Monthly Archives: February 2014

Subway Tai Chi

In my last post I wrote about practicing Tai Chi on a mountain in the middle of nowhere, now I am bringing it closer to home….the subway!

No, I am not practicing my forms in the subway or at the station, but I am applying different concepts and different techniques. Below are some that I practice the most:

Peng – Expanding Energy

Anybody who has ever been in a subway in Beijing knows how busy it can get; it’s always fully packed, and even then people still try to get in. This is not only annoying; it is also not safe for children and the elderly. So this is where your Peng energy comes in! I usually stand with my back to the door and when I notice that the subway is already full enough, I breath in and then when the door opens I breath out and expand…making my body round and leading my energy outwards. Believe me, nobody is coming in anymore and the grandma that is standing in front of you can keep on smiling.

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Balance

With any luck you are in a subway, bus or train that is not completely packed. No matter if there are free seats, I always stand during the trip without holding onto anything. Buses are changing speed and stopping all the time, so this is an excellent opportunity to practice your balance. Stand with both feet shoulder width apart, just like your Neutral position in the Kinetic Concepts and slightly bend your knees. Then try to sink your energy into the ground and root, like a tree. Is it getting too easy? Try standing on one leg!

Daily Zen

This is the most obvious and least visible practice. You can try all the meditations in Level 1 to 3, just make sure you not go stare at people when practicing your Meditation on Sight, people don’t tend to like that ;) I most recently meditated on sound and was surprised by how many different sounds there are that I never noticed.  Small beeps, people’s clothes rubbing against each other, breathing… there’s an infinite amount to explore.

Willow in the Wind

Not everybody will be familiar with this, but this is a game you will learn in Level 2 where you practice waist flexibility and body sensitivity. Great for when you want to go out of the subway and others are fighting to go in. Instead of going against them, be like the willow in the wind and let them move around you by staying relaxed and moving your waist.

General tips:

  • You might be thinking…. standing in the middle of the subway, with your Taijiquan pants on*, trying to maintain balance…. doesn’t that look silly? Won’t people stare at you? The answer to both questions is… yes! But who cares, this is your practice, this is you improving your Taijiquan!
  • Make sure not to hurt the people around you, if you have already learned Level 2…don’t go out to give people shoulder or elbow strikes in the subway. Stay nice ;)
  • Be mindful and really experience what you are doing. Leave your cell phone in your pocket, it will still be working after your practice… try to focus.
*Editor’s note – you don’t have to wear Tai Chi pants to practice these exercises.  Jimmy just really loves his Tai Chi pants.

Searching for the Perfect Nap

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With companies like Google and Apple encouraging employees to doze off on the job, nap taking is becoming the next big thing.  Of course, this fits in perfectly with Taijiquan’s philosophy of Xùlì (蓄力 – Gathering energy) and Fālì  and (发力 – Explosive energy).  See Dax’s post for more on that subject.

But how long should your nap last?  According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, it all depends on the purpose of your nap:

For a quick boost of alertness, experts say a 10-to-20-minute power nap is adequate for getting back to work in a pinch.

For cognitive memory processing, however, a 60-minute nap may do more good, Dr. Mednick said. Including slow-wave sleep helps with remembering facts, places and faces. The downside: some grogginess upon waking.

Finally, the 90-minute nap will likely involve a full cycle of sleep, which aids creativity and emotional and procedural memory, such as learning how to ride a bike. Waking up after REM sleep usually means a minimal amount of sleep inertia, Dr. Mednick said.

Which nap time is right for you?  Try it out and tell us about it in the comments section!

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Source: The Perfect Nap: Sleeping Is a Mix of Art and Science - The Wall Street Journal

Gather and Explode

Dax is a Taiji Zen guest blogger.  If you’d like to submit your own posts to the Taiji Zen blog, email eric@taijizen.com

In 2011 I was running an international business with staff in both the U.S. and China.  We hired a young Chinese woman from Chengdu, initially as a support staff for our sales manager.   She was so phenomenal, though, that we quickly promoted her to oversee several projects.  In fact, she was so impressive that when I sold the company a year later (which was only possible because of her efforts), she quickly became the personal assistant to the president of the new company, helping him oversee 200 employees.

This woman had a problem, though.  Like many ambitious and talented young Chinese people, she believed that she needed to be perfect, and that to succeed, she needed to push, push, push.  She came to work early and left late every day, working most weekends as well, and never claiming her overtime.  I was not happy with her.

balance

I remember her shock when I told her.  What kind of a boss criticizes an employee for working too hard?  When I do business, though, I’m in it for the long haul, and I was concerned that no human being could keep her pace over the long run.  The last thing I needed from an employee was for them to expend all their energy on the daily stuff, and then when we had an emergency, to buckle under the pressure because they didn’t have anything left to give.  I’d rather lose a little productivity every day than have our operation collapse in the middle of an emergency because a key person burnt out at the wrong time.  That’s when real money is lost.

“It’s like Taijiquan,” I told her (if you’ve worked for me, you know that everything is like Taijiquan in my opinion).  “To Fālì (发力 – use explosive force)*, first you must Xùlì (蓄力 – gather your energy).”  Different schools have different words for this phenomenon—gathering, swallowing energy, coiling, etc, but the idea is the same.  One must draw in before they can explode out, and that’s important, because it’s this explosive energy that gets the most impressive results.  Done at the right time, it can send an opponent flying, or knock them clean off their feet.

Of course, when the masters gather it’s almost impossible to tell.  To the untrained eye, it looks like they just produce force from nowhere.  That’s because the masters gather at strategic times, reacting to the opponent’s movements in a way that allows them to load their leg like a spring before shooting out, or softening in the hips and chest in ways that diffuse an incoming force before expressing their own force.

Unfortunately, this employee did not heed my advice.  She continued at a break neck pace without taking time for herself.  A little over a month ago she had a breakdown.  Her entire career was ruined, and she now has to start over again completely.

No one can expend energy forever.  Even the universe, as vast and powerful as it is, existed in a gathered state before it could explode out.  Humans are no exception to this natural cycle.

There is actually a lot of scientific research backing this up as well.  Ernst & Young found that employees were rated 8% higher by management for every 10 hours of vacation they took during the year.  Other research found that people who take breaks every 90 minutes are more productive than people who work straight through.  The U.S. military has mapped in detail how much stress a human can take without a period of renewal before starting to fail at core tasks (90 days on average).  At around 180 days, people become so bad that they stop caring about their own lives, a phenomenon that has been reported in other high stress environments as well, such as graduate programs.

So remember, if you want to be successful and have truly explosive results, take time to gather and renew yourself.  That means taking breaks periodically throughout the day, as well as taking longer vacations from time to time to recharge your batteries.  You are your greatest resource, and like any resource, it must be used in a sustainable way.  I’m not saying to walk out of meetings or anything like that—like the Taiji masters, to be effective, we must learn to take these breaks at naturally strategic times, but as the Taoists say, sometimes you must step back in order to move forward.  Don’t be afraid to take a step back from a high stress lifestyle from time to time so that you can perform better when you come back.

*Editor’s note – We teach you how to Fālì in level two of the Online Academy.  Click here to register if you haven’t already!