The Mind-Body Connection

Written for the World Shen Long Tai Chi Conference, Taiwan, March 2014

Introduction

In my most recent paper[1], I explored the idea that tai chi ch’uan (tai chi for brevity) was all in the mind.  However, we do have a body and this paper, therefore, explores (some aspects of) the mind-body connection in the tai chi context.  It proposes that tai chi may be all in the mind, however, the body provides the framework for functional use in day-to-day living.

Lao Tzu, the author of the Tao Te Ching, said, “I have a lot of distressing problems because I have a body.  Without a body, how could I have any distressing problems?”[2]  Grandmaster Wu Kou-chung’scommentary on this saying in his book, Tao Tai Chi Health, uses an example in Buddhism of a wandering monk.  When a monk moves about he carries a bag with him, which holds all the essentials he needs.  The bag is divided into two parts with one hanging on the front and one on the back.  This bag has to be carried everywhere the monk goes and is a constant burden.  It is only when the bag is taken off that the burden is relieved.  According to Grandmaster Wu,

“You must forget that you have a body – which is like putting down the bag.  It is possible to concentrate and relax if distractions like being afraid of being hurt, of losing, of making mistakes, or of concern over rapid improvement, are freed from your mind.  Only then is it possible to concentrate, relax, and be supple … [However] this ability to control distraction is very difficult to achieve”.

The mind affects changes in the body, however, the Tao philosophers maintained that changes in the body would also lead to changes in the mind and emotions.  Here is a clue to the mind-body connection.  If, as Grandmaster Wu said, we could all simply concentrate, relax and free ourselves of all distractions, there would be no further need to continue with this paper.  But, we are human and have so much to un-learn from a lifetime of accumulated bad habits that this is indeed difficult to achieve.  We have all heard the Grandmaster say, “tai chi is easy - changing our habits is hard”.

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LIGHTNESS IN TAI CHI CHUAN:

It was one of those beautiful autumn (fall) mornings in Sydney.  I had not long returned from the Shen Long Conference in Taiwan.  I was standing in Purifying the Heart Posture (Hsin Chai) and simply enjoying feeling the polarity of the heaven chi above and the earth chi below and its interplay in my body (Fig. 1). 

 

Figure 1Figure 1

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All in the Mind

 

Written for the World Shen Long Tai Chi Conference, Malaysia, July 2013

 

"If your mind is clear, you will see and receive all methods"­[1]

INTRODUCTION: TAI CHI CH'UAN - THE ART OF LIFE

Tai Chi Ch'uan is the art of life or, perhaps more precisely, the art of integrated living.  It is, simultaneously, both physical and metaphysical.  Physical because it is a method of physical exercise that contains form, structure and movement; metaphysical, because it refers to ideas and reality outside of human sense perception and the rationale of modern science.  Metaphysics also includes the study of the nature of the human mind and it is this domain that this paper will explore.

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THE BREATH OF LIFE

Live each season as it passes
Breathe the air
Drink the drink
Taste the fruit; and
Resign yourself to the
influences of each.
(Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862)

Introduction


Air, food and water are the three most essential elements needed to sustain life.  Of the three, air is the most urgent of the body’s needs.  Air is taken in and utilised by our bodies through respiration (breathing).  Without air we could live only for a few minutes.  Given the importance of air and respiration, there is a surprising lack of research in this area with many myths being associated with the whole subject.
Breathing is fundamental to our practice of tai chi and promises increased energy and vitality.  Similar claims are made with other systems such as chi gong, martial arts, yoga and western physical exercise systems, so what distinguishes our breathing system and is there any research that may help us to learn more about the processes involved?

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