If your mind wanders while practicing Tai Chi bring it back down to the tan tien (just below the belly button).
Here’s a Tai Chi spear exercise to test whether you are correctly using your tan tien or just muscle strength.
- Stand with your spear beside you and then step forward.
- Now lunge forward with your spear – chest high – until it is horizontal to the ground. As you do this slide your hands down the spear – holding the end – palms facing upward.
- Now focus on your tan tien and move the spear to the left and then to the right and back to centre.
- Lower the spear until the tip almost touches the ground and then raise it back up to the horizontal position.
- Return to starting position
If you feel a strain in your shoulders and arms while you have the spear out in front of you then you are relying on external strength.
The key is to relax your body, particularly the arms and shoulders, and focus on your tan tien to initiate movements.
A few years ago I was training with our instructor and a small group of students in a garage.
We were practising some techniques and my training partner mentioned an idea that I found unusual.
I didn’t give it too much thought at the time but later on I started to use it in my training and found it to be very beneficial.
Although it may sound a bit weird, here is the technique.
1. Imagine there is a little man inside your tan tien.
2. Each time you practice a technique, imagine the little man doing exactly the same thing at the same time as you are, perfectly.
It’s a simple concept and here are the reasons why it works for me.
1. It keeps my focus in the tan tien area – stops my mind from wandering.
2. My movements are more precise.
3. Improves my speed when practising a technique.
When I have reflected on this technique I’ve wondered if points 2 & 3 were part of my imagination or just a placebo effect. But it doesn’t really matter. If the only benefit I get from this concept is that it keeps me focused on my tan tien then it is worthwhile.
Before trying this technique make sure you have mastered the skill you are practising. If you don’t you could be fine tuning a bad habit.
If you decide to have a go, let me know if it works for you or not.
Footnote: re title – no, I was not influenced by Bob Dylan or The Byrds singing ‘Hey Mr Tambourine Man … Oh, hang on, maybe I was?