I did four tai chi forms this morning according to my “Druidic” perceptions: one each form facing the cardinal directions. As I did the east-facing one, I concentrated on breathwork and footwork. As I faced south, I concentrated on breathwork and the outward movement. As I started the west-facing movement, I focused on breathwork and the downward and inward movements. And on the north-facing iteration, I concentrated on the splitting movements, and breathwork.
I think I remain convinced that breathwork is one of the keys to the whole work of tai chi. There’s the fluidic movement of tai chi that’s important — so much so that the cartoon, The Last Airbender, used tai chi as the basis for the Waterbenders’ martial arts movements. But the fluidity of the movements is to be sought after the breathwork is established firmly. And I think that’s where I need to concentrate my efforts for the next few weeks.
What does it mean to concentrate on breathwork? For the tai chi practitioner, it means beginning each iteration of the form with three deep breaths, all the way down to the Tan Tien, the energy center by the belly button. I tend not to talk about the energy centers in tai chi very much, although I think that will change in the next few months. But the Tan Tien is particularly central to practice, because it’s the place where breathwork and gravity meet. Gravity, of course, holds us down and rooted in place when we’re properly balanced, and makes us fall over when improperly balanced. Breathwork gives us the energy and slowness and focus to be able to use the tai chi movements against our opponents as needed, but breathwork can also give us so much strength and focus that it unbalances us. The Tan Tien is the place where these two forces meet and interact. Breathwork can overbalance us and make us slip off the form; gravity can work with us to unbalance an opponent, but only if we’re balanced and if our breathwork is measured and focused.