Tai Chi as Meditation

These days, calling tai chi "moving meditation" is pretty much a cliché. If you've never tried tai chi, or you've learned from an instructor who hasn't gone beyond the superficial levels of tai chi, you might be wondering how moving slowly and stretching your body translates into meditation.

My experience with tai chi is that the meditation part of the exercise - uh, like the exercise part of the exercise - takes time to develop, and tends to go in stages. 

At first, when you're learning tai chi, it's a matter of getting your limbs to go in the right place. There is something about beginning tai chi practice that can take a perfectly well coordinated individual and turn him into a crazy, limbs-akimbo mess. Flailing through your first beginners lessons is common - and it's also the beginning of meditation, believe it or not. Your mind is so focused on not falling down, and maybe even on cursing yourself out for not getting it right away, it's impossible to focus on anything else! You've forgotten the argument you had with the person of your affections. You've forgotten the dry cleaning you're supposed to pick up after class. Gone are the worries about whether you look fat in your workout outfit. You've got bigger things to worry about now. At least you're worrying about whether you'll ever be comfortable doing tai chi instead of the things that normally bug you.

No, this is not true meditation. But in some ways, a change is as good as a rest when it comes to taming monkey mind.

Source: National Geographic Monkey Gallery

Once you do get a bit more comfortable doing tai chi, your mind becomes more focused on achieving certain goals: memorizing the set so you can do it at home; refining your technique; trying to keep the flow going from one movement to the next. Focusing on these tasks can bring you much more peace than wondering if you'll ever "get it" (you never will, by the way, because there's always more to learn). It's still not real meditation, but it should help you to calm and centre yourself.

After a while - for some people, a few months, for others, a few years - you'll start to feel that the tai chi set is part of your muscle memory. You'll learn to sink deeply into each movement, and you'll feel waves moving in and around your body as you work. That's qi - vital life energy that flows all around you and through you. When you first start to feel qi, it can be distracting. But the more you return your body to performing correct technique, and the more you focus your mind on the purpose of each movement, the more it will flow.

You're on your way to doing tai chi meditation.

As you practice, you'll begin to feel a deep calm. It will happen from time to time at first, but the more you can access that inner stillness, the more you'll feel like you're standing at the centre of a hurricane when you do tai chi. That still centre comes from relaxing, focusing the mind, and all that technique you've absorbed as you practiced. The hurricane is one you're creating, and it's your qi that's moving around and through you.

Now you're meditating.

And you aren't just the eye of the storm. You're the storm itself. And that is awesome. That's tai chi meditation.

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