The Benefits of Combining Tai Chi with Yang Mian
Instructor Lis talks to advanced student Craig.
When did you start Tai Chi? Did you know what it was or did you know about it first?
I started my Tai Chi journey approximately 7 or 8 years ago (I think). I am now into Refinement for the second year and get to the weekly class almost always.
Tai Chi was recommended to me by a family member – they had been doing it for some years by then and found it beneficial for their physical health and they suggested I give it a go.
Why did you start? Physical reasons? Mental? eg stress relief. Just out of interest?
My interest came from this recommendation. I decided to go along to the introductory class and found I enjoyed it enough to continue with it.
This was when the Yang style was taught. Over the years I went to classes on and off on two separate occasions but never actually got to Refinement. The next time I came back, Brett and Fontane had started teaching the Hun Yuan style and so I had to start back at the beginners level.
What makes you come back? What is it you like about it?
Each time I had a break I missed it. Over time I would stop doing my practice and it would get to the point where I’d forget moves and the sequence of them.
When I think of the Tai Chi, calm is the first thing that comes to mind. This calming feeling as well as the gentle flow make me feel more in tune with myself.
What benefits can you identify? Physical? Mental?
It definitely relaxes me more and I find the mental calmness appealing.
When I was in my early 20’s I ended up with a bulging disk in my back – ever since this I have, over the years, had back complaint problems. A normal practice for me was a visit to the chiropractor for some regular re-alignment. I find that with the combination of both Tai Chi and Yang Mian as well as regular practice, my flexibility and strength is much better and my back stronger. I haven’t had to go back to the chiropractor for a while now.
Do you notice a difference in the Tai Chi styles – Huan Yuan and Yang – in the way they affect your body?
Because I let my training in Yang lapse I don’t really remember too much of the style. Though I do remember when I first started the Hun Yuan style there was more a gentle side to that technique; it was also more foreign to me and I found it a little more difficult to pick up – it definitely took some time for it to begin to feel more natural for me.
Why did you start the Martial Arts training? Were you doing any other sort of regular exercise? I imagine the training would have been difficult at first.
Apart from the Tai Chi, no. I used to get on an exercise bike, do skipping to get the heart rate up etc but that's about it.
I was in my late 30’s when I started and it was physically demanding at first – you're right about the shock to the system. My upper muscles were sore for days afterwards. Now it's not a problem even though the training is more demanding on the physical body as you progress.
I wanted to do something more than just Tai Chi. I knew that Brett and Fontane also ran a number of other classes including the martial arts ones. I jumped onto the website and did some research on the Wu Dao Gong and Yang Mianmartial arts classes. I was attracted to both but decided to give the Yang Mian a go.
I have been doing it for some 14 months or so. I now find myself feeling guilty if I don’t get to the classes all the time and try to make sure I miss very few. My current training focuses on fist and elbow strikes.
Because the moves in Tai Chi are slow and purposeful, it’s often difficult understanding what this should feel like if you need to call on it quickly. The power and movement that comes through in the Yang Mian helps me to translate this over to the Tai Chi form. It's about the movement coming from the core. With Tai Chi it is not always obvious. As Instructor Lis pointed out in a recent Refinement session, if you slow it down considerably, you start to understand what it means to use the waist and Dan Tian, instead of using your arms to generate the movements.
The Yang Mian body conditioning exercises focus a lot on relaxing your body; your back, your shoulders etc. In this relaxed state, I am motivated to focus on using the waist to generate the force and not the arms. The training encourages you to be more flexible and use your Dan Tian more.
Do you enjoy Qigong?
I find Qigong helps to settle my mind and body and improves my focus and concentration.
It encourages me to use better breathing techniques by making my breath slower and deeper and this becomes part of the exercise.
It also helps me to maintain good posture.
You must have a lot of practice to do. How do you manage to fit everything into your busy life?
The biggest problem with practice is stopping to find some time in my busy lifestyle. I don’t get to do it as much as I would like but still manage to be consistent.
I can save myself some time by doing my Yang Mian body conditioning exercises and power training, then I follow this up with the form. I find this actually helps me feel the movement of the form better and it encourages me to slow down my pace and I find I don’t go through the form too quickly.
(This is an actual interview, but the name has been changed for reasons of privacy.)