The movements, and their variations, that you are about to learn are the results of many years of experimentation. From a development of the original two movements shown me, adding the leg motions and making other changes, I expanded and added 18 more, giving them descriptive names wherever possible. I have chosen practical, rather than poetic, names for the different movements. When we speak of “Around the Platter,” it is not difficult to envision the hands moving in a circular manner. Likewise, “Push Pull” is very graphic, if not particularly elegant. The purpose of the names is to clearly identify the movements and help you remember them.
Drawing on my meditation experiences and T’ai Chi Ch’uan training, I intuitively devised the other movements, some of which vaguely resemble parts of T’ai Chi Ch’uan. This is not surprising, as both are Quigong disciplines, based on the great yin-yang principles.
Studying with a Teacher
Many have learned T’ai Chi Chih from the book or video recording alone, but it is helpful to have instruction by a fully accredited (certified) teacher. Those who are accredited studied—and subsequently practiced—the 20 movements on a regular basis for some time, then took the intensive teacher accreditation course. Not all those who took such a class were certified, however. If the reader is to study with a teacher (in a group or singly), it is best to be sure the teacher is an accredited one. Self-proclaimed teachers do not have the experience or the understanding of the complex principles involved, and nobody has approved their personal practice in the traditional manner.
Healing Resulting from T’ai Chi Chih
Since the first lessons in T’ai Chi Chih were given in 1974, there have been many reports of wondrous healings and gratifying spiritual experiences. An exceptional woman in northern California suffered from bone cancer of the leg, and had to take her first lessons in T’ai Chi Chih while seated. By the end of her eight-lesson course, taken with a very good accredited teacher, she was standing and doing the leg movements. Subsequent strict and regular practice brought great improvement in her condition and she had the courage to go on and take the intensive teacher accreditation course. Today she is an effective, accredited teacher, with many changes in her life. She is not the only one to have had such an experience, though the real benefits of T’ai Chi Chih go far beyond such physical welfare. People with high blood pressure, weight problems, sexual difficulties, and many other chronic ailments report quick and marked improvement. The secret is to do the movements correctly and to practice regularly.
Body Posture for Successful Practice
We are relaxed and the hands are soft. The air is felt to be very heavy as the hands move through it, fingers slightly spread apart. This may appear contradictory, but it is not. It is easy to feel the air as heavy and still keep the hands slightly cupped and relaxed.
The air being very heavy, we have the feeling of “swimming” through the dense atmosphere as we move in slow, leisurely fashion from beginning to end of each movement. Usually we repeat each movement nine times on each side.
This feeling of swimming through very heavy air, with the resultant surge of energy and tingling in the fingers, will eventually bring us the firm conviction that this seemingly “empty” universe is actually a vast continuum of intelligence and energy. When we realize this, we have reached a high stage of development. At such time the energy appears to be flowing and we are just shaping it.
In the beginning we are apt to focus too much on the hands, while, in truth, it is the legs which are yinning and yanging. It is vital that we bend the knees and shift our weight from the left to right and back again. Unlike T’ai Chi Ch’uan, in many movements of T’ai Chi Chih the back heel comes off the ground as we go forward and the front toes lift off the ground as the weight settles back. At all times the torso, from the waist up, is held straight, though not rigid, no matter how much the knees bend (almost like a fencer’s pose, it might seem) and no matter how much the waist turns on those movements which call for a waist turn.
Important! The head and torso are held in an erect position in most movements, with the head as though suspended from the ceiling by wires.
In T’ai Chi Chih, most movements are circular. Sometimes there are subtle circles within circles, as, when we push forward, we dip our arms slightly and then bring them up again, making an imperceptible circular movement down to the floor. This circularity is one of the secrets of the energy generated, and is part of the “continuity” I so often speak of. When we push forward (as in the movement called “Push Pull”), we dip the hands slightly so there is a gentle arc. Thus we make small circles, and sometimes there are circles within circles.
Most beginners do not use the wrists and hands enough, preferring to make cumbersome arm movements. Actually, most of the T’ai Chi Chih movements are performed with the wrists, which are kept loose and pliable. Fingers are slightly spread apart, the hands slightly cupped as though around the sides of a ball, and there is complete relaxation from the waist up. Conversely, the foot that is flat on the floor is firm, as though gripping the ground with the sole of the foot.
The first two movements are called “Rocking Motion” and “Bird Flaps its Wings.” The gently undulating “Rocking Motion” is vaguely derived from a practice that older people in Taiwan and China have frequently performed, sometimes as much as 2,000 times a day. It is an excellent preliminary movement as it really starts the circulation going. The original movement the older people did was somewhat more restricted and has been called the Dharma Tendon Building movement, probably pointing to a Buddhist origin. I remember one time recommending that a man who had suffered a stroke do nothing but “Rocking Motion” as I have evolved it, without worrying about trying to execute the other movements in this book. He was told to do it 1,000 times a day and found it to be very beneficial.
The movement itself is relaxing and refreshing. And if one remembers that the air is “very heavy” as the arms swing forward (palms up), and then swing back again (palms down), he or she should begin to feel a tingling in the fingers as the Chi begins to circulate.
“Bird Flaps its Wings” was a latecomer, not appearing in the original edition of the book. I originated it after the first T’ai Chi Chih lessons had been given in 1974, and subsequent practice found it to be a very beneficial movement, with slightly different effects than appear in other motions. This is not surprising as each set of movements seems to have a slightly different effect, adding up to a complete and well- rounded whole as all, or most, of the movements are mastered and practiced regularly.
“Rocking Motion” should be performed effortlessly for two or three minutes before going on to “Bird Flaps its Wings.” With “Bird Flaps its Wings,” each group of three, with the wrists revolving and the hands spinning forward and around once on the third time, makes one complete set. This set of three can be repeated three times—or more if desired—as part of the morning routine. One can think of “Rocking Motion” and “Bird Flaps its Wings” as “preliminary” or warm-up movements before going on to the main body of movements that begins with “Around the Platter.”
In the following moves, there are basically two leg motions. First we have the forward and back motion, on the left and on the right, with the right heel coming off the ground and then the left toes and ball of the foot—vice versa on the right side. The sideways step, where we slightly bend the knee, step to the side, and come down on the heel and then the sole of the foot, we call the “T’ai Chi Step.” Most, but not all, of the main body of movements use one or the other of these leg movements, and the yinning and yanging of the legs as we shift the weight to “substantial” and “insubstantial” (yang and yin) is extremely important. It is the legs that shift the weight.
Don’t try to do T’ai Chi Chih stiff-legged! There should be a gentle rocking motion in the forward-and-back leg motions. The motions are easy and natural. In the sideways “T’ai Chi Step,” used in such movements as “Carry the Ball to the Side” and “Pulling Taffy,” the heel must touch the ground before the foot flattens. Do not just fall sideways, but lift the leg slightly, bend the knee, and bring the heel down first.
Unlike T’ai Chi Ch’uan, where we have to learn and master all movements and memorize the entire 16-18 minute sequence of 108 movements (some are repetitions), in T’ai Chi Chih we only have to learn five or six of the movements in this book and do them regularly (perhaps twenty minutes in the morning and ten minutes later in the day), nine times on both left and right sides, to gain the benefit. So there is not much to learn. It is application—constant daily practice—that gets results.
The practicer may choose whatever movements appeal to him or her and seem to circulate the most Chi. (Note the tingling in the fingers and hands.) A typical program, beginning with the “Rocking Motion” and “Bird Flaps its Wings,” would go on to encompass “Around the Platter” (perhaps 18 times on each side), “Bass Drum” (also 18 times), “Daughter on the Mountaintop” and “Daughter in the Valley” (18 times), and two of the variations of “Pulling Taffy” (three times each). You might close with “Passing Clouds” (nine times) and the “Six Healing Sounds,” followed by the stationary “Cosmic Consciousness Pose,” held one to two minutes.
The reader will probably want to make his or her own program. Try to do at least 25-30 minutes a day, with particular emphasis on doing T’ai Chi Chih immediately upon arising. Once you get in the habit of beginning the day this way, you will almost surely miss it if you have to skip one day. And notice the salutary effect such practice has on the regularity of the bowels. T’ai Chi Chih is one of the few ways to exercise the internal organs.
If there is sufficient time, it is, of course, beneficial to do all 20 of the movements. There is no particular effort involved in the movements, so fatigue should not be a factor. Actually, it seems as if one has more energy at the finish of the practice period than he or she had at the beginning.
T’ai Chi Chih motions can be performed at any speed. Generally speaking, slow, gentle movements will stir up and circulate the most Chi, and the leisurely pace will enable the practicer to bend his or her knees and shift the weight without difficulty. However, one should experiment with different speeds and choose whatever seems most effective personally.
Function and Essence
Standing in the “Cosmic Consciousness Pose” for a while after finishing the movements will bring one to a period of rest in which the yin and yang Chi, which separated while the practicer was in motion, have a chance to flow together again and become integrated and balanced.
The Chinese speak of “function” when the Intrinsic Energy is in motion, the yin and yang separating. They also speak of “essence” when the yin and yang flow together again and there is an inner stillness. For full integration of mind and body, it is best to practice both function and essence, or movement followed by stillness. The “Cosmic Consciousness Pose” will help effect this balance, and the meditation instruction (“Great Circle Meditation”) on pgs. 94-95 can also help one achieve reintegration after the movements are stilled. These are important secrets, and it is up to the reader to avail him or herself of them as one wishes.
My T’ai Chi Ch’uan master used to say, “Try to have no extraneous thoughts while practicing.” In other words, put your concentration in the soles of the feet or below the navel (whichever is easier), and, if possible, keep it there. Empty the mind before beginning; forget troubles and other preoccupation. The great Chinese philosopher, Zhuang Zhou, spoke of the “fasting mind.” We keep our heads too cluttered and accumulate too much tension; let the mind fast a bit for 15 minutes!
After we have practiced T’ai Chi Chih for some time, we can increase the flow of our Vital Force by visualizing all the energy of the universe coming in through our extended fingers as we move. The Tibetans—and northern Indians—say there are five colored Pranas (energies), and seeing these flow individually into the tips of the fingers will heighten the electric feeling, but this should not be attempted in the beginning. After practicing T’ai Chi Chih for some years, the student may notice a slight trembling in the fingers as he or she performs the movements. Certainly the practicer is not nervous! This is a favorable sign that the Intrinsic Energy is flowing smoothly through the meridian channels, and it means that the practicer has reached an advanced stage of development.
Give yourself to T’ai Chi Chih for 30-40 minutes each day. Practice regularly. The Chinese say, “You cannot appease the hunger by reading the menu!” It is only through practice that you get rich rewards. It is my feeling that the circulation of the Chi is one of life’s great secrets. So, master the simple movements and practice them regularly. Good luck!
This article is published in Joy Thru Movement.