Life lessons from Taiji Quan practice (1)

It has been four days that I have been practising Taiiji with Master Teng. The Master has been very generous with his knowledge and according to him, I have made as much progress as his Taiji regulars make in 4 months of lessons twice a week. I am sure this is mostly simply the benefit of 1 to 1 tuition, plus a tad of utter determination - after all, I am not a Taiji Regular at his Centre, I have this special time set aside for learning, in the midst of my acupuncture practice and raising three kids. So I do my homework as well as daily lessons. I have been even falling asleep repeating the form in my mind. It feels lovely to practice, although I still experience acutely the awkwardness of my movements. But this awareness is also a part of learning – to be increasingly aware of your own body, to be aware of its limitations, is a marvellous thing.

I discovered that whenever I make a mistake, the process of correcting, of “un-learning” that mistake teaches me loads. Here, I will share some of those insights with you.


1. If something feels difficult and unnatural, it is not right. The right path flows simply.

Ok, this one is a bit risky to put in words. It does not mean we should never do difficult things – pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone is the best way to grow, after all. Let’s start with the taiji context:

A Taiji form is designed to flow, and there are several transitions between the moves which are minimalist. If you accidentally step with the wrong leg, or raise the opposite hand, the flow will be lost, obstructed. You will end up exerting yourself more than needed as your body is contorted in a slightly counter-intuitive way.

(Actually, the Bujinkan Budo Taijustu that I practise, follows exactly the same principle, and I supposed many other martial arts styles, with which I am not familiar, do as well.)

As I practised, I reflected on how this ease should be how we move through life. I believe we all have a sense of gut feeling, an instinct maybe, that tells us what is right for us, what is the correct path forward in our lives. Sometimes we do not follow that because of… well yes, because of what? Maybe our habits. Or fear. Or expectations we put on ourselves, or we feel that others place upon us. Or maybe we try to stick to an idea we just intellectually conceived, without it really flowing from our deepest nature.

I may not have expressed it well. Just practise some Taiji and hopefully you will know :)

2. Put all of yourself behind every move you make

When you move in taiji, typically more than your hand or leg moves. You engage the muscle of the torso, focus your eyesight, as well as shift your weight in harmony with every move. I was failing to do this in one of the steps, and then I understood: all of me has to commit to this move. It is not enough if a part of me goes, while another wants to stay. There is even a saying, that in correct practice (Taiji or Qi Gong) “the mind, the heart and the body are one”.

It is not easy to achieve this unity. In real life, we are often conflicted: for instance, my will from last night wants me to get up early, but as the alarm sounds, I would really rather sleep. Or I am doing something wishing to be somewhere else, or simply not paying attention. Who is not guilty of checking their phone when they are supposed to be in the middle of something else? Or we commit to a new routine, a new endeavour, relationship or job, but only with a part of ourselves, the other part is still holding back, having doubts. The list can go on and own, and it is actually fascinating to reflect upon in the silence of your own mind.

Practising taiji can serve as a beautiful gentle reminder to put your heart, your spirit and your body ALL behind everything you do.

Speaking about which, I should go to sleep. Because I came here to Malaysia to rain Taiji, and now I am writing on my computer at 1am...

Till next time -

Master Teng teaching me. You can see how much more tension there is in my arms and whole body as compared to his!

Master Teng teaching me. You can see how much more tension there is in my arms and whole body as compared to his!