Tai Chi Y4D217: Subtle Bodies

I’m re-studying Jason Miller’s course in strategic sorcery after a break of a few years, and this week’s lessons are on the subtle body and the internal energy work. Yesterday I wrote about the three channels, in the context of my daily practice and tai chi.  Today I’m going to try — emphasis on try — to tackle the subtle bodies and their relationship to my tai chi practice.

What are the subtle bodies?  Well, without going into Jason’s proprietary material in too-great detail, there’s generally considered to be four.  You, dear reader, and I — we each have a physical body, made of the elements of the periodic table, arranged into molecules and compounds, cells, tissues, organs, bond and so on.  We also have an emotional body, made up of our feelings and emotions.  There’s also an intellectual body, made up partly of our thoughts and intentions, and partly of the thoughts and intentions of others. Finally, there’s a spirit body, or soul, which is shining and eternal and filled with grace and connected to the Divine — all that jazz.  Sometimes the subtle bodies are associated with specific flows we can experience: muscle movement with the physical body, blood with the emotional body, breath with the intellectual body, and exhilaration or joy with the spirit body.

You can see that this is going to be a huge topic to try to tackle in one daily-practice entry.  I’ll start by saying that I did 30 squats, 26 push-ups, both qi gong forms (Five Golden Coins and Eight Pieces of Silk), and three tai chi forms.  Together this took about 47 minutes.  I took another 10 minutes to do my daily druidic practice, which came before any of the tai chi, and three minutes or so to stand in wu chi stance.

On to the subtle bodies.

I have to say, tai chi rarely feels like the place to connect with the spirit body.  Yet the druidic practices often call up that feeling of joy or happiness which I associate with a sense of connection to spirit, to eternal reality.  Why that should be so, I don’t know.  Yet there is, at the end of those practices of meditation, a sense of deep peace and calm which seems to ground and stabilize me.

The intellectual body is very much active.  The intellectual body, it’s said, is partly our own thoughts and partly the thoughts of others. Tai chi is very much the intellectual work of others — and a lot of what I do on a daily basis is re-member or re-physicalize the teachings of someone else.  I was taught by Laddie, Laddie learned from somewhere, and there’s a lineage of sorts in that.  I’m connected through him to all the others who taught him tai chi; and I’m connected to Dr. Yang’s tradition, too, although much more loosely, even though he trained the people that started me out in tai chi.  So part of my daily tai chi practice is intellectual, as I re-create daily what I have been taught about tai chi.

Some of that intellectual work, though, isn’t about re-membering or re-physicalizing what I’ve been taught. Some of it is the very real and deliberate effort to adapt what I’ve been doing for three and a half years to the here-and-now.  Sometimes (often) I’m in my own house; but sometimes I’m doing it at my parents’ house, or at my lady’s house, or at a friend’s. Sometimes it’s a hotel in Chicago; sometimes it’s in a room with ten other people watching and getting ready to do their own thing.  Either way, the intellectual body is taking the tradition, the held memory, and imagining how that traditional set of movements can be adapted to this space and time — whether carpet or hardwood or grass, open sky or low ceiling or vaultings, a narrow closet or a broad room.  Every time, the tradition and the memory must be adapted to the day and the practice at hand.

The emotional body is present, too.  In the day’s tai chi practice, sometimes one is overwhelmed by an emotional experience.  Once, I felt keenly and strongly the death of a woman who was my afternoon caretaker, and cried for her departure from this world.  There’s also the joy or weariness or heart-thudding emotional joy that comes from successfully or unsuccessfully working through the heart-rate racing experience of doing tai chi for a longer stretch, and getting a good workout.  Sometimes these emotional experiences are palpable or sensible by others — a heat and heart-happiness radiating off of me, which others feel and enjoy.

There’s always a mood-lift with tai chi. Regular readers will have noticed that lately I’ve felt very down, and my tai chi practice hasn’t been very exciting to me.  It’s been hard to do more than a bare minimum; and knowing that this is normal for this part of the energetic cycle of a year, even after three years of challenges with my practice in the range from days 180 to about day 250 hasn’t changed the fact that I still experience that downward cycle.  Is it the time of year (October?) or the point in the yearly cycle of my tai chi practice (about halfway?). I don’t know.  I do know that I feel emotionally happier and more stable after tai chi, than before.

The physical body is the easiest to energize through the tai chi experience, of course, but sometimes the experience of tai chi is not particularly physical. Some days it’s just about putting the feet and hands and elbows in the right places.  Sometimes it’s more than that — a strength and tension in the arms, a forcefulness in the hands, a sturdiness in the legs.  The physical health of the body’s musculature and bone structure, its tendons and organs, is one of the chief goals of tai chi, but it’s not the only goal.  Call it an important side-objective.  I haven’t lost any weight through my tai chi practice, but I feel healthier and stronger now after three+ years of practice than I think I have at any point in my entire life.  The physical exercise matters: it’s how the body moves in this world of ‘solid matter’, and how it lives long, and how the lymph and other subtle systems communicate with one another. Some of this comes out in the Tai Chi Poem and drawings, but not much. Certainly not as much as I’d like.

Tomorrow, I’ll be trying to write about the energetic channels spreading out from the central channel.

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