Tag Archives: posture

Practice makes… practising more fun!

Practice won’t ever make your T’ai Chi perfect. Unfortunately. It’s not something you can “achieve” as such, because we’re always learning. But regular T’ai Chi practice is something which can bring huge benefits to us, if we focus instead on simply letting go and relaxing into the experience.

So let’s agree to give up on any dreams of “Perfection.”

Just let them go.

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

Now, we can look to tap into all those wonderful benefits of T’ai Chi – which presumably are the reason we were drawn to T’ai Chi in the first place!

How does T’ai Chi improve wellbeing?

It’s great to remind ourselves what these benefits are. Here’s a few which students mentioned in class this week:

  • improved balance in the body
  • getting to “that place” of complete relaxation of mind
  • increased mobility & flexibility
  • improved posture, and awareness of posture
  • an opening of the senses
  • confidence to “let go” and just “be” in the movement
T'ai Chi gets you to "that place" of relaxation Photo by Luisa Rusche on Unsplash

T’ai Chi gets you to “that place” of relaxation
Photo by Luisa Rusche on Unsplash

Track your sense of wellbeing

Notice I’ve not called it “progress”! Consider running a T’ai Chi diary. Even if it’s 3 sentences – just something to capture how the T’ai Chi felt both during the exercise and then the benefits you felt afterwards. You can then build a picture of how you are building on that experience week by week.

Capture how you feel at the end of T'ai Chi Photo by Lesly B. Juarez on Unsplash

Capture how you feel at the end of T’ai Chi
Photo by Lesly B. Juarez on Unsplash

Your practice this week

Consider practising in smaller chunks. Break it down – in between classes we shouldn’t let pressures on our time, and the size of our coffee table stop us from tapping into all the loveliness which is T’ai Chi. Consider setting your sights a little lower, and practice just Cloud Arms for five minutes!

Or just do the Monkey Steps for one minute!

Don’t rush – do it mindfully, and enjoy it : )

T’ai Chi – is it really something for everyone?

I love week 5. New beginners are really start to “find their feet” both literally and metaphorically, relaxing into their new-found Groove. And those who have perhaps kept a brief T’ai Chi diary can start to see the progress they have already made since their first class.

So what does progress look like? What have students learned in just 4 weeks? What have been the tangible benefits of learning from scratch this ancient Chinese form of exercise?

What is T’ai Chi and how will it benefit me?

T’ai Chi is many things – it has been described as a form of meditation, a martial art, a means of relaxation for body and spirit, as well as a system for developing good posture, physical balance and co-ordination. This means that each student’s experience will be unique to them.

T’ai Chi: an ancient exercise form

If taken as a “pure” exercise form, T’ai Chi helps to strengthen legs and arms. The easy postures, when practised correctly, help to build strength and tone muscles. When coupled with being mindful of supporting full and empty legs, this also improves balance. In some, the improvements to balance are remarkable.

T’ai Chi: develops good posture

As a posture-corrector, T’ai Chi first starts with encouraging an awareness of the body, and concentrates on the body’s alignment. In class, students are now used to running through their posture mentally, and making small corrections throughout the warm-up and meditative walking sections of the class. In T’ai Chi, we tune into the position of our weight, and then progress into concentrating on flow of our weight between right and left, (full and empty) legs. It’s this flow which directs next moves; and focussing on weight and flow of weight provides the meditative element to T’ai Chi practice.

T’ai Chi: getting the body to move as a whole

As a whole-body movement, students start to match movements with their breath. Deeper belly breaths mean that the body is well oxygenated, which leaves students feeling revived, relaxed and rejuvenated. The range of movements is particularly good for improving flexibility in older people, and since in T’ai Chi we only ever move/ stretch within the limits of our own bodies, this doesn’t cause the body any undue stress; T’ai Chi is a gentle exercise system which can be practised well into our senior years. I have even practised (and taught) T’ai Chi throughout my three pregnancies.

T’ai Chi energises and revives
In terms of energy, over the weeks, students are able to generate good energy flow for optimum wellbeing. This starts in the early weeks as a warming sensation, particularly through the palms. Co-ordinating the breath contributes to this feeling of being energised.  Students will also benefit from improved circulation.

T’ai Chi relaxer

In terms of relaxation, T’ai Chi is an amazing stress-buster. So often in the early days, beginners arrive “ruffled” by their day, especially those suffering from stress at work, or those caring for relatives. It takes a few weeks to really “get” the point that we are in the class to really switch off and slow down. Slowing down in fact feels quite unnatural at first, especially when we are learning the meditative walking. (I do smile to myself when I remember a previous beginners’ class in which I was actually overtaken by a student. I can’t remember who it was, and I’m pleased I’ve not “stored” that piece of information – instead – and in a very T’ai Chi fashion, I have simply let that go…)

T’ai Chi: learning how to really let go & unwind

Relaxation also comes from the fact that, concentrating on the class, we leave any preoccupations at the door as we arrive. Any thoughts which do come to the fore during the class we learn to acknowledge and then dismiss for another time. This takes practice and discipline; but it’s worth persevering; it’s such a beautiful sanctuary to know that there is a time in your week when all problems and life’s little challenges are simply suspended. But it’s up to us to allow ourselves to really let go. And in fully letting go, we will find our T’ai Chi practice comes to us much more easily.

This is why T’ai Chi is such a good stress buster and mood enhancer. Students always leave the class smiling.

T’ai Chi: different benefits for each; but something for everyone

So, there’s something in T’ai Chi for everyone. It’s rich in symbolism, which is something I encourage students to explore for themselves – it definitely benefits their T’ai Chi practice to see this ancient exercise form in fresh contexts. In class we cover the principles of T’ai Chi, which are the areas I feel benefit me above and beyond just the exercise. I tap into these principles in both my personal and business life on a daily basis and will be sharing those experiences in this blog… Watch this space!

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