by Sam Langley: During standing practice, something occurred to me: Awareness is the first and most important principle in Tai Chi…
It sounds obvious now but when it hit me I had to go and write it down.
The first thing we’re taught in a Tai Chi class is that we need to relax. Most of us are a bit stiff, holding tension in much of the body and we need to work out how to let it go.
This requires paying attention. I can only relax my chest when I perceive the tension and the same goes for my lower back and my hips.
We also want to improve our posture, not for aesthetic reasons but to enable deeper relaxation and develop whole body connection. Again, we need to be aware of our body to straighten up and balance properly.
Mindfulness is a word that is, perhaps, a little overused these days and as such is starting to lose its meaning. Tai Chi, however, is in part a mindfulness practice. You can’t learn Tai Chi unless you pay attention and you’re not really practicing it if you’re not paying attention. It’s interesting to me that Tai Chi requires you to concentrate but also improves your ability to do so. Maybe it’s enough to simply practice regularly and your awareness will grow naturally all on its own? Or perhaps not. If you take a look around any Tai Chi class you’ll see that some people are paying more attention than others.
My advice is: When you practice Tai Chi don’t add any distractions, just practice. I used to have a student that watched films whilst doing standing qigong which is definitely not paying full attention! So no films and I would also say no music.
It may come down to the strength of your intention. People with a passion for something tend to really concentrate on it. Those with the highest level of skill in Tai Chi very often have had health problems. As a last resort, they turn to Tai Chi to heal themselves and give it everything they’ve got.
It goes without saying that in the modern world there’s not enough awareness. When I cycle down Gloucester road I can count on one hand the number of people not staring at their phones and even those who aren’t are probably, invisibly, listening to them.
Any practice that improves your awareness is an important one.
I’ve found that practicing Tai Chi improves my self awareness and as my self awareness grows so does my awareness of the world around me. I feel more present when talking to others and more aware of the effect of my actions.