Tai Chi: Art of Softness

Paul Cavel Teaches Tai Chi in Islington, London

Tai chi is a yin art, which is why it often gets disregarded as useless or only being good for the elderly and young girls. But in fact, the soft nature of tai chi is exactly why it is so effective as a means for developing qi power—whether for health, healing, meditation or martial prowess.

First and foremost, exercise done in a soft way can prevent you from embedding existing, superficial tension deeper within the body. Tai chi is a superior exercise system for releasing the nerves, which in turn releases all soft tissues. This process allows the body to unfurl effortlessly and further paves the way for amplified blood and chi circulation through unbroken motion. Practise daily and you have a concrete means for manifesting real health benefits, but tai chi’s magic doesn’t stop there!

Don’t Mistake Soft for Weak

Through the soft, accurate and regular practice of tai chi, your awareness and control of your body deepens. This gives you the ability to access your ligaments, joints, cavities and fluids. (The cavities are soft tissues imbued with interstitial fluid, such as your armpits or the backs of your knees. Fluids include interstitial, synovial, lymph and cerebrospinal.)

As you attain and integrate control of these deeper layers, you rely less and less on the muscles to operate your body. Instead, you move from your insides, or that which lies under your muscular frame. With the ligaments active in exercise, the muscles release more and more—until they feel like they are dripping off the bones (the act of gravity pulling on your body without tension being created through muscular motion).

Tai Chi Practitioners: Creating an Iron Bar Wrapped in Cloth

In tai chi, you can develop a soft exterior with a strong core, sometimes described as an iron bar wrapped in cloth. This is an interesting concept as when you gain control of your ligaments and joints, your motion is initiated from deep within the body (the iron bar), and the muscles are stretched by the undercurrent of the ligament and joint motion, thereby releasing the tension within (the cloth).

When the cavities become active, they serve two purposes:

  • The cavities cause an increase in the circulation of interstitial fluid, which further stretches and releases the soft tissues (especially the muscles) from the inside.
  • Energetically, the cavities feed the joints, thereby increasing the activation of the joints as well as the flow of chi.

Both branches of cavity work supercharge the internal qi energy generated in tai chi practice, creating a feeling of deep softness of the flesh of an advanced tai chi practitioner. However, if you push, a strong force will come from underneath the muscles (not the muscles themselves).

The Energy of Liu: A Specialty of Tai Chi

The primary energies of the internal energy arts, including tai chi and bagua, are:

  • Peng (Expanding)
  • Ji (Discharging)
  • Lu (Absorbing)
  • An (Compressing)

Lu is the specialty of tai chi. Lu is the softest of the energies and gives tai chi is innate yin nature. In the beginning and intermediate levels, lu has several aspects.

  • The first is the matador’s cape, which is moved but not damaged by the horns of the bull. This quality gives tai chi its yielding quality.
  • The second is the absorbing capacity of a powerful vacuum cleaner, which gives tai chi its ability to gather and bank energy. This constant use of this soft yin energy, along with the smooth continuous flow, gives you access to a deeper level of energetic development.

[I cover the eight enegries of tai chi, including the four primary energies listed above, in-depth in my September 2013 issue of Inner Quest. Read an excerpt and download it here.]

Pulling Silk in Tai Chi

Pulling silk is a more advanced method of energy development in the Yang and Wu styles of tai chi, requiring a well-honed, internal form as its foundation. Without the necessary prerequisites embedded in your body, pulling silk will not come alive. Your form must be accurate, soft and flowing—without glitches, stops and starts, and with a reasonable amount of internal content. You simply cannot contact qi energy with your mind and manipulate it to develop your chi further until you fulfill these conditions.

However, when you have done the required training and all aspects are on line, pulling silk will add a dimension to your practice that is simply divine.

Pulling silk is not something beyond mental understanding. It involves pulling qi energy in and out of the body in a smooth, continuous flow. When executed with the lightness and continuum of a small stream flowing down a gentle slope and the precision and circularity of turbine, it can yield chi development to a sublime level. It is at this stage that your tai chi form loses all interruptions through the postures, your body seems to melt and mingle with your environment, and your mind finds peace and tranquility. Not to be sneezed at in a world of high stress and fast living!

Check out more of my tai chi videos and how-to training tips…

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