The correct way of “Trying” ​when learning or practicing

Qi Gong/Tai Chi

Learning and practicing Qi Gong and Tai Chi with certain mental approaches, or attitudes, will not be fruitful.  The purpose of this article is to consider and characterize these less beneficial approaches, and suggest a more productive one… …

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From a young age, we learn a method of “trying” whenever we want to accomplish something.  We use this method when we are children in school (trying to solve a math problem, or to write an essay or composition), undertaking an assigned task at work, or trying to accomplish something at home (cooking a new recipe, undertaking a home improvement or maintenance project).  Broadly speaking, the method looks something like this:  First we get a pretty good idea for what the end result is that we are aiming for; an objective, if you will.  The correct solution to the math problem, a well written composition with no syntax, or spelling errors, a successfully prepared recipe that is tasty and with good textures, etc.. Then we set about establishing a plan of action to achieve the desired end result and get to work implementing our plan.  At the conclusion, we end up with a finished product that we then compare against the desired end result, or objective, that we were anticipating.  If it’s our first effort at this task, often we don’t achieve the initially anticipated end result; we fall short of our expectations and that can result in some sense of dissatisfaction.  Sometimes we will accept our “lesser result”, and other times we will try, try, again until we get it “right”.  As we try, try again, invariably we will continue the iterative process of measuring our efforts against some desired objective.
The key components of the process I have just described, for our purposes here, are the notions of establishing an objective and constantly measuring your accomplishments against that objective, which sets up a dynamic where you are likely to periodically fall short of expectations, resulting in a sense of dissatisfaction and possibly frustration, with your progress or performance.
Learning and practising Qi Gong or Tai Chi with this approach will not be fruitful.
Another approach is required for these arts.  First, recognize that each student / practitioner will have an individual path of development, dependant on a variety of factors that are too numerous and nebulous to list definitively.  Each will begin from a certain physical and mental state, each will have certain physical and mental capabilities, each will have a degree of interest, dedication, work ethic, etc.,  all of which will impact the evolution of their art.  Moreover, it should be fully understood, that there is no end-point in your evolution in these arts.  Even the greatest grand-masters, who have practised for a lifetime, evolve in their art every new day.   Embrace this idea and accept deeply that there is no end point or objective that we should try to establish for ourselves and that becomes a target against which we measure our progress.
Many students make the mistake of looking at other students, or their teacher, and say to themselves “why can’t I do the movements like them?”.  If we do this, we will inevitably set ourselves up to “fall short of expectations”, and be dissatisfied and frustrated.  One of the great gifts of the practice of Qi Gong and Tai Chi is to provide you with an opportunity to not be in the state where you “have fallen short of expectations”; a state in which most of us have spent a fair bit of our lives.  Rather, we want to cultivate a state where we “try” with an attitude of non-striving, of equanimity, peacefulness, and happiness.  A state in which our mind is quiet and focused and where all desire has been banished.  We don’t desire an end result (I want my Qi Gong to look like my teacher’s), a rate of accomplishment (I want to be this good within the next month), or any other objective.  The only thing we “try” to do is to follow the teacher’s instructions, as best we can on a given day and accept wholeheartedly the result of those efforts.  Nothing more, nothing less.  The key word in that sentence is “accept”.  Restrain yourself from wanting more than “what is”; wanting “more” leads rapidly to dissatisfaction, dissatisfaction to mental tension, mental tension to physical tension, and then all is lost.
Simply try, without expectation of any result, to do the exercises (mental and physical), relax your mind and body, enjoy the process, and accept whatever comes of your efforts.  This is the mindset that will produce the greatest benefit.
Adhering to the above observations will take you a long way in your journey.  There is one final point that should also be made and it is one which trips up many practitioners.  Your teacher will sometimes mention to you the kind of sensations of Chi you might encounter (tingling in your hands, etc, etc.).  At some point, as you continue your practice, you will begin to experience such sensations.  The first time a student feels these sensations, they are naturally elated and have a sense of accomplishment that all their hard work is paying off.  This is fine, but you must now guard against three pitfalls.
The first is the tendency to desire to “hold on” to the sensation, to have it continue.  Often, as soon as you allow yourself to slip into this state of mind, to grasp at holding on to the sensation, you will lose the sensation.  How annoying!  Why does this happen?  Well, if you think about it, once you are full of “desire” and “grasping”, you are no longer in the state of quiet focus and mental and physical relaxation that allowed the sensation to appear in the first place; so it disappears.  Worse still, if you then allow yourself to become annoyed or disappointed, you will further distance yourself from the sensation. So, the correct state of mind is:  “Ahh… how nice to have this lovely sensation of Chi.  I will enjoy and accept it as long as it lasts and be happy to continue my practice when the sensation disappears, without any disappointment”.  The next pitfall, is that once you experience the sensation, you will “expect” it to be there the next time you practice.  You will be looking for it, waiting for it to happen, and when it doesn’t you become dissatisfied.  We call this error “chasing the manifestation”, and again, this state of mind is nearly guaranteed to result in failure.  The third pitfall is to feel that you are now somehow a “superior” practitioner compared to other students, who say they have not yet experienced any sensations of Chi.  This is your ego speaking; it is a false indulgence and false sense of self-importance.  Such a mindset will take you away from the path of quiet, peaceful, honest endeavour in your practice, a state in which you perceive yourself as simply equal, not more and not less, than any other person.
Simply try, without expectation of any result, to do the exercises (mental and physical), relax your mind and body, enjoy the process, and accept whatever comes of your efforts.  This is the mindset that will produce the greatest benefit.

Rob Bickerdike
January, 2019

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Why should Westerners Learn Taichi?

          When I first began Tai Chi I thought it was about learning a routine and then repeating it as a form of exercise and meditation.  Five months later, I now know that Tai Chi is much more than that. It is an internal martial art, meditation system and healing practice.  We Westerners are very tight.  In all the workouts we do, whether its yoga, weights or cardio routines, we tighten and hold our muscles.  In Tai Chi it’s about letting go and keeping a low centre of gravity.  Your body is totally relaxed and the movement comes from your chi (energy flow/life force).The idea is to let your chi flow unimpeded through your body with no blockages.  Not to think about what you are moving but letting it happen in a natural way. Not easy to do as a beginner but all of us in the class now get the idea and it is an amazing feeling.  Every week the fluid, ‘lazy’ movement is becoming more natural and our legs and knees are getting stronger as Tai Chi works all the little muscles.  Learning Tai Chi is an enthralling journey.
          Leon (behind right, in blue Taichi uniform) is an amazing teacher and can work with students who are at different levels within the same class.  We are lucky to have him at Sattva (Gold’s Gym).
Barbara Silver (front right, in black)
February 2015


Others Tai Chi Benefit Testimonials

Madam Aura from Pointe-Claire had a big operation on her leg because of fracture.  She lay in bed for almost 5 months.  After that, she could not squat and walked very difficultly.  Her doctor told her that she may try some Tai Chi.  After she learns and exercises Tai Chi around 8 months, these symptoms disappeared.  She said very happily that Tai Chi makes her happy and she also stops quarrelling with her husband.
Madam Jo’s fingers were always cold and she seldom sweated before she began to learn Tai Chi.  After she exercises Tai Chi more than one year, her fingers are warm and hot.  She feels very refreshing and sweats a lot after every class.
Ms. Kate began to exercise Tai Chi about one year ago.  She loves it so much and she begins to learn Tai Chi straight sword now.  She said that the Thursday is her happiest day since there is Tai Chi class.
In the Tai Chi Class in DDO, Mr. Su, a boss of a restaurant, told us his story.  He was very nervous during lunch time when there were so many costumers.  After he exercised Tai Chi for some time, he is very calm and can control himself very well when he is in the same or worse situation.  He said that Tai Chi helps him to reduce the stress and to regulate his mood.  Now he already continues to exercise Tai Chi for 1 year and 3 months.  Mr. Su also takes her daughter, a high school student, to join the course.
Madam Han in the class in Downtown had very weak legs that are the genetic problem in her family.  She, around 40 years old, walked like an old lady and could not walk long time.  She could stand up only by holding something after she picked up something on the floor.  She felt the pain in the legs more seriously after she exercised half of year.  She wanted to quit but changed idea.  She still insisted on exercising one or two hours more at home except in the class every week.  After one year, she felt that her legs got stronger and she can stand up very easy after she squat.  Now she experiences the benefits of Tai Chi and insist on it very well.  She only missed one class during one year and 5 months.
Dave in the class of Pincourt has problem of breath.  He can not sleep without the help of the machine.  His doctor suggested he should try some Tai Chi and then he joined the Tai Chi class.  Just after he exercised Tai Chi about one month, his prescription was reduced to half.
My name is Cathie Miousse, I am 29 year old, and since few weeks only I am practicing Tai-Chi.  I’m a really stress person and I am doing a stressing job.  I am a laboratory technician, and all day I am running out of time to fit all my work in a day.  Because of the kind of job I am doing, often I have back pain and shoulder pain, also I was felling aggressive.  But now by Tai-Chi, I am learning to relax and because of that I feel so better: I feel more happy and relax all day long and the back and shoulder pain are completely gone.