/ community spirit “tick” which gave me such a buzz. I already know that when I’m feeling overloaded at work and taking too much time away from the family, one of the simplest “fixes” for me to feel that reconnection, is to have a game of badminton in the garden with my nine-year old boy. Sometimes it’s the simplest things…

T'ai Chi: boosts your wellbeing

T’ai Chi: boosts your wellbeing

Practising T’ai Chi pretty much covers all of my twelve points above. I don’t know how much impact it has on the 12th; but T’ai Chi at least gives me an incredible clarity of thought and a balanced perspective as a darned good starting point for tackling the big things like issues of injustice!

I wanted to share with you how T’ai Chi boosts my wellbeing:
1. At the end of my T’ai Chi practice, I am at my happiest; I feel relaxed and peaceful (I always have the best sleep at the end of my day of teaching)
2. If anything has riled me earlier in the day, after practice it no longer seems important; I can readily shrug it off
3. After practice, I feel strong in myself; I have reconnected within and feel confident in myself
4. I have had a very welcome break from all matters concerning overload & clutter and it feels amazing!
5. I believe that the exercise; breathing and energy flow help to keep my body healthy – the stress-busting, meditative elements undoubtedly help sustain good mental health and practising throughout my three pregnancies helped me to retain a good residual fitness
6. I feel calm, yet very alert after practice; upbeat but relaxed
7. T’ai Chi’s wider principles very much incorporate nature (As Legend would have it – Chinese Taoist priest Chang San-feng witnessed a fight between a crane and a snake and was struck by their movements; how the snake avoided the crane by its flowing, yielding, adapting movements; the crane used too much energy with its linear, aggressive attacks. This is the reason Chang San-feng developed movements to mimic nature and many of the T’ai Chi postures reflect the attributes of different animals.)
8. Some of T’ai Chi’s specific movements build confidence, increase self esteem, deflect inbound negative experiences (“Monkey Steps” are a favourite amongst those of my students who going through particularly difficult /aggressive situations at work. In this movement, students move backwards very slowly and in a controlled fashion “ward off” any external aggressions. Powerful stuff!)
9. Practising T’ai Chi helps to “open your heart” to those around you – forgiveness & compassion are both so beneficial to your inner wellbeing.
10. T’ai Chi’s principles teach the ability to slow down – and to believe that it’s ok not to always put in 120%… not to always run around at a hundred miles an hour
11. On a physical level – T’ai Chi builds strength, flexibility, mobility & balance; and improves posture, breathing, digestion & circulation
12. T’ai Chi is teaching me balance in all things

For this post you might notice that I haven’t provided my list of things you could do to improve your wellbeing – I have perhaps alluded to my T’ai Chi practice, and larking around in the garden with my children – but there’s a good reason for my not providing a lengthy list at this stage. For now, I really wanted to CHALLENGE you to open up to what YOU see is important for your wellbeing. I’ve got so much out of writing this post today, I would love for you to share with me -

What defines wellbeing for you?

And how do you go about nurturing your wellbeing?

Do you:
a) Not give this much attention really (you’re too busy)?
b) Know what you really like to do – but aren’t quite getting around to it?
c) Have a list (either consciously or unconsciously) of things you do to give your wellbeing a boost (shopping trip, night out, weekend away, buy some flowers, book a retreat?)
d) Ever look at those things you might do for a “lift” – and evaluate them?
e) Find that you reach for the “right” fix, or sometimes for an “empty fix”?

I would love to hear from you…

Warm wishes,

Helen