The art of performing Tai Chi is similar to that of a calligraphy master writing a Chinese character, that is, focused, relaxed, smooth and with the right intention. An expert can detect any interruptions or hesitations in the strokes. One’s intention directs the movements. Intention is a combination of awareness, feeling from the heart and focusing the mind. The Chinese talk about xin yi (heart mind). This term is used to convey the relationship between the mind and the body.
To train intention well, we need to be relaxed and quiet internally. We practise qigong exercises to enable us to enter into a state of tranquillity. In this state, we feel happy, peaceful and free from worry – in another word, contented.
Once we are in this state while practising the Hun Yuan Tai Chi form, it is important not to break this flow by being distracted or too intense. Once our intention falters, our qi will not flow as smoothly. Our breathing will become shallow and blood circulation will weaken. In short, we will not receive the full benefits from the training.
The Taoists talk about being able to breathe like a baby in the womb. Our training method cultivates this state, enabling the body to rest deeply and restoring our energy to its primordial condition. When we can focus our intention, our qi will accumulate in the Dan Tian in the lower abdomen. Building the energy in the Dan Tian is an essential part of our training. When we are calm and focused, our breathing goes from the chest to the Dan Tian. It is deep but not forced. Our pores open and we breathe through the whole body, not only the lungs. If we maintain this state of calm, our heart rate slows. We will activate dormant cells and circulate an abundant supply of blood to the whole body. Good concentration leads to the right intention which can also affect the body’s magnetic field. This in turn helps to maintain the body’s energetic balance.
When we practise our form, it is important that our intention is there, even if our movements are not continuous. Our intention still connects us to the next movement. In this way, we can maximise the benefits we receive from our training. If our intention is not with our practice, we are missing an essential aspect of Tai Chi. Ultimately, Tai Chi is about training the mind. To do this, we use the body to express intention. This training will awaken you to the beauty of each moment. This will bring inner joy and cultivate the ability to live fully in the moment, rather than in some future projection or past memory.
The Tai Chi form has a rhythm. It is related to our breathing and our heart beat. It rises and falls. When it reaches its peak, it falls, then rises again. When you practise well, it will feel as though you are being breathed. In ancient times, practices such as Tai Chi were also called Dao Yin. This term represents the mind directing or guiding the movement and harmonising the movement with the breath. However, when the mind and body are relaxed, the breath will naturally follow the movements. Only at the higher levels of training are special methods used to guide the breath.
External training methods (wai jia) can damage the body and drain our energy, whereas internal training methods (nei jia) such as, Tai Chi, Xing Yi and Ba Gua, tend to nurture our energy and strengthen the body. Also, the internal methods can develop us on many levels – physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically and spiritually. Internal training is an art form which can enrich every aspect of our lives. Like the calligraphy master who is one with his brush strokes, imbued with intention and spirit, our Tai Chi should endeavour to express our inner nature through every movement.