Friday Practice – Yin and Yang

Here in the Northwest, we have been experiencing record heat combined with very hazy conditions due to many forest fires north of us in British Columbia. The early morning practice time makes it comfortable to play Tai Chi, plus we usually find shade under the many lovely, old trees. On Friday, I was at the park as the sun came up. Really interesting light due to the hazy sky. The tide was way out, at least 50 yards. As I stood admiring the view, three Great Blue Herons flew in and settled in the shallows to fish. An eagle flew in not far to their left to try and find fish that have been trapped in the shallows. Crows, ravens, gulls joined the gang. What a show!

As I stood there gazing out, I had one of those wonderful moments of realization about yin and yang. The water is associated with yin – soft, yielding, adaptable. And of course, the land I was standing on represents yang – solid, firm, unyielding. And the sand is the transition between the two – more yielding than land, but more solid than water, sort of a combination of both.

Of course, nothing is either one or the other. Water can cut diamonds, and land can be very liquid like lava from a volcano. But these three stages – yin (water), neutral (sand), and yang (land) can be explored in each movement in our Tai Chi form, and our lives. As I gaze out into the distant mountains, I draw this energy into my mind and body, then I process this visual information, and finally act on it, in this case moving it into my memory – yin, neutral, yang.

One of the benefits of our Tai Chi practice, and of course most contemplative arts, is to shorten the space between these phases of action, so we don’t, if we don’t want to, move the energy into the mind before acting upon it. It becomes reflexive. Push hands is a very good way to practice this skill. At first we think about how to neutralize and then think about the appropriate response, but after some practice, we can learn to just respond appropriately to whatever is coming our way.

I emphasize to my students the importance of getting out of doors and letting Mother Nature aid in your growth towards understanding life and death, and have fun doing it.

Mindful Bouncing

There is a strong admonition against bouncing at the end of a stretch. It is common knowledge that bouncing sets up a reflex that limits the muscles ability to stretch to the max. The body says, “that is far enough, any more and it might be too much”. This is true, yet most of the time I tell students interested in push hands and martial applications, to do mindful bouncing at the end because we have different goals in mind. Internal artists, when dealing with a partner, need what I call “dynamic flexibility”. This is different than just stretching, in that we are equally concerned with stability: stability of the joints and connective tissues, when placed under tensions and pressures that change from moment to moment.You can over-stretch a muscle, and can actually weaken the muscle and the ligaments that connect these muscles to the bones. The result of mindful bounce stretching is a loss of extreme range of motion, but a gain of stability in one’s area of strength. If you practice mindful bouncing when stretching, your body will be used to such stresses when unexpected pushes, pulls, twists, and the like happen when doing partner wor