Friday, January 18, 2013

The problem with overdoing it in Tai Chi

For both beginning and advanced students the task is to place and keep attention, attention, attention in the core of the body.  I repeat the word several times as indicative of the mental discipline necessary to do the job.  Whether newbie or oldie a student will still face the same task. Nevertheless I have seen many give up and likely because of frustration with the process.  It is very daunting to keep attention on the body and it is as though attention itself has a mind of its own...not to be pinned to any one thing. This "attention" however is not of the "go for the burn", the mind on cruise control variety.

Here is a small bit of what Master Stephen Hwa has to say on the subject:  "For the beginner, the difficulty lies in the mental discipline in which all attention has to be concentrated on the core region."

From my experience and what I hear and see from my students this is largely the case.  There are a few other problems I would like to mention:

A student states that they are experiencing soreness in the abdominal area from practicing.  This from what I am able to gather is from doing the silk reeling exercises.  The best advice I can give is not to go after repetitions as though it is a contest to see how many one can do. The object is to simply feel the stretch and energy flow, key words, "simply feel", not to engage in trying to strengthen the core like a sit up or crunch.  The difference in the latter is one of building muscle for muscle sake, in the former it is to tune the nervous system so that it can move the extremeties from the core.

What happens when you do too many repetitions; an overload of a silk reeling for instance,  is that you get a sore abdomen and a sore back.  Since muscles do not exist in a vacuum and operate under the laws of science you can also overload your nervous system. This is called  spiking the nervous system., we are getting high spikes and then dropping back to lows. We are getting a sharp rise and an equally sharp decline of the nerve signals. It seems to be a logical question then as to what the  setpoint might be with such continuous high and lows. Is the setpoint geared for continuous relaxation or is it geared for continuing stress?  Additionally,  as we said,  in Classical Tai Chi we look to maintain attention on the core .  If we lose our attention whether by inattention or stress to the nervous system the task of completing the Tai Chi form brings us to attention once again.  Ideally, it as though it is wired into the subconscious to facilitate this process.

When we practice Classical Tai Chi, we "tune up" the nervous system.  The highs and the low signals are smoothed out so that the signals remain even and evenly flowing.  After all, the movements themselves are even and evenly flowing, very rhythmical. The mind begins to relax more and more during form practice or silk reeling since the task of remembering what to do is taken over by  the subconscious mind.  So, ease back on the number of repetitions and instead learn to enjoy the sensations of stretch, warmth, tingling at the areas that move during silk reeling. This is developing a feel for what we are doing but we are also engaging the nervous system, just as though we would engage any muscles. Over my years of doing Tai Chi I would have to say that my nervous system has responded the best to the practice.  My muscles, my metabolism have indeed responded  but the nervous system seems to have learned and strengthened the most readily.

As I stated before, the Classical Tai Chi is not a go for the "burn" as fast as you can system.  As a matter of fact it is just the opposite for the nervous system thrives when training is done at a low level of intensity.  Look at what happens with the Square Form for instance with its deliberate pauses between movements.  I know this is quite a contrast with our almost built-in desire for power and more power by sweating, exerting and straining. The nervous system also thrives on variety and not overload.  Since we offer a variety of silk reeling exercises, the curriculum is ideal for providing such variety. In other words, there is plenty for you to use to tune up, say doing 20 repetitions of 5 different silk reelings as opposed to 100 of any one.  Advanced students can learn to use the individual postures of the form as silk reeling, thus increasing the variety once again.  You can read more about the tuning up of the nervous system in "Uncovering the Treasure" by Stephen Hwa, Amazon.  Enjoy your "tune up".

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