01 April 2008

Have you ever tried throwing every bone and muscle of the body wide open?


Amidst the trees, in the plaza in front of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, dozens of San Franciscans rise early each morning to practice the 300-year-old form of martial arts called Tai-Chi Chuan. This practice strikes the ignorant eye as a strange and futile form of exercise. The motions appear so slow that it would almost seem that they are not exercising at all. However, after doing a bit of research in University of San Francisco's Gleeson Library, it is clear that these deliberate motions require all kinds of inner strength -- physical, mental, and spiritual.

In Kuo Kien-Ying's book Tai-Chi Chuan in Theory and Practice, he writes, "In any given movement of any sort, the whole body must move lightly, nimbly, and in coordination. The chi should be active as the propellant power behind all the movements and the spirit should be gathered internally so there will be no defects, nor uneven distribution, nor discontinuity anywhere." My research right away led me to understand the complexity of this art form. For how exactly does one go about activating their chi, or gathering their spirit?

According to the instructional manual Tai Chi: Ten Minutes to Health by Chia Siew Pang and Goh Ewe Hock, essential techniques to keep in mind while practicing tai chi include slowness, continuity, precision, relaxation, weight distribution, breathing, practice, and posture. With all these practices in mind, it seems that the essence of tai chi cannot be put into words, or at least not into Enlgish words.

"How should a novice begin t'ai-chi?" ask Cheg Man-ch'ing and Robert W. Smith in their book T'ai-Chi: The "Supreme Ultimate" Exercise for Health, Sport, and Self-Defense, "He should relax completely. The aim is to throw every bone and muscle of the body wide open, so that the ch'i may travel unobstructed. Once this is done, the chest must be further relaxed and the chi made to sink to the navel."

Can you see their chi sinking to their navels?

Tai Chi is clearly more complicated than I had ever understood. More than just a series of slow motions done for physical exercise, it is also an exercise in control, in self-awareness, in spiritual awakening.

Tai Chi is just one of the many mysteries that exist in Golden Gate Park.

2 comments:

Just Me Mike said...

Great post! I've always been intrigued by tai chi and your post only furthered my interest. Something to do over summer perhaps?

laura_p said...

Thanks Mike! I know, it does sound very intriguing. It also sounds like something that would require years of dedication and diligent practice ti master. I definitely have a newfound admiration for those who pursue it.