Tag Archives: go with the flow

Everything’s Connected

The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone, The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone…” as the song goes – it’s all connected. And if we maximise what’s going on at the “whole body” level, it will improve our T’ai Chi practice, and bolster the benefits we get from T’ai Chi.

Benefits of moving your body as a whole

T'ai Chi: moving the body as a whole

T’ai Chi: moving the body as a whole

  • improved co-ordination
  • improved balance
  • shifts any energy blockages
  • helps the body know where to move next in the T’ai Chi sequence
  • improved mobility
  • boosts feelings of relaxation and letting go
  • increased sense of wellbeing and sense of calm

Some practice points

Just as the body is connected, so are all the T’ai Chi principles. Here’s how those interconnect with the “everything’s connected” concept.

Connect/ co-ordinate with the breath

In a natural way, the T’ai Chi moves need to follow the breath. In the reminders at the beginning of our warm-up, students are asked to take deep belly breaths, however it is important these are still natural breaths and not sharp gulps of air. Sometimes during the Form, you may find that a particular movement takes one cycle of breath, but another week you may be feeling more relaxed and can take two cycles. It’s an interesting one to watch (and think about jotting some notes in a T’ai Chi diary!!)

Yin/Yang and opposites

Yin & Yang in T'ai Chi: constant movement / moving the body as a whole / opposites interconnect

Yin & Yang in T’ai Chi: constant movement / moving the body as a whole / opposites interconnect

Once you tune into this idea of “wholeness in movement” you can start to appreciate – in the periphery – how opposites are at work in T’ai Chi. For example, expansive/ contracting postures; movements in which your energy rises and falls; connections between left arm and right leg, and vice versa; and the rolling of weight between right and left as we develop the full and empty leg.

Letting go

There are a few key points I want to make here, each showing T’ai Chi on different levels. First, letting go frees you up. You let go of your chattering mind as you enter class, which gives you the capacity to tap into T’ai Chis amazing benefits. You let go of any tension in the body and relax into the joints. You aim to let go of the idea that you “should” nail every single movement in T’ai Chi – instead try and go with the flow on that, and the whole process becomes much more pleasureable (not forgetting the fact that you’ll “get there quicker” via the scenic route). Letting go gets you out of your headspace, and instead you can live in the moment/ movement.

Let go of your drive for Perfection Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

Let go of your drive for Perfection
Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

State of mind: T’ai Chi is a meditative movement. Completely zoning out, however, is not the aim. So whilst you’re looking to let go, don’t let that impact your presence.

Preparing the body for T’ai Chi

Use the warm-up to connect everything. You can re-check how your doing at the end of our meditative walking section, when you are invited to “rest into the stillness.”

Some exercises

Circle everything

Exercise: circling the arms

Exercise: circling the arms

Bring your fingertips together and start with small circling of the wrists. Gradually increase the circles until they are at their biggest (don’t overstretch). Then cup the hands at the bottom and revers the movement, bringing down the arms in smaller circles. For the legs, bring your weight into the left so you have a full left leg. Lift the empty right and circle the lower leg slowly. Beneath the knee only. Reverse the movement and then swap legs.

Meditative walking

Again slowly and with full and empty leg. As the right leg is full, lift the right arm in front, then draw the right arm down slowly as the left leg takes a small step, rolling the weight gradually into the left leg.

Windows / Fair Lady Weaves the Shuttle

For Intermediates, practice the Windows sequence without paying too much attention to any one bit. Just go for it, by which I mean move everything together as a whole without focussing on which arm circles. If you circle the wrong arm and you’re concentrating on everything moving as a whole, chances are it will feel wrong and you’ll know.

A final thought

Your T’ai Chi practice is connected to your willingness to let go… to your ability to realise that you might not have the perfect gym-sized living room but that a little bit of practice is better than none… to your reading around T’ai Chi and its principles.

Enjoy your practice, no matter how imperfect ;)

T'ai chi practice: enjoy your practice, no matter how imperfect ;)

T’ai chi practice: enjoy your practice, no matter how imperfect ;)

Mindful notion for a mindful nation

Pssst! Have you heard of the new mindfulness agenda gathering pace? I’m excited to see how the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mindfulness will develop its thoughts & actions around “mindfulness” – and the wider remit of improved “wellbeing” for all. It’s quite a task, that’s for sure! But very much a worthy one…

Towards a mindful nation

The APPG is looking to create a “mindful nation,” by including mindfulness in future policy-making. Policy areas could include –

  • mindfulness in schools to improve classroom behaviour, attention and focus, as a strategy to raise educational standards and supporting social mobility, and to develop young people’s tools for lifelong well-being
  • expanding the provision of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy within the NHS as a treatment for depression and other mental and physical health problems
  • mindfulness as a way to reduce stress and improve care, attentiveness and compassion amongst healthcare workers
  • mindfulness as a way to improve resilience, reduce stress and anxiety, and develop creativity in the workplace
  • mindfulness as a way to tackle depression, anxiety and stress in the criminal justice system (both staff and those in custody)
  • mindfulness as a way to cultivate overall health and well-being

(These from the aims of the The Mindfulness Initiative, a collaboration of the Mindfulness Centres at Oxford, Exeter and Bangor Universities, which supports the APPG.)
Source: http://oxfordmindfulness.org/all-party-parliamentary-launch

So there’s a move towards using mindfulness to boost mental wellbeing, reduce stress, anxieties and depression; and increase an overall sense of improved health & wellbeing – in everyone. The notion of including mindfulness and wellbeing in policy-making – what’s not to like?!

And I’d like to go one step further – and say that as individuals, we should be:

  • applying mindfulness techniques
  • looking after our wellbeing (and the wellbeing of those around us)

in everything we do!

T’ai Chi as a mindful exercise

My interest obviously stems from the fact that I teach T’ai Chi, which is a mindful exercise, often described as an “internal exercise.” This is because in T’ai Chi practice, we generate the internal energy of the body, know as “chi” – or life force. It’s this internal/meditative element to the exercise which can bring students some incredibly uplifting benefits.

I talk a lot to students about the fact that T’ai Chi is more than just a dance. I’m aware that students are drawn to T’ai Chi for different reasons; but to ignore the meditative/mindfulness elements seems to me to be completely missing the point. Practising T’ai Chi encourages students to really examine for themselves their own connection between body, mind and spirit. And insodoing, the end result can be powerfully uplifting.

T’ai Chi’s contribution to the mindfulness agenda

Here are a few of my thoughts around how T’ai Chi contributes to this new and growing “mindfulness” agenda:

  1. Practising T’ai Chi and applying its principles to everyday life (and work) enables us to become more open-hearted and compassionate humanbeings.
  2. In T’ai Chi we are encouraged to feel “grounded.” This sense of “just being” in the present moment means that we have a better ability to see what’s here and now, and to appreciate what we already have
  3. Being grounded helps alleviate the incessant “drive;” yearning for the “next” thing / striving all the time for something better
  4. In a sense, being in the present moment takes away the focus of great expectations of the future: being mindful and present means you can assess and manage your expectations. That’s what Happiness is made from 
  5. Over the years, I have seen the big difference T’ai Chi has made to my students who are caring for partners/elderly relatives. Practising this mindful exercise affords carers a break from their everyday “loops” of thinking: this is a very welcome break, and a nurturing experience
  6. I’d like to refer to “like-mindedness” – connecting with like-minded people who come to T’ai Chi classes creates its own energy; this is difficult to describe, not least because in class we’re not talking to each other – but there is a definite sense of accepting others for who they are and how they are. And feeling accepted brings a warmth to the soul.
  7. In T’ai Chi we “yield” and flow with our weight, with our slow graceful movements. This yielding brings a certain sense of letting go… of altered perspective. We’re not pressing back; instead we are quite passive, but at the same time strong and rooted. Confident. Resilient. My students often share with me that this element helps them to cope with workplace stresses (or other situations of conflict). It’s a new developed mindset.
  8. T’ai Chi movements are deliberately slow. For beginners this is one of the major challenges – to fully believe it’s ok to slow down. Yet once in that mindset of “accepting” (in class) – the experience of accepting is “one to bottle!” When we are accepting, we feel less stressed and more fulfilled.
  9. Given that T’ai Chi practice leaves me feeling relaxed yet alert, agile and with a certain clarity of thought, its benefits definitely include better access to The Creative Me. That’s come through lots of practice – but it’s the meditative, mindful element which brings that creativity to fruition.
  10. “Easing off” at the edges and “going with the flow” are principles I often refer to in class; but which also have a place in managing everyday Life. I talk about “taking the scenic route” and not pressing with 100% effort. This then encourages a wider awareness, and it’s this wider awareness which provides both creativity and a sense of opportunity.

This latter point brings me neatly onto a quote from Lord Richard Layard, Member of Legatum Commission, who said:

Treating the goal of education as being to ‘get ahead’ is an inherently zero sum game: a society can make no progress this way.”

So over the coming summer hols, I’ll be practising some mindfulness techniques/activities with my children. We’re going to “do” less, and spend more of our time “just being.”

I’m looking forward to developing in them a notion of mindfulness and wellbeing in all that we do.

For an update on how we’re getting on, watch this space…

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!!