T’ai Chi is often called a moving meditation… but what does that really mean?
You probably already know that meditation is a process of focusing your thoughts and projecting your mind’s intentions in order to achieve a desired state of consciousness. However, when most people think about meditation they usually imagine someone sitting in a ‘lotus’ position or kneeling for ‘zazen’ meditation. Sitting, or even laying down, is often used so the person can completely relax the body and give their thoughts full attention. Movement, it would seem, distracts the mind, making it harder to achieve the desired state.
What we have to understand is that movement can be an important part of our meditative evolution. Performance specific movements like those found in T’ai Chi, Yoga, or even certain types of prayer can actually help the practitioner in a variety of ways.
First, for those who have difficulty staying still, the movements give the body something to do while the brain focuses on the task at hand. A body that moves slowly and with purpose in a controlled, rhythmic manner can calm the mind, in much the same way a stage hypnotist might use a swinging pocket watch to lead someone into a trance. By giving the mind something to concentrate deeply upon, the subconscious this free to explore and relax.
Secondly, movement helps us visualize energy, or chi, moving through the different areas of our body. As we raise our arms, it becomes easier to imagine the arm meridians filling with energy and nourishing our body. Standing allows us to visualize Earth Energy rising up from the ground and into our center as we ‘root’ into our stance.
Finally, movement is necessary for us to allow the meditative state to become a conscious part of our everyday life. Meditation in a quiet, candle-lit room, under the smell of incense and soft music is great for giving yourself time to de-stress, heal, and discover spiritual insights. But, true Mastery comes when you can achieve this state on a noisy, traffic filled street. It happens when you can stay calm, centered, and energetically efficient throughout your day, no matter what life happens to throw at you.
But, is this kind of Mental Mastery really achievable?
Well, it will take a lot of personal growth to attain this type of control, but yes it’s totally possible.
Here’s a short overview to help get you started on the path…
The Phases of Moving Meditation
The first phase is already been introduced; It’s the static meditation where you try to keep your body as still as possible. Some people lay down for this type of practice, but most assume a cross-legged sitting or kneeling position to prevent themselves from falling asleep, while attempting to shift into a deep meditation.
Focus during this type of practice is usually on controlling the breathing, relaxing the body, and focusing your thoughts. Depending on the particular discipline, you may try to focus on one thing, such as you’re breathing, a candle, or a specific Mantra.
Otherwise, your focus might entail a specific visualization that will take you into the trance state. The visualization could have you do something like imagining energy moving to a certain part of your body, directing an Emotion such as love or sympathy towards another, or maybe discovering your ‘Animal Spirit Guide.’ Whatever, the meditation, the practice always follows focusing your thoughts and achieving an open, trance-like state.
Learning to quiet your conscious mind and guide your thoughts is the first and most important step towards moving meditation.
The next phase is standing meditation, found in disciplines such as Chi Kung and some forms of yoga, where the practitioner assumes a certain pose and then meditates though the the upright posture. In addition to focus and breathing, this discipline also emphasises proper body alignment to transfer energy efficiently through the body and even possibly to radiate it out into the environment.
Chi Kung standing meditations are an important component of T’ai Chi and are often practiced at the beginning or end of formal classes.
But, the practice doesn’t need to stop there. The next phase is actual moving meditation.
Arts that employ this type of practice include the T’ai Chi forms, yoga styles that emphasize transition from one pose to another, and Chi Kung exercises such at the ‘Eight Pieces of Brocade’ that use body movement to transfer energy and strengthen the internal organs.
Now, the truth is, it’s very ambitious to assume you can keep a truly meditative state while performing a long T’ai Chi or yoga routine. The more your limbs and center move, the more you have to concentrate to maintain proper body alignment, controlled breathing, energetic focus, calm mind, and smooth transition from one posture to the next. It’s a lot to think about while still trying to achieve the meditative state. (This is why many arts return to static meditation to keep their disciples well-practiced.)
One way to maintain a meditative state while training is to practice a short piece of the form or routine over and over again. In T’ai Chi, you could practice a particular sequence such as ‘Cloud Hands’ or ‘Grasp Sparrows Tail’ by repeating only those movements, while you deeply focus on your breathing alignment, thought, and energy.
(This author prefers the T’ai Chi exercise known as ‘Silk Reeling,’ to attain a moving meditative state. By ritualistically repeating the movements and uniting my thoughts, breath, and focus, I am able to attain a level of deep, internal insight that I’m currently unable to hold during the numerous transitions found in the full Yang 24 short form.)
Be aware however, that you’re moving meditation practice doesn’t have to stop with T’ai Chi or yoga training; in fact it shouldn’t!
These exercises are just the beginning!
The purpose of moving meditation exercise is to be able to bring the
meditative state into your everyday life. When you can remain focused, breathe properly, stay relaxed, and feel your energy move whether sitting, standing, or moving, there’s no limit to what you can do while still maintaining your meditative consciousness.
Master level gardening, woodworking, painting, playing jazz music, or even archery, are all activities that are often associated with a high state of meditative prowess. Olympic athletes often use the latest findings from Sports Psychology to achieve this sense of relaxed, yet precise ‘flow’.
Ultramarathon Champion, Danny Dryer, has written a fantastic book called Chi Running, that details how the principles of T’ai Chi can be applied to the sport of running to improve the runners efficiency while greatly reducing the common injuries that plague the sport. His book on this effortless running style gives new meaning to the term “a runner’s high!”
Even the grand tradition of the Japanese Tea Ceremony is a way for those who practice that art to bring the methods of Zen out of solitary meditation and into the world of our daily lives. The ceremony takes the task of drinking a simple cup of tea and elevates into an existential expression to demonstrate power and grace of the focused mind.
No matter what discipline you should choose in order to learn the way, once you are truly able to achieve moving meditation, there’s really nothing that you can’t achieve. In applying these principles of meditation, you will find greater efficiency, simplicity, freedom, and creativity in everything you do.
-Even the most mundane of your everyday tasks can be filled with deep meaning and artistic care. The only limits are the ones you choose!