Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Monday, September 18, 2023

Mind Breath Body

Below is an excerpt from a post on the relationship between the mind, the breath and the body that was posted at Thoughts on Tai Chi blog. The full post may be read here

For quite some time, I have wondered about why some Tai Chi practitioners seem to focus on the mind as it was the only internal aspect. Sometimes I have the feeling they do something very “western”, they split the mind from the body like the brain or its functions would be something less physical and “higher”, or better, than the body. 

To me, this kind of thinking, or attitude seems “Western” and as something highly christian, and it’s something I can’t really find in Chinese tradition and culture. In Chinese thought, there is no yin without yang. Everything, including our body, has both “internal” and “external” aspects at the same time. And moreover, all aspects of our human body are interlinked, the functions of the body and changes in it affects our thoughts, emotions and everything we could call “internal”. 

In my own practice and study of Tai Chi Chuan, I have always viewed the different aspects of “mind and body” and “internal and external”, as dependent on each other, and I see every attempt to separate them as something highly “un-Chinese.”

There’s a certain relationship between the mind, body and breath which I believe is the most basic and important correlation in Tai Chi. And personally speaking, I believe that this very basic knowledge, something I will be talking about here in this article, is something of the most important and valuable a Tai chi practitioner should know and be aware about.

To sum up this relationship or correlation: 

  • If you tense the mind, your breath and body will tense up. 
  • If you relax the mind, the breath and body will relax.
  • If you tense the body, your breath and mind will tense up. 
  • If you relax the body, the breath and mind will relax.
  • If you tense the breath, your body and mind will tense up. 
  • If you relax the breath, the body and mind will relax.

Or to simplify it:

  • If you tense either mind, body or breath, the other two will tense up.
  • If you relax either mind, body or breath, the other two will relax.

The most crucial aspect though is the mind. The Chinese concept of “heart-mind” is exceptionally useful here, because it considers both deliberate thought and emotion, and sees logical thinking and emotion as dependent on each other.

Actually, emotions might control our overall thinking more than we usually feel inclined to accept. As an example, look at how we experience art. When we see a painting, our “thinking” starts from an overall impression. When we look at it, we experience it emotionally first. And then, after the emotional reaction, we try to use our logical thinking to figure out why we experience it one way or another, or rather – to confirm and justify what we “feel”. 

This relationship becomes even more evident if we look at children’s reactions when they look at different paintings. They know immediately if they think it’s ugly or pretty, but often they can not explain why. 

All our thinking, every thought we create, fire off physical/ neurological reactions in our bodies. If someone sees a person run, the nervous system in the viewer’s body, and especially the parts that are actively involved in the actions watched, are activated as if he or she was actually running. And if we only think about running, our body is activated in the same way and it prepares itself for running. 

This is why just “thinking” about doing the form and going through it just while sitting down can be almost as valuable as doing it, especially for beginners. You don’t get the physical “doing”, but the nervous system will be activated as if you were doing it and the repetitions while “thinking” it will be stored in the muscle memory. Well, if you have time and space for doing it, you should. But if you are traveling a lot, or daily, this could be a compliment to your actual practice. 

Anyway, let’s go forward. What you need to know is that every single thought and everything you “think” will either act “relaxing” or “calming” on all of your body and on your breath. 

The first “problem” we encounter when we want to calm down our minds, is that we shape words with our thoughts. Every word we quietly “think” for ourselves in our brains, will activate and affect the muscles in the mouth, tongue and jaws as we were talking. Mostly it will cause movements and muscle contractions, and if it’s not, “thinking words” will still activate the nervous system linked to “talk” in these areas. 

And second, all of our thinking will also affect the breath. Calm thoughts will calm it down, because the physical activity and activity of the nervous system will calm down. Faster and less calm thoughts will activate the “talking areas” more and also make the heart rate go up and the breath go faster. And obviously, the opposite happens if you “think” more calmly and slower. 

But here is also a great opportunity. By learning to relax better physically, you can eventually learn to relax your mind and more or less stop your thinking by will. You see, if you relax your body, all of your body, and the breath will automatically go slower and sink down. This will also force your mind to become calmer as it needs a certain neurological activity to work fast. 

The first step in your own practice, if you already haven’t practiced this, should be to create more awareness about the tensions in your face, jaws and neck, and also in your hands. you can practice to relax while sitting or standing naturally, it doesn’t matter much. If you keep your focus, attention and awareness on these areas, and try to relax, just keep still and not move, you will find that your mind and breath will also calm down.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

in tao, if part of your body hurts, the opposite part of your body is broken, yin-yang in balance always !, but mind, breath and body can itch. withstand the wind, bow and bend if needed like bamboo. untill it blossoms it will live !