All posts by Minnie

Minnie

About Minnie

I’m a 0.5 generation Chinese-American and have spent most of my life in northeastern China and northeastern US. Being a business major, I did my standard stint in the world of financial services, and now am focusing my efforts on creating a world of health and happiness alongside kindred spirits at Taiji Zen. If you ever can’t find me, try searching nearby swimming pools, mountain ranges, and piano stores. If you wish to make me smile, feed me ribs, dumplings, eggplant, or all of the above.

Finding home everywhere you go

This past Sunday we were fortunate enough to finally get a day of clear blue skies. I decided to go check out the Spring blossoms from atop some Beijing mountains. After several consecutive days PM2.5 levels above 300, I think the whole city was eager to venture out and take advantage of this breath of fresh air. After two hours of getting stuck in traffic on the outbound highways, I finally arrived at the foot of the mountain.

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What a trek it was; there were different routes leading to an assortment of scenic areas, each more interesting than the next. I hopped along rock paths with young children and walked alongside seventy-year-old grannies who amazingly enough were climbing up the steepest hills with no problem. There were a few moments of absolute tranquility, looking out to the sea of warm colors below and hearing the wind lightly rustle through the Spring flowers.  Even though I was alone in that foreign environment so far away from the bustling city center, I was able to find a feeling of peace, as if I were at home.

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What is home, exactly? These days, it rarely points to a single physical location; it’s more a feeling…of familiarity, a place of center. We associate “home” with the existence of safety, comfort, and those we love and trust.

For those of us who are out on our own, trekking, exploring, “fighting the fight,” the concept of home is invaluable.  It helps us to maintain our inner peace, and always have that center point to return to whenever we become physically or mentally stressed. For me, living alone in Beijing this past year has been really tough. With no relatives here and only a few friends who come and go, I am often adrift with no center. Even my own apartment does not feel like home, because when I am physically there, my spirit can still drift very far.

Therefore, I find it all-the-more important to find ways to let my mind rest. Sometimes that comes in the form of swimming twenty laps in the pool, sometimes in the form of cooking a feast (even if it means eating leftovers for a week), and sometimes in the form of singing a little personal karaoke with my nifty phone app. Funny enough, often times my mind can find respite when my body is engaged in some leisurely activity. Regardless of the action, the key is to focus my intents and energies on that present activity, to immerse myself fully in that experience and through which, find that place of peace, home.

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Tai Chi and Cross Training

When it comes to sports and exercise, I’m the kind of person who likes to dabble in everything. Because of these diverse tastes, it’s important for me to grasp the basic skills of any new sport relatively quickly. In this process, I’ve come to realize how applicable many Taij Chi movement and alignment principles are to everyday exercise and cross training. Below are some examples from my own observations:

Swimming:

This is probably the sport I’m most adept at, having been a part of a team throughout elementary and middle school. Many friends in China have asked for tips on how to swim faster, but I’ve noticed that for swimming (and probably many other racing sports), speed is directly related to energy efficiency. Take breast stroke for example. The circling of the arms and contraction of the legs happen simultaneously during the process of “gathering energy.” Then the arms shoot forward just as the legs kick out frog-style, which is the process of “expending energy.” The more synchronized and fluid this process is, the more efficient your energy will be, thus making you swim faster. This is the same蓄力 (Xuli – gathering energy) and 发里 (Fali – exploding energy) principle as in Taijiquan. Because swimming uses continuous movement, controlling the flow of energy is key for optimal efficiency. This was something I hadn’t previously thought much about until coming across this concept in Taijiquan.

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Tennis:

A couple weekends ago, our Water Village Chief Jimmy and I took advantage of a good air day in Beijing and went to play tennis (want to make your own Taiji Zen training village?  Check out the Community Section). It was his first time playing, so as I was giving him pointers on his swing, I noticed myself again referring to key movement principles we learned in Taijiquan. When preparing for a swing in tennis, the stance is the same as in many Taijiquan forms. Front and back feet are positioned at an angle to create a strong triangular foundation while keeping the legs rounded and knees slightly bent. As you begin the swing, energy travels from the ground up through the legs, directed by turning the waist, and executed through the arms and racket, which feel simply like extensions of the body’s core. Sounds quite familiar doesn’t it?

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Last but not least….Hula Hoop-ing:

What, you ask? How can Taijiquan principles relate to something as trivial as using a hula hoop? Well, first let me tell you that I used to hula all the time using those traditional, light-weight, hollow plastic hoops. Then recently I discovered a new weighted hooping gadget that has round nobs on the interior, which are supposed to have a massaging effect as they spin and press on the waist. The first time I tried this, I really almost cried, but as I tried to endure through the painful spinning, I felt myself naturally “rounding the back” and “relaxing the waist / sinking the hips.” This made the spinning energy a lot easier and more comfortable compared to when I had spun the hoop standing fully upright with an arched back. Pretty soon, I was standing in full horse stance, even holding out my hands in a 站桩 (standing meditation) pose. Ironically, it was this crazy, almost sadistic new hoop that helped me discover a more effectively aligned (and probably also safer) way to hula.

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My Interpretation of Mindfulness

Hi all!  Minnie here.  This is my first post on the Taiji Zen blog, hope you enjoy!

“The past is gone, the future is an illusion created by our minds. All we have is the present…”

This phrase draws me right to a scene in the movie “Limitless”, when Bradley Cooper begins feeling the effects of his first NZT pill while having an argument with his landlord’s sassy Asian wife. During these brief seconds of being in “the zone”, his mind is scanning through all the details of that current moment: HEARING her angry voice yelling at him, FEELING the spittle fly out of her mouth, SENSING the pale glow of the hallway light bulb. Then, using the most commonly overused sense, he is able to SEE a small detail in her bag, the legal textbook which turned an unpleasant verbal beating into an exciting, fiery encounter.

This spectacular scene represents a powerful moment, when everything is clear, when information is easily filtered, digested, and processed into sensible decisions and actions. Those moments experienced in real life are just as cool as how they are portrayed by a gorgeous actor in a brilliant movie.

Obviously, I’m not trying to advocate for us all to take some unknown, movie-invented drug (especially one that eventually messes up the nervous system). But the interesting thing is: that state of mindfulness and focus is something that everyone seeks. More importantly, it’s something we should all be able to achieve…with the right practice, of course.

Sometimes those moments of clarity come quite naturally: for me, that tends to happen early in the morning when I first sit down at my office desk, or sometimes when I’m leisurely gliding down the ice rink.

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The real question is: how do we create the optimal conditions for those moments to arise? Mindfulness and meditation is something many doctors and martial artists talk about, and I’m sure there are many ways to improve these skills. For me, adding a little bit of “Daily Zen” into my routine is a quick and easy way to release the common stresses of everyday life, and better unlock the potential of my own mind and body.

After you master those NZT moments, time to start making yourself look more awesome like Bradley Cooper or his hot movie girlfriend. ;-)