A blog about the intersection of Tai Chi, Zen and Dao. I hope that you find something of value for your own practice.

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Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Rich's 3 S's of Tai Chi; Sequence, Structure and Shen - Part 3


This has taken me a while to get to because it's a bit of a tricky subject.  Shen can be translated in various ways but for Tai Chi it is most commonly used to mean mind, energy or spirit.  So it is where the physical and spirit-ual sides of Tai Chi are joined at the hip, so to speak.

When I walk into a zendo or just sit down on my meditation cushion or bench at home, my mind and body instantly enter into a state of Shen.   This is because I have practiced this for years.  I don't have to think about it, it just manifests.  My spine straightens and aligns, my breathing deepens and slows down and my attention starts to focus on my breath.  Of course my attention invariably wanders and I have to bring it back time and again but that's just what we do.  We practice zen!  We never get it completely right.  And that's what you're going to start doing with your Tai Chi.  Start practicing Shen. 

When I watch an experienced person doing Tai Chi, I instantly can feel the Shen they are manifesting but when I watch an inexperienced person doing Tai Chi,  and depending on their ability they may look pretty fluid, I rarely get a sense of Shen emanating from them.  That's because usually, they're still working on the first 2 parts which I previously discussed, Sequence and Structure.  To really practice, develop and manifest Shen, you need to have Sequence and Structure firmly in hand. 

You can't be thinking "What comes next?"!  Soon as that happens, Shen just flies out the window.  Bye, bye.... And like zen practice, you have to bring your self back to it again and again.....

But you can develop your Shen and you don't have to know the whole sequence of a form.  You can practice it on any portion of the form you know well.  Just isolate a section, say the Grasp Sparrows Tail set of moves.  Or Wave Hands Like Clouds, etc.  As soon as you're confident with the sequence and the structure - what comes next, where do hands, feet etc go - then you can begin working on your Shen. 

Remember that you have a Dan Tien?  Okay, if you forgot, now's the time to remember!  You actually have three and now is when you're really going to start using the lower one to put Shen into your form.  Let's take a simple move from Yang style Tai Chi, Parting the Wild Horse's Mane

(BTW, none of us are likely to have ever seen a wild horse's mane no less parted it so I've recently begun to call this move, Throw the Frisbee.  Now that's something almost everyone can relate to!!  And it describes the move perfectly.  I'm working on other modern move descriptions but that's another post for the future.  Let's get back to Shen.)

In the Yang Style 24-Form set, the move is the first move after preparation for Tai Chi.  You are standing with your 2 hands in front of you in the position commonly called Holding the Ball.  Right hand is on top, chest high, palm facing down, left hand is on bottom pretty much right at the height of the Dan Tien, palm facing up.  You are fully weighted into the right foot with the left foot positioned right next to it, with only the toes touching the ground at about the middle of the right foot.  It looks like this:

 Now, what I want you to do is to imagine energy spiraling down from your Dan Tien through your right heel deep into the earth below you. 
  • As you step out with your left foot getting ready to enter a bow stance and Throw the Frisbee, you place your left heel on the ground without any weight in it.  
  • Now you're going to Throw the Frisbee with your left hand and to do this, you begin to send the weight and energy into your left foot by mentally placing it there.  
  • At the same time, you are going to send energy into your left hand by pushing it up from your "rooted" right foot through the Dan Tien to the palm of the left hand so there is a continuous string of energy spiralling from the earth to the right heel through the Dan Tien and ending in your left hand.  
Remember to send a little into the right hand as well as you place it by your right thigh or it will just hang there lifelessly.  No part of your body should be without some energy or you will not get full benefit from the posture.  In this case, I imagine and actually feel that my right hand is resting on a pulsing column of energy connecting the Lao Gung of my right palm to the earth. This energy link is completed when you complete the posture or an instant before.  When you finish,  you will have about 60% of your weight still in your back right foot and the other 40% in the front left foot.

Now you see why you couldn't do this until you had the first 2 Ss, sequence and structure.  That's a lot to imagine and manage.  If you find this difficult to do, don't worry, it doesn't come automatically the first time you do it.  Like all of Tai Chi, it requires practice and repetition over many years. 

Once you start getting Shen into your practice, your Tai Chi will begin to take on a whole new depth and feeling.  So get to it!

Sending you lots of positive Shen until next time,