Postby BertVa » Wed Nov 18, 2009 4:20 pm

I'm seem to be stuck in my practice. There are 2 areas that I am unable to fix/understand.

1 Speed - My form is way to fast even when i think I'm going slow I am still going way to fast. I do not know how to slow down any more.

2 Softness - I just to not think I understand how to relax the waist and chest are wrong.

These 2 affect my practice and breathing greatly. I just starting see how big of a problem this is.

any suggestions or insight would be helpful.

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Postby Bob Ashmore » Wed Nov 18, 2009 9:24 pm

I have had the same problems myself, still do sometimes (I think we all do), and the only thing that got me, and gets me, past them is relaxation.
However, I recognize that just to tell someone "relax" does them no good. Most likely it does more harm than good because it really doesn't give a frame of reference on HOW to relax.
So I'll tell you what finally got me to slow down and soften up, at least a little. Maybe that will help you some, I hope so.

What I finally had to do was standing meditation, also known as Post Standing, it is a form of Chi Kung (Qigong).
All you need to do to practice standing meditation is to stand in the Wuji posture, also known as ready posture, and breath.
That is the physical side of it, there is also the inner that you need to match up with the outer.
You must relax your mind. Let go of all thoughts, be in the moment entirely.
If you begin to focus on a thought when you are doing the standing meditation acknowledge the thought, then let it go and get back to empty mind (which you would think would be easy, but it's not).
At first it will help you a lot if you concentrate on one thing. That is easier than trying to clear your mind. I found it helped to concentrate my entire focus on my breathing. That gave me something to think about while I was standing there that was not a random thought. After about a year I was able to do the standing meditation without having to focus on anything, and that was when I got the real benefit from it.
Now, don't confuse this with moving forms of Chi Kung. I am talking about completely sedentary standing, no arm movement, no leg movement, nothing but standing.
This allowed me to slow down my thinking, and when I was able to do that I found that my form slowed down more and more every time.
What I found was that once I could relax my mind I could relax my body. It just happened on its own.
This slowed down my form and at the same time the lack of tension created by my mind allowed me to soften up my arms, chest, back, all of it.

You should talk to your teacher and see if they can help you with standing meditation.
I feel it would really be of benefit to you.

Bob Ashmore
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Postby Louis Swaim » Thu Nov 19, 2009 2:55 am

Greetings BertVA,

I very much agree with Bob. In fact, this standing in stillness is built into taijiquan practice, right at the commencement of the form. You should try making it a habit to stand in the preparatory position for an extended period as the commencement of your form. Take this time to monitor your alignment, your breathing, the sinking of your shoulders, etc., and do not raise the two arms until you feel that you are entirely ready to do so. I think you will notice a difference. As Yang Chengfu put it, "People all too easily neglect this posture, and really do not know the method of its practice or its application," and Fu Zhongwen advised that "this posture is the foundation of all of the movements that follow."

Take care,

[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited November 18, 2009).]
Louis Swaim
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Postby Bob Ashmore » Fri Nov 20, 2009 2:58 pm

As usual, you are dead on.
I had intended to mention longer Wuji standing before starting the form in my post, but didn't get there for some reason.
Thanks for doing so.

Bob Ashmore
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Postby BertVa » Fri Nov 20, 2009 11:19 pm

Thanks for the advice, I'll start giving it a try and also talk to my Tai Chi coach
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Postby Audi » Thu Nov 26, 2009 4:00 pm

Hi BertVa,

I also like Bob's and Louis's response, but want to add a few suggestions.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">1 Speed - My form is way to fast even when i think I'm going slow I am still going way to fast. I do not know how to slow down any more.</font>

I think that speed has at least two components: continuity and rhythm. The continuity in the form should be established within the first few postures. You should probably closely monitor the speed you use to raise your arms in the Opening Posture, the speed you use to pivot and step in Ward Off Left and Right, and the speed you use to rotate into Single Whip. These moves have most of the types of movement used in the form and if you can consciously keep your speed constant through Single Whip, you should be set.

If you find keeping this continuity difficult, there may be several reasons. For convenience, let's call them Qi (physical matter/energy), Yi (meaning), and Shen (focus).

By Qi, I mean physical issues. Perhaps your body feels your leg strength is insufficient and so makes you want to hurry through positions where all the weight is on one leg. If you do not fully separate full and empty in the legs, it is easy to speed up.

If your body feels you are not in sufficient shape to do what you are attempting, your breath will tend to shorten and make you want to speed up and finish each posture. Your Qi keeps rising and disturbing your calm, making you want to race to a place where you feel you can rest and recharge.

To combat these feelings, make sure that your stride is appropriate and you can separate full and empty in the feet. Make sure that you are breathing comfortably and stably. Feel that if someone touched from behind at any point, you could instantly freeze in place and feel comfortable and stable. In other words, feel for the stillness in the movement.

By Yi, I am referring to what you feel is the immediate purpose for your movements and the positioning of your limbs. If you tend to think of each posture as being useful only at the end point, you will tend to hurry through what you think of as useless or secondary motions that simply prepare for the "real" posture.

A way to improve the intent is to cultivate the feeling that you are doing something useful during every moment of each transition. For instance, in Press, feel that you are in contact with the opponent and affecting him during the entire movement and not just at the end. Sometimes, you may need to ask someone to show you more of the meaning behind various motions in the transitions, although not every movement is necessary fully meaningful in a martial way.

By Shen, I mean how we focus the mind and what we focus it on.

Of Yang Chengfu's Ten Essentials, two deal directly with speed: "Seek stillness in motion" and "Continuously and without interruption." Many other principles imply something about speed: e.g., drawing the energy like silk. As you do the form, make sure that you put sufficient focus on these aspects. Where you put your attention will tend to control intent, which in turn will tend to control what your body does.

The other component of speed is rhythm. According to my understanding, every move has at least one Yin-Yang transition and most have several. As you do the form, you should start to feel for these transitions, and this may help you maintain your speed appropriately.

One technique that many musicians use to keep a rhythm is to count the off beats. For instance, instead of counting just: "1--2--1--2," they will count "1-and-2-and-1-and-2-and" during the same length of time. Where I grew up, kids learn to count off seconds by saying: "one mississippi, two mississippi, three mississippi, etc.," rather than simply counting: "one," "two," "three," etc.

As you do your form, you may want to start to identify the Yin portion of every Yang movement and the Yang portion of every Yin movement and give these equal time. If you are going to shift your weight forward, give equal attention to the previous shift backward. If you move to the left, give attention to the prior move to the right. If you circle an arm, can you feel 360 degrees of the circle, or just a small bit?

As you break the form down into smaller pieces, while still feeling for the unity, it becomes easier to maintain a calm and slower pace. With more to do, you can be less tempted to try to hurry things along.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">2 Softness - I just to not think I understand how to relax the waist and chest are wrong.</font>

As I understand it, "softness" and "relaxing" the waist and chest" are different issues, If your concern is about the effect on the breath, than "softness" is probably a secondary issue.

I think the main thing you want to do is to sink Qi to the dantian so that it is available for use. To sink it, you have to use your mind and seek for the right feeling. To help you do this, you need to do some physical things:

--drop the tailbone so that you don't tip the top of the pelvis forward

--separate the shoulder blades and round/pluck up the back to allow you to hollow the chest, as if the outside of the chest was wrapping around something to hold or contain something

--open up the small of the back (ming men).

If you do these physical things, you can have the feeling that the source of your energy can drop down the middle of the front of your body, in opposition to the energy used to hold up your spine, torso, and head. This makes it easier to calm and even out the breath.
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