Fifty minutes today. I got out of bed almost exactly at 5am, and did tai chi until 5:50. So, progress. Four tai chi forms preceded by two qi gong forms. Part of me is bothered this morning: why do I type chi in tai chi, and qi in qi gong? Aren’t they the same character in Chinese writing?
The practice itself went fine. I’ve said that I face east to do an Airy tai chi form, and the south-facing one is more Fiery, and the west-facing one is more Watery, while the north-facing one is more Earthy. Some readers likely know exactly what I mean, and some are probably puzzled. It’s worth saying now —that I know exactly what I mean, and I’m puzzled at the same time.
The east-facing tai chi is concentrated on breathwork. For me, that means long, slow breaths in and out. And using the qi to run the inverse breath — firming up the abdomen on the inhale, and relaxing on the exhale, largely the opposite of what we usually do when we breathe. Then there’s also the effort to breathe in on expansive movements — when stepping outward, when warding-out, when pressing, when punching. But the exhale is used for contractive movements — when retreating, when stepping back, when drawing the hands in.
The truth is, though, that at different times in my tai chi practice, I’ve been advised to breathe out on expansions, and breathe in on contractions. And I guess my contention is that it should be consciously practiced both ways, and the practitioner should decide after a long period of careful study which is best. My sense is that the inward breath on the expansion is better — but then the exhale can be used to impart a little extra ‘push’ at the end of the expansion and inhale. And sometimes it works better the other way.
In other words, I think, we practice both ways because both ways are useful in the right set of circumstances. And we never know when the right set of circumstances will match the circumstances in which we find ourselves. And so we do it both ways.