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Tai-Chi 37 Workshop: The power of standing still

Updated: May 13, 2021


This piece was written at the end of 2019, before the pandemic.


Last weekend I attended a workshop in Bristol run by Paul Brewer of Heaven Mountain Taijiquan (http://www.heavenmountain.co.uk/). The subject of the workshop was ‘Taiji 37: Inside TaijiQuan’ and aimed to introduce us to the internal forces of Taiji through the use of standing postures. Paul was a student of Dr Shen Hongxun (http://www.bristoltaichi.co.uk/dr-shen-hongxun.html) and continues to teach Taiji 37 (both standing postures and form) and a system of qigong called Taijiwuxigong, that Dr Shen was teaching when he lived in Bristol in the late 1990s.


We started (a little later than advertised) standing in a simple Wuji posture to which we added simple up and down movement once our posture and alignments were at least reasonably correct. According to Paul the idea was to connect the body with the Earth energy. I’m not quite sure how long we practiced this for but at some point we were instructed to let go of the conscious control of our movement and to switch off our minds – a process described as turning out all the lights except the last. One is left with a silent awareness of one’s body and one’s movement but no conscious involvement in it. It’s at this point that spontaneous movement can really begin to manifest.

I’ve some small experience of spontaneous movement through a regular practice of Zhan Zhuang (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhan_zhuang). In Zhan Zhuang spontaneous movement usually begins quite gently with shaking in the arms and legs but proceeds from there to larger movements involving more of the body. In Chinese medical terms it’s understood as the body clearing blocked and stagnant Qi from the body. As I said I’m familiar with this sort of movement but what was different here was the associated emotional release – I found myself curled up on the floor giggling uncontrollably at one point. And then I came back to myself, something that felt akin to waking up from a dream – I knew what had just occurred but was at the same time somewhat distant from it. This emotional release isn’t something I experience in my own practice, quite probably because my practice sessions are of insufficient length to take me there. For those not familiar with Chinese Medicine its worth noting that blocked or imbalanced emotions are considered major causes of disease and so the emotional releases that this sort of practice can create are entirely consistent with the idea of releasing and clearing blocked and stagnant Qi.


After this we moved on to pushing exercises that were surprisingly hard even though we weren’t actually pushing anything, more trying to create the force inside our bodies. Again the purpose of these exercises is to expel what Dr Shen called Binqi or pathogenic Qi, as well as to begin to develop the internal forces of Taiji. In fact much of the day felt like it had very little to do with Taiji as its commonly understood – Form practice; slow graceful movements within in which are embedded the movements and mechanics of a martial art. However in the Southern School Taiji that Dr Shen taught it’s the 37 postures and developing the internal energies associated with each of them that is central to the art.


When I was younger I really loved the movement of Taichi but as I get older I’m ever more attracted to standing practice. Perhaps I enjoy the perversity of an ‘exercise’ that involves standing still – counter intuitive to our western minds. And it’s an exercise that’s surprisingly challenging both physically (think stress postures – although the aim is ever deeper relaxation, release may be better word) and mentally (think making yourself hold stress postures). Over recent years I’ve also found that it’s an easier practice to fit into a busy life – learning either Tai-Chi or Qigong forms feels like it needs far more regular input from a good teacher than a standing practice requires and I can usually find half an hour somewhere in my day to ‘stand’, even if its just the corner of my office at lunchtime. Of course ultimately standing practice and moving practices aren’t really separate but feed into each other and I hope as the pace of my life eases a bit, my kids get a bit older, I’m no longer studying etc I’ll have more time to explore both in greater depth.


 

Bruce Bell is a fully trained 5 Element Acupuncturist working in the Midsomer Norton / Radstock area, and also from a clinic on the edge of Bath.




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