On Saturday, 25th June 2022, Tai Chi instructors, students from Keilor, Moonee Ponds, Preston and other centres from the Celestial Tai Chi College met in a park by the Maribyrnong River in Essendon to enjoy a lesson with Senior Master Chin Min Lian.
The brisk breeze coming off the water didn't dampen the spirits of the 30+ students who were rugged up to enjoy excellent instruction, the company of the like-minded people and the beautiful winter sunshine.
Dianne Campbell, Student
Reflections on the Essendon Park Lesson
At the beginning of the lesson, Master Chin Min spoke about how “tai chi is not tai chi” without yin and yang. We practised this in relation to specific movements (eg Waving Hands through Clouds) focusing on strengthening and relaxing the palms and fingers, feeling the yin and the yang.
This made me think about how we begin to experience yin and yang in our tai chi form. We focus on the polarity of strength and softness along with slow deep breathing in our qi gong practice, but how do we carry this into a long form where we don’t stand in one spot? There’s so much else to think about when we start Level 1.
From my own observation, most of us are generally lacking ‘yin’ when we start. We are concentrating on the technical aspects of getting our feet and hands in the right place and trying to remember what comes next - and the effort of this mental focus may cause shoulders to rise and elbows to be stiff instead of rounded. We are not soft. Our breathing generally isn’t slow and deep.
I think we all start off being rather ‘yang’. I know I did. When encouraged to be more relaxed and rounded, we feel we should somehow go all floppy. Yet even softer movements involve physical effort, so floppy doesn’t work.
While learning our form, we try to be aware of yin and yang in our physical movements, being mindful of the substantial and the insubstantial in palms/fingers or in the weight transfer from one leg to the other, or in having a soft rounded arm with strength in the palm. But it’s a lot to absorb at the beginning.
And yin and yang are more than just direct opposites. They are constantly changing relative to each other. As we can see from the yin yang symbol, there is a little bit of yin within yang, and a little bit of yang within yin. They never separate. It is said that when yang reaches its maximum, yin takes over – and vice versa.
We know that tai chi translates into English as something like the Universe or the Ultimate. Philosophically, it is a very profound concept – a template of the universe arising from observation of nature. How do we understand a model for the universe within our own bodies and physical movements in tai chi form? How to feel and express the yin and the yang?
I think, as beginners, we simply start with a mental awareness and visualisation of the polarity of softness and strength, and this means, strangely, we must work quite hard to relax. The Chinese concept of song/soong (as written in English) is generally translated as ‘relax’. I recently read another translation of that term as ‘unbound’, which I find useful because of its connotations of ‘release’.
As we go on learning, we also need to develop the understanding that our soft movements require strength, and our stronger movements should also have softness, and we should become aware of the interaction of the yin and the yang as something constantly ebbing and flowing, as in nature. And of course, we must be soft overall so that the chi can flow and be directed where we want it. Tension will restrict the flow of chi, but strength in softness won’t.
Somehow over time, with increasing familiarity with the form and lots of practise, we may learn to let go where appropriate, and to strengthen where appropriate. This is largely underpinned by the martial arts applications of the various movements, so we need to be aware of both the applications and the qi gong aspects of tai chi form.
Eventually we become aware of the end of one movement and the beginning of the next, but without any ending or beginning. Our breathing slows and deepens in harmony with our movements, and our tai chi form flows like nature into the dynamic interchange and balance of yin and yang.
I think that’s when we are “doing tai chi”.
I believe the estimated time to achieve this is about six lifetimes!
Joy Muir, Instructor
Moonee Ponds Centre
Melbourne Weather — Cold, wet, frosty, dark, dreary days. Coughs, colds, flu and Covid fatigue. AND on top of all that, road/rail and traffic works across many Melbourne suburbs to add to our frustrations.
All valid reasons to hide away and hibernate!!!
If you are still reading this — we are the lucky ones — WE HAVE TAI CHI IN OUR LIVES. Our Tai Chi goes everywhere with us; be it in our lounge rooms; our gardens; our workplaces; on holidays; our Tai Chi classes, and our wonderful park lessons with the Masters, Tai Chi friends and students.
We know the feeling of being energised after our practice. We need to share this with all the people in our lives. Get out and practice Tai Chi and Qigong with the kids, partners, work colleagues etc. After my practice, I have the energy to get on with “day to day” life.
A ray of sunshine descended on us at Riverside Park, Essendon, at the end of our Term 3. Senior Master Chin Min and 30 plus students from Tai Chi Centres in Moonee Ponds, Keilor, Preston, Brighton and others attended the park lesson. What a glorious day for our Tai Chi practice under the guidance of our Senior Master! He moved amongst the students doing their levels, demonstrating applications and techniques of various Tai Chi moves. The students were fully focused on his explanations and the feedback has been positive.
To all our Tai Chi friends the good news is: we are 2/3 of the way through the winter blues — spring is coming and the “blues” will be a distant memory. KEEP PRACTICING and SHARE YOUR TAI CHI with other people, it’s our journey.
Jacquie Cannavo, Instructor
Tai Chi by the river
On a cold winter’s morning, well-rugged up people gathered for a park lesson on the banks of the Maribyrnong River. Wayne led us through a warm-up session which had the desired effect, with some of us discarding beanies, coats and scarves.
The sun greeted the arrival of Senior Master Chin Min. Gathered in a circle around the Master, we watched him illustrate how the principles of ying and yang can enhance our movements and make them more meaningful.
Next, we exercised in groups according to our levels where our skills were honed, with Master Chin Min providing commentary.
Performing tai chi outdoors is a completely different experience to our usual Tuesday evening sessions. Being under the guidance of a different tutor on this Saturday provided another perspective.
The constant parade of walkers and spectators along the river path would have been very impressed by all of us working on our tai chi form.
Altogether, a very enjoyable, albeit a cold day out.
John Bourne, Student
Updated: 7 August 2022