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The Flow Experience in Tai Chi Chuan

by Martin BoedickerTai Chi Chuan is often described as meditation in motion…


With this feature, the simultaneity of physical action and the achievement of a meditative state of awareness, Tai Chi Chuan has become famous. This fusion of inner stillness and outer movement leads to a special feeling. One is in the here and now, highly concentrated. All the worries of everyday life are forgotten and it simply feels good. The own body, breathing and the change of movements are perceived without being focused on it. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi saw this kind of inner experience also in artists at their work. He named this state flow experience and investigated it in further studies.

First results of his study showed that many artists even without the prospect of wealth or fame invested a considerable amount of time and effort into their artistic activity. None of the rewards, which are used in the normal working life to motivate employees (money, recognition) played a role. There was also no external motivation. The artistic act was done for its own sake. The motivation must be found in the characteristics of the activity itself. Thus one speaks of intrinsic motivation.

In his further work Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi investigated, which inner experience takes place when it is activated by intrinsic motivation and what factors affect the intrinsic motivation. He made a study with 200 people, who spend a lot of time with intrinisic motivated activities, such as playing chess, rock climbing, dancing, basketball and composing. It showed that many participants described their experience as a optimal state, where the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, as being in a flow. Thus Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called it flow-experience. The flow experience can be described in more detail with the following components:

– The self and the activity become a unit
– One is fully concentrated upon the activity
– The thoughts move completely into the background
– Enhanced perception of your own body and the environment
– There is a sense of control of the current situation

FlowIn his further exploration of the flow experience Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found the following conditions for the flow experience necessary:

– Fitting of the skill of the performer and the challenge of the task (not  too difficult – not too easy)
– Clear task
– Fast feedback on the activity

I think a flow experience can also often be observed in Tai Chi Chuan. The theory by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi now gives us hints how to reach the flow experience easier in the practice of Tai Chi Chuan. Here are a few suggestions:

– Define a clear task before the training, e.g. I try to relax the shoulders.
– Choose forms or movements which fit to my current physical and  mental situation.
– When practicing individual movements, I try to get a feeling for the movements and correct them if necessary.

In addition to improving one‘s own practice you can also modify the learning of Tai Chi Chuan in such a way that a flow experience can be experienced. Conditions are here:

– The movements to be learned fit in their level of difficulty to the skills of the student.
– The depth of the correction fits to the skills of the student.
– The correction of a movement must be clearly defined.
– There must be a fast feedback on the exercise by the teacher or by one‘s own feeling

The flow experience in the Tai Chi group is certainly something very special. Is it not often like this: The slower the movements, the greater is the inner experience and the faster the time runs.

Source: Slanted Flying


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