Here is an article (with some photo's) that will be published hopefully in the Tendring Business Letter in January - Thought I would give you a preview.
The Balanced Path at The Tai Chi Studio
The Tai Chi Studio began life in Wivenhoe in the autumn of 2002 after I moved to North Essex from London where I had worked for the best part of 25 years as a London Taxi Driver (now that’s stress!!!). I started my Chi Kung/Tai Chi training in 1988 and became an instructor at the John Ding International Academy of Tai Chi Chuan in 2000 and also studied Chi Kung at the 5 Element College of Chi Kung in London where I also became an instructor. In June 2014, after several moves to larger (not necessarily better) premises the studio returned to its ‘Bijou’ routes to a purpose built studio at the Hall Farm and Business Centre, Little Bentley.
I knew instantly when I came across this shell of a building (an old stable block) that although there was ivy growing through the walls and ceiling and the floor was just a pile of rubble the place had all the potential for the kind of premises I was looking for. Unfortunately, even with all good intentions I had nowhere near the funds to afford the transformation – Enter Hugh Cobbold, the owner of Hall Farm and Business Centre. He asked for what purpose I would be using the premises and agreed to actually do the work out of his own pocket – to say I was ‘gobsmacked’ would be an understatement – yet, after six months I was moving from my old studio in Great Bentley into a lovely, airy space which just oozed the kind of energy that such a venture needs.
The studio is very much a one man show – it is unique in the level of tuition that it offers in Tai Chi and 5 Element Chi Kung. Classes are small (ten at the most) and informal and I love seeing the progress made by my clients who come to me for many different reasons – the majority have health problems ranging from bad posture, respiratory difficulties, high/low blood pressure, sleeping and digestion troubles etc. while others attend purely for the ‘feel good factor’ that can be achieved through meditation and gentle (but not easy) exercise. Some like to explore the internal and external energy side of the work, realising that the exercises take us on a fascinating journey that opens up so many different avenues in our lives (a story for another time).
As well as normal classes I also offer private tuition (one to one or groups) – regular workshops and corporate seminars. I believe that Chi Kung is especially beneficial to businesses with a high level of stress involved and workshops can be arranged at the studio or on office premises. The workshops help bring harmony into the workplace without losing the drive that is obviously needed to succeed; in fact, many people have found their energy levels have increased to such an extent that their work rate has improved greatly – this is especially the case for people in jobs that have strict deadlines (journalist/authors/artist etc).
In the past I have worked with sixth form pupils at the Colne Community School – I have also ran 5/10 week courses for teachers in primary/secondary schools and the Essex Probation Service along with teaching classes for a period at the University of Essex.
The first thing we need to do at the beginning of a session
is bring our energy down (grounding) because we have usually come from a hard days
work (not me of course!!!) or been stressed out in one way or the other. We do
this by standing in Wu Ji, which literally means emptiness, bringing our energy
out of our heads and focusing more on our centre.
Visualisation plays a big part in this and I have noticed
that sometimes I have to change the way I describe how to attain Wu Ji. Usually
I go through a list – Feet shoulder width and parallel – Legs straight, not
locked – Tuck the tailbone slightly – Slightly sink the chest – Relax the
shoulders and let the head sit comfortably with the chin slightly pulled back
and then imagine your energy coming down from your head – releasing the
thoughts that come along and interrupt the process and feel your energy just
accumulating in your lower Dan Tien with the feet rooted through Kidney 1 spot.
Of course, all this makes perfect sense to me because I have
performed Wu Ji for many years and can drop into the posture and state easily,
but for some this concept is hard to imagine so I ask that you make your own
I suggest newcomers to imagine themselves as an egg timer
with the sand slowly dropping from the top (head) to the bottom (lower Dan Tien
and feet) and this seems to work really well for everyone – I always joke that
it only last for three minutes though (the old gags are still the best) – I then
encourage people to make their own visualisation – you don’t have to
necessarily share what it is but people do come up with some wonderful ways to
bring their energy down – and if it works then that’s great.
Also ‘Tucking the tailbone’ sometimes gives a little trouble
because people tend to thrust their pelvis forward causing them to lean back
and be as far away from the Wu Ji posture that it is possible to get, so I
advise that you just let it drop so that it points to the ground – this is
quite easily done if you have your knees relaxed.
Pulling the chin back also has the opposite effect sometimes
because the student tends to lift the chin up thus forcing the head back (if
you combine this with the thrusting forward of the hips you get some very
strange postures!!!) – instead just gently pull the chin towards the chest and
feel the top of the head lift as if being suspended from above.
I hope this may help you in your Wu Ji. I advise standing in
the posture for at least five minutes once you feel ‘rooted’ and just ‘Wallow’
in the stillness!!!
Do you have true conviction that everything will turn out well - I wish that I did - sometimes I feel that everything is going well and other times I just feel that nothing is going right. I have to ask myself is this because of my lack of conviction that all will be well.
Here is a little story from my early years concerning my dad, a lovely man who always believed things would work out in the end.
I was 13 years old and my nan had just died - we were living in rented accommodation in Bow, East London and the house was rented under her name so the landlord decided that we had to go because he wanted to sell the place.
I can remember now as he came around with a smirk on his face telling my mum and dad that they had two weeks to find other accommodation unless of course they wanted to buy the house - a wry smile came across his lips knowing that with my dad working as a postman and my mum working as a telephonist had absolutely no chance of raising the money in time.
My mum was in tears and my dad said 'don't worry, something will turn up' I know that he believed this beyond doubt cos that was the way he was and sure enough that weekend he and his workmates won the football pools which when shared out between them left enough to buy the house!!! The look on the landlords face was classic when he found out and think that he would have liked nothing better than to turn my dad's offer down but to guys like that money is money. So that was it, we became home owners.
My dad was like that right to the end where his last words to me were 'your mother worries too much' before he passed peacefully away on to whatever adventure awaited him in the after life.
I really wish I had his faith!!!
I have come across several misconceptions about Tai Chi and
Chi Kung over the years – Some people seem to think they are a form of Religion
or Cult and some schools may actually give this impression – so much so that
some churches will not actually rent their halls to practitioners for fear that
it would somehow affect their congregation – or worse still send the people who
attend the classes down some evil, satanic path. You may laugh but I have
actually known this to happen!!! Yoga seems to be ok though for some strange
reason!!! Tai Chi and Chi Kung, if anything, will enhance your beliefs as you
get to know and understand yourself better as you tune into your body and clear
Another misconception about Tai Chi is that it is only for
older people – again, nothing could be further from the truth – Tai Chi is a
very effective martial art which unfortunately seems to have been forgotten or
totally ignored by some of the teachers/schools that are around. Every move has
several fighting applications and I have found through teaching them that
people have a much better understanding of what they are doing otherwise the
whole practice turns into some kind of dance with no meaning whatsoever – I
know there will be people who will disagree and I accept that this is my
opinion although I know it to be one shared by many others too. Personally I
would advise older people to take up Chi Kung to begin with – you will learn
techniques that can then be taken into Tai Chi if you wish to go down that
path. The forms are much shorter than Tai Chi – the long 108 Step Yang Form is
particularly demanding. More people drop out of classes because they cannot
remember the movements than for any other reason. Some ask why they cannot just
follow the group but that is not the way I teach – I like people to be able to
go home and practice getting the full benefits regular practice can bring.
Chi Kung is a powerful healing system bringing a unity of
mind, body and spirit but there is one thing that has to be present when
practising and that is intention. Sometimes I look around the class and see
that intention is totally lacking so energy will just not flow – there is an
old expression that says ‘No Yi – No Chi’ and this is very true – your energy
is guided by your intention and along with breath/movement coordination and a
good relaxed posture (not floppy) it will flow through every muscle/sinew/bone
and organ of your body giving that wonderful feeling of ‘Yeah, everything’s ok
– all will be well’ – People sometimes ask if I can guarantee they will be
cured of certain illnesses – of course I cannot give any guarantee and I
certainly would not advise coming off any medication you may have been
prescribed but go into it with an open mind and intention – What have you got
to lose in ‘giving it a try’? – I have
seen some pretty remarkable recoveries or at least remissions take place over
I have studied both Tai Chi and Chi Kung for many years and
the benefits they have given me over the years are tremendous – those who read
the blog regularly will know how I came through a serious health problem
earlier in the year – It was through regular practice of both arts that pulled
me through – also I find solace in them when other things in my life are not so
good – the last few years haven’t been exactly great but I know that through it
all I can find that place within me that says ‘it’s ok, everything will be
fine.’ I can’t explain how or why it works I just know that it does!!!
P.S. I, like everyone else get overwhelmed every now and
then with events and sometimes this is hard for people to understand, thinking
that I should be this ever smiling, happy guru figure – If I were to give this
impression without actually feeling it I would give a very false impression of
who I am and what I stand for.
I seem to have digressed a little there but sometimes things
have to be said.
Many who come along to the
studio are interested in meditation; how to meditate and what meditation to
practice. Well, the first thing is that Tai Chi and Chi Kung are meditation
practices – Tai Chi is often referred to as ‘Meditation in Movement’ although I
believe this rather over simplifies the art.
One of the things you hear a
lot about is being in the ‘now’ - the present moment, and this is one of the
hardest things for us to do because every waking moment we have thoughts going
through our minds about what has passed or what is going to happen but we never
actually spend any time in the present moment – so here is a meditation that I
use quite frequently and one you might like to try yourself.
Firstly, either sit or lie in
a comfortable position – it isn’t necessary to sit cross legged because you
will find you quickly become uncomfortably if you are not used to that posture.
Take a few deep breaths and with every exhalation find yourself relaxing more
and more, concentrate on your breath. Next open your eyes and concentrate on
what you can see at this present moment (some find it helpful to have a candle
or Crystal to
concentrate on here). Find yourself completely in the moment and take in all
the things that you see; the flickering of the flame or the colours in the Crystal, allow any
outside thoughts to just drift straight on through. After spending some time
observing move your concentration to what you can hear – once again you will
find that you hear many things that you may ordinarily take for granted – a
bird song, the rustle of leaves blowing in the wind, you may even hear things
that you have never even realised were around before. After a few minutes move
on to the sense of taste, touch and smell in exactly the same way lingering in
the moment and taking in all the sensations you feel.
At the end of the meditation
gently rub your hands together and then gently rub your face and slowly open
the eyes and come back to the room. You should feel refreshed and ready for the
You may find that you prefer
to concentrate on one or two senses rather than go through them all. My
preference is to start with a visual and then relax and listen. Often flashes
of inspiration can occur during meditation so it is also good to have a
notebook at hand so you can jot down anything that may come to you.
Not really Tai Chi or Chi Kung related although I did manage to get a session in while away in Norfolk for a few days.
Wells-Next-The-Sea is on the North Norfolk coast and I stayed on a ship moored in the harbour called the Albatross - Now it isn't exactly the height of luxury but it is great for a break if you don't mind things being a little rough around the edges. Ton, the Captain and owner of the ship ensures that a good friendly crew make your stay enjoyable and live music is also provided (sometimes by me) on Friday/Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon - I always enjoy my stay there. You can check out more if you go to his website.
What never ceases to amaze me is that people tend to stay in one place and not go that little bit further to find the real treasure of the area. People seem to congregate around the main areas when a short walk along the North Norfolk Coastal Path towards Holkham you can enjoy the pleasure of a beautiful pine forest - I found a really secluded spot - found myself a nice bunch of trees - did some Chi Kung and shared my lunch with the wildlife. It then occurred to me that people tend to do the same thing when looking for classes - be it Tai Chi, Chi Kung, Pilates or Yoga. They will look and probably go to the nearest one to them which isn't necessarily the best (sometimes it might be but not very often!) when a little further down the road, in another village or town they may find the jewel in the crown - I rest my case!!!!
We start each session of Chi Kung with the exercise of Wu Ji
– this is literally stillness or emptiness – clearing the mind and getting in
touch with our bodies before we start moving bringing into being the
opposites of Yin and Yang.
The easy way to find Wu Ji is to stand, feet shoulder width
apart and parallel, weight evenly distributed. Stand upright, as if you are a
soldier standing to attention – Chest out, shoulders back and stomach in (the
exact opposite of Wu Ji!!!)
From here release a sigh while at the same time releasing
all tension in your body, but keep the spine straight – do no slump. This drops
you into perfect Wu Ji.
For a more detailed explanation please read on.
Stand with feet shoulder width apart and parallel.
Be aware of the feet being completely on the ground with the
majority of weight going through the Kidney 1 spot. Make sure that the weight
is evenly distributed over both feet – do not favour one side or the other or
compensate for any aches or pains you may have.
Relax the calf and thigh muscles while at the same time releasing the knees.
Allow you tailbone (Coccyx) to drop so that the base of your
spine points to the floor (without tension) and pull back the chin so that your
head feels it is being suspended from above – you should now feel a slight
stretch in the spine as well as feeling a strong connection to the ground
through you perineum and kidney 1 spots.
Release any tension in your abdomen – slightly sink the
chest and relax the shoulders – this will allow your breath to sink and make
abdominal breathing easier.
Let the head settle on the shoulders – the spine needs to be
upright and in line and you should not be leaning back or forward.
Once you feel relaxed take your muscles out of the equation
and feel your body as more skeletal and feel the sensations as your body starts
to align itself naturally. This is a very enjoyable experience especially if
you have never encountered the feeling before.
Hold Wu Ji for at least 5 minutes and then slowly walk
around and note any further sensations you may find.
Once you know how to drop into Wu Ji easily it can be used
at anytime in stressful situations – try it and see – what have you got to
In one of my ‘moments’ the other day I was thinking about
the sort of people I would like to attract to the studio and how they would
benefit from classes. The word ‘Seekers’ came to mind immediately and I
wondered how I have overlooked this before.
‘Seekers’ are people who are looking for that little
something they know is missing or hiding away deep inside of them. They know
that there is something more inside of them but just can’t put their hands on
it or know how to start looking. I believe that Chi Kung is a perfect catalyst
for this journey of self discovery but like all journeys to actually arrive
anywhere you have to ‘get on the bus’!!!
The first realisation on the journey is how little you know
about your body – how unaware you are of its role in helping you emotionally as
well as physically – through meditation, standing postures, moving forms and coordinating
movement with breathe we start to understand how miraculous our bodies are.
The next stop is connecting to the internal energy in our
body – that force that keeps us alive and well – we begin to feel when there is
stagnation or blockages in our energy flow and learn what may be the causes
(usually a buried emotion) and once again through meditation and working with
the 5 Element Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine we learn to acknowledge and
work with our bodies and emotions etc.
At this time, we also connect to the external energy around
us which is prevalent in nature – a matrix of energy that we can merge with
bringing a balance that was previously missing from life. Artists, musicians
and writers usually find this a place of great inspiration and their chosen art
forms take on new dimensions. A time of real creation from deep within.
Now I know that this all sounds a bit ‘airy fairy’ but that
is far from the case – those that know me well will vouch that I am about as
far from ‘airy fairy’ you can get! When you come along to a class your feet are
still firmly on the ground and we definitely don’t do any crazy stuff – so why
not come along – get on the bus – enjoy the journey – I’ll save you a ticket!!!
The benefits of chi kung has many layers - just like an onion, as you remove one layer a deeper layer presents itself.
At a basic level chi kung greatly improves your body awareness, breathing, posture and opens up the joints, relaxes muscles and relieves stress and aids digestion. These 'advantages' are great and felt very quickly and because of this people think that is it!
But, as you continue with your practice you find a much deeper effect happening - You become more aware of your internal energy and start to feel any blockages or problems with your body. I know several people who have realised they have something wrong and got medical attention quickly. Yes, medical attention is sometimes needed and when used along with chi kung practice a quick recovery is often possible. Obviously, this isn't always the case - sometimes your time is up!!!
Beyond this stage you find a more spiritual meaning behind your practice and you find yourself living much more in the flow of things (the Tao) - intuition often improves and you feel that harmony between mind, body and spirit often referred to as the 'three treasures' - Jing, Chi and Shen.
So don't just settle for the obvious benefits that come from practice - never stop searching and looking for the deeper mysteries that lie within Chi Kung.
Lots of people who take up Tai Chi and Chi Kung get obsessed with learning forms without understanding the basic principles and concepts behind the forms they have already learned. This is why sometimes a form looks like a dance with absolutely no intention or energy behind it.
I like to make sure that everyone at least knows the basic principles and concepts behind what they are learning and hopefully put these into the form they are practising. Sword form particularly needs this understanding or it just looks like someone waving a piece of wood (if you are using a practise sword) around.
Chi Kung is the same - you must have intention (Yi) in the movements so that your energy (Chi) can flow (no Yi no Chi!!!) - yes, you have to be relaxed but also the intention behind the movement has to be there (a bit of a paradox really).
I was once told by a teacher that when you see someone practising Tai Chi it should look like a spiritual person who shouldn't be messed with - I think this sums it up quite well!!!