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Where is your attention ~ Body or Mind?

Updated: Jun 2, 2022

I’m a huge fan of Tai Chi and Chi Gung! I’ve had the honor and privilege of studying with several Tai Chi Masters and high level teachers, most notably Grandmaster William CC Chen who is a living legend in the Tai Chi world.

One of the most profound things I’ve taken from tai chi is how it cultivates greater awareness of how you move and handle resistance. Most of us pay so little attention to how we move throughout the day. We just throw or drag our body around until we get injured, then we ask ourselves, “how the hell did that happen?”

I see this in the gym and in fitness classes all the time. I call it the “workout, check-out syndrome.” Some openly admit to this with comments like, “I just want to get it over withy” or “I’m just trying to get through this.” I can always tell when someone is in this zone because their body lacks integrity, flopping around like a fish out of water, and they often unconsciously hold their breath.

Cultivating awareness creates a powerful connection between your breath and movement. This connection has helped me experience a more natural, spring-like effect in my movement, influencing everything from how I perform a box jump to how I place my daughter in her car seat.

The next time you’re working out, ask yourself, “where is my attention?” Are you thinking about that board meeting at 10am or what you’re having for lunch at 12pm, gripping and bracing in your body and mind just waiting for it to be over? Or are you truly experiencing what is going on in your body, staying present and attentive?

If you find your attention is not in your body experiment with bringing it there. Slow down what you’re doing and connect with your breath. Generally, exhale as you meet resistance and inhale when that resistance is released. This differs to some degree depending on what you’re doing (e.g., heavy deadlifting) but it’s a good rule of thumb. Slowing down really helps to cultivate both of these.

I tell my students and clients to stay in control of their body and often ask them how something feels, especially when they are trying something new or if we are making any modifications. This is for their feedback and, more importantly, to get them to sense what is happening in their body. To get them to tune in, not out.

Ask yourself the same. Check in with your body, what is your spine doing? Are you hunched over or are your hips, torso, shoulders and head in alignment? Do you feel tension or are you bracing in areas like the jaw and neck that are not involved in the exercises or activity you're doing? Can you let this tension go?

This is only one aspect of how practicing tai chi and chi gung have influenced my life. It also helps me cultivate a more relaxed, grounded and centered state, allowing me to be a little less reactive and a little more responsive. This has had a profound effect on my relationship with my self, others and life. More to come on that!...

The video below is an intro to some basic chi gung movements. Try these out with the breathing cues and let me know what you think. Also, let me know if you’d like more of these videos.

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