Meditation: An Often Neglected Component of Taiji Practice

Three Major Components of Taiji Practice

There are three major components of Taiji practice:  Forms, Push Hands, and Meditation.  Everyone who has ever practiced Taiji knows about and has practiced the Forms component, i.e., engaging the body in various sets of prescribed movements, and depending on the level of practice, perhaps integrating with breathing techniques.  Most people who are interested in Taiji from the perspective of martial arts probably also know about and have practiced the Push Hands component, i.e., engaging with another practitioner in various choreographed or free-style arm and leg movements trying to execute some of the martial applications of Taiji.  However, many people who practice Taiji may not have engaged in the Meditation component, even though they might have heard about it.

This article will provide a brief introduction to the Meditation component in Taiji, and also explain why so many Taiji practitioners have neglected, relatively speaking, this important component of Taiji.  Later in this article we will explain why we classify Meditation as a separate component from Forms when it is often said that performing Taiji forms is considered to be involved in moving meditation.

Two Central Principles of Taiji

One of the central principles of Taiji is that you need to relax, both body and mind.  From the health perspective, the more relax you are, the better is Taiji for your health.  For example, relaxing more will release more of the tension and stress in your body and mind, and you will feel more refresh after practicing Taiji.  Relaxing more will also reduce the physical impacts on your body from performing the forms, thus making Taiji a good exercise for people of all ages, including senior citizens.  From the martial arts perspective, the more relax you are, the more effective you will be as a martial artist.  For example, relaxing more will make it more difficult for your opponent to sense your intention and your next move, and at the same time will make it easier for you to sense your opponent’s intention and his next move.  Relaxing more will also allow you to respond with more quickness and more power.

Another central principle of Taiji that is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is that there is some sort of energy, a bio-electrical energy, called Qi that circulates in the human body, and the proper accumulation and circulation of Qi in the body is very much related to a person’s health. [1]  When there is blockage of Qi in a part of the body, then most likely there will be some sort of health problem related to that part of the body.  Thus it is very important to develop techniques that can properly generate and circulate Qi in one’s body.

What is Meditation in Taiji?

In this article, by Meditation in Taiji, I am referring to a set of techniques that focus on getting the body and mind to relax and into a deeper level of “quietness.”  When one is in such a state of relaxation, Qi is more likely to be generated and circulate through the body.

Meditation can be static (i.e., the practitioner is not purposely moving his body [2]) or dynamic (i.e., the practitioner is purposely engaged in moving some parts of his body).  In this article, we will focus our discussion on Static Meditation because for a beginner trying to get into a more relaxed and Qi-generating/circulation mode, Static Meditation is more effective than Dynamic Meditation.  However, for an experienced practitioner, either method could be just as effective.

Some Simple Techniques of Static Meditation

There are many techniques for Static Meditation, we will describe just five.  In each one, one should relax the body as much as possible, and should also empty the mind, with eyes closed, partially closed, or open.

Standing Meditation 1: Stand upright with legs about one shoulder-width apart.  Knees should be slightly bent, with some flexibility to the degree of bend.  Upper body and head should be straight.  The tailbone and the buttocks should be slightly drawn in to help relax the hips and waist.  Hold both arms outward as if holding a big beach ball at about stomach or chest height, with the shoulders relaxed and sloping slightly downward and the chest slightly concave.

Standing Meditation 2: Similar to Standing Meditation 1, but instead of holding a big beach ball in front of the body with the hands, the hands are on the sides of the body with each hand a few inches from the body, with the elbows slightly bent.  The knees should also be slightly bent, but not bent as much as in Standing Meditation 1.  Again, the shoulders should be relaxed and sloping slightly downward and the chest slightly concave.  This is the same meditation position as in Spontaneous Qigong or Zifagong (自发功). [3]

Sitting Meditation 1: Instead of standing, the practitioner sits on the edge of a chair, with the upper body and head almost straight but with a slight forward lean, and with hands on the knees.

Sitting Meditation 2:
Instead of sitting on a chair, the practitioner sits on the floor with legs crossed, preferably in the lotus position if the practitioner is comfortable with that position, with the upper body and head almost straight but with a slight forward lean, and with hands resting between the folding legs.

Lying-Down Meditation: The practitioner lies on the floor on his back, although alternatively he can also lie on his stomach or side.  Lying down is the meditation position where the body has to do the least to counter gravity, thus conducive to relaxing the body and mind.  However, the practitioner should avoid falling asleep.  Therefore, do not practice Meditation, especially Lying-Down Meditation, if you are tired.

Initially, while doing Meditation, the practitioner can breathe naturally, i.e., breathe normally.  With experience, more sophisticated breathing techniques could be incorporated.

For each of these techniques, the objective is to relax the body and mind.  The most effective way of doing that may vary with the individual.  One may try repeating a mantra, e.g., a single word like calm, peace, quiet, etc.  One may visualize a serene scenery as a beautiful spring day.  Or one may do nothing special and just let the emptiness take hold.  But one has to be patient, because this deeper state of relaxation, also called a Qigong state, may not be reached by beginning practitioners until 15, 30, or more minutes have passed.  For non-experienced practitioners, it may not be achieved the first time or even the first few times one practices; furthermore, it may not be achieved every time one practices, even though it has already been achieved in previous practices.  A cautionary note:  One should not practice Meditation if one has a cold or flu, because Meditation could make the cold worse.

When one gets into this Qigong state of deeper relaxation, one may feel some tingling sensation on parts of the body, especially the hands and fingers.  One may feel a fullness of the body, as if an invisible force (Qi) is expanding inside the body.  One may undergo some bodily motions, such as rocking forward and backward, the arms moving in circular motions, including rising upward against gravity.  One may also engage in other more vigorous bodily motions, such as walking backward, walking forward, jogging in place, lying down on the floor and rotating, or twisting the body into various positions.  As described in the article in Footnote 3, I have observed all such motions in Spontaneous Qigong practices involving about a dozen people.  According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, some of these motions may be due to Qi trying to get around blockages within the practitioner’s body, with the blockages due to illness or injury.

Before finishing a Meditation practice, it is extremely important to go through a cool down or wrap up process (收功).  This is not the usual warm/cool down after a strenuous exercise. The purpose of properly cooling down is to ensure that the practitioner has terminated the Qigong state.  There are various cool down methods.  One method is the following:

  • For men:  Place the left hand over the right hand with both hands on the Dantian (around the navel).  Rotate the hands counter-clockwise 36 times, going from a small circle to a bigger and bigger circle.  Then place the right hand over the left hand and rotate clockwise 24 times, going from a large circle to a smaller and smaller circle.  Then keep both hands over the Dantien for a minute of two.
  • For women:  Place the right hand over the left hand with both hands on the Dantian (around the navel).  Rotate the hands clockwise 36 times, going from a small circle to a bigger and bigger circle.  Then place the left hand over the right hand and rotate counter-clockwise 24 times, going from a large circle to a smaller and smaller circle.  Then keep both hands over the Dantien for a minute of two.

This cool down process first distributes the Qi from the Dantian to other parts of the body, and then collects the Qi from other parts of the body back to Dantian.

As mentioned earlier, besides Static Meditation, there is also Dynamic Meditation.  Therefore, it is often said that someone who is practicing the Taiji forms is already practicing Meditation, a la Dynamic Meditation or Moving Meditation.  However, for beginners, Static Meditation is much more likely to result in a deeper state of relaxation, or Qigong state, than Dynamic Meditation.  That is why in this article we make the generalization that people practicing Taiji forms are not necessarily practicing Meditation, although this statement is not exactly correct, especially when you include experienced Taiji practitioners.

Why Meditation Is Often Neglected in Taiji Practice?

There are three reasons.  Because Meditation is so crucial in reaching a higher level of achievement in Taiji from the perspective of both health and martial arts, in traditional China this art was usually restricted to be taught within the family or local village.  So this skill was not widely taught.  This kind of restriction has of course been changing in recent years.  The second reason is also related to the above restriction.  Keeping the skill as a secret within the family or local village also meant that a lot of Taiji teachers today might not have really learned it, or at least did not learn enough to feel comfortable teaching the subject.  The third reason is that it takes much longer to learn Meditation/Qigong and their integration into Taiji from either the health perspective or the martial arts perspective.  Therefore, many teachers are reluctant to teach it even if they are well qualified to teach it, especially taking into consideration the emphasis on quick returns in the American society.  Similarly, many students are not willing to put in the long-term commitment required to learn the skill.

Summary

Taiji practice has three major components:  Forms, Push Hands, and Meditation.  Meditation is critical for the practitioner to achieve a deeper level of relaxation and Qi-generation/circulation, which in turn is critical for the practitioner to learn the internal (or neigong) aspects of Taiji.  For beginners to learn Meditation, Static Meditation is much more important and effective.  Once a practitioner has mastered Static Meditation, then with practice the practitioner should also be able to get into a state of deep relaxation and Qi-generation/circulation while doing Taiji forms, thus realizing the description of Taiji as Moving Meditation.  However, because of (1) the traditional Chinese custom of keeping the Meditation skill within the family or local village, (2) Taiji teachers might not have learned the skill, and (3) the longer-term commitment required to learn the skill, Meditation is often neglected in the teaching and practice of Taiji.


[1] For more information on Qi and Qigong, see, e.g., two earlier articles in this website:  “The Essence of Taijiquan Part 2:  Perspective from Taiji Qigong” (http://www.dontow.com/2007/12/the-essence-of-taijiquan-part-2-perspective-from-taiji-qigong/) and “A Proposal to Perform Scientific/Medical Analysis of Qigong” (http://www.dontow.com/2009/04/a-proposal-to-perform-scientificmedical-analysis-of-qigong/).
[2] However, even during Static Meditation, the body may move as a result of meditation.
[3] See the article “Spontaneous Qigong or Zifagong (自发功)”:   http://www.dontow.com/2009/08/spontaneous-qigong-or-zifagong-%E8%87%AA%E5%8F%91%E5%8A%9F/.

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