Learning tai chi is one way to become more aware in all aspects of your life (at least thats how it has been for me for me). It is especially useful in the way it teaches us how our bodies and minds are interconnected. When we work on the body the mind changes and vica versa. A few weeks ago I posted some blogs on how our brain 'maps 'work. I'm re posting them here as I think they might be interesting and helpful for our new tai chi trainees. I'm hoping you all will find the journey into your bodies as exciting and wonderful as it seems to me.
You can tell parts of your body from one another because each is faithfully mapped in the neural tissue in your brain. Your brain maintains a complete map of your body with patches devoted to each finger,hand, toe,etc. Your brain also maps the space around your body when you enter it using tools. For example when you take hold of a long stick and tap it against the ground as far as your brain is concerned your hand now extends to the tip of that stick. Blind people use this ability to feel their way down the street.Your brain uses these maps to construct your body schema (this is the felt experience of your body).This schema is updated constantly by the flow of sensation from your skin ,joints, muscles, and viscera. The sense of inhabiting a body embedded within a larger world stems in large part from this mental construct. Anything which participates in the conscious movement of our bodies is added to to the model of ourselves and becomes part of the schemata. Any object used regularly can become part of your schema.Thia explains why people get so upset when someone hits their car, it is as if they themselves have been hit.
When we practice tai chi we are working on body schema awareness. We purposefully attend to many core elements of our own schema and also explore how our schema can enter our partner and (with practice) give us much information about their body too.
More about maps. Neuroscientists tell us that the maps in our minds tend to operate via prediction. That means perception is not a process of passive absorption but of active construction. Incoming information is always fragmentary and ambiguous. Our understanding of reality is constructed in large part according to ones expectations and beliefs, which are based on past experience and are held in the brain cortex as predictive memory.
Many years ago I read of a biofeedback experiment that involved a large group of people. They were all wired to equipment which recorded internal subconscious reactions to a clicking noise that occured at regular intervals while they listened to a musical recording.. It was found that while most people responded to the click initially,but their bodies quickly 'learned' to ignore it.This was not so for the Zen adepts in the group. Their bodies responded to each click as if it were the first. Their brains were not operating in the usual predictive mode. This experiment has inspired many years dedicated practice to tai chi as a means of awakening this ability to live each day fresh and new.
I was due to give a workshop in Mestre today and spent many hours over the summer developing Italian 'maps'in my brain, ways to express tai chi and open focus exercises in that language. The workshop had to be cancelled at the last moment much to my disappointment and that of Professor Giovanni Marchioro who had invited us. At times like this I am very grateful for my practice which has taught me that no training is ever wasted and that life always knows what is best (even when our mind protests).
This practice has taught me to welcome all feelings up into awareness,not to use the practice to avoid pain, repress or indulge in it, but to let it teach me what I need to learn.