Tai chi as a method for retraining mind and body

A beginner can think about learning taijiquan in a number of ways. I find it useful to think of taijiquan as training the mind to change the manner in which we move the body. Similarly, changing how you move your body also changes something in the brain. Tai chi is really a method for retraining mind and body.

We hear references to the mind-body connection a lot these days, but “mind-body’ is rather abstract without experience. I see a couple of distinctions when it comes to the practice of taijiquan and qigong. Familiarizing yourself with them can clarify your practice.

In one, you have the brain and its various functions in relation to the body. This is the chemistry of the brain-body connection—the biology of the body and brain.

Then you have intent, volition, vision that are part of the “mind” integral in the process of learning tai chi. We use attention and intention to move differently. We do so in hopes of overcoming old, habitual ways of moving that have become less productive than they once were, but are no longer.

Then there’s the feeling of the movement itself
that is integral to the mind-body connection.

Then there’s the feeling of the movement itself that is integral to the mind-body connection. This is the “qi”, or the energy. In a way, the energy has its own mind that’s like an awareness that feeds back to you as you move. In other words, the energy communicates back to your brain as you interact with it—the feeling of movement—in “mind.”

If you believe research results coming out in recent years, tai chi positively affects a multitude of ways in how the brain and body function. As the old teachers say, they work in harmony. Of course, tai chi and qigong practitioners haven’t needed modern-day researchers to tell them what they have known for ages by virtue of their practice. They feel the results, which is a form of knowing. While researchers can record endless streams of information demonstrating, even proving, things, in the final analysis, the proof is in the practice.