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Shefford Tai Chi Newsletter, incorporating Hitchin & Letchworth Classes

An external view of the internal art of Tai Chi (working from the outside in)

Tensegrity structuresTry standing in front of a mirror with your arms lightly out and palms up. Then open the hands as far as you can. Relax and let them spring back – can you feel the spring in your hands? That is an internal feeling. What you can see by looking at you hands in the mirror is the external that an observer sees. Now repeat by opening as far as you can – but this time think to yourself “ stay open” and direct your intention to your hands – they stay open – or will with a little practice – and without noticable effort. Then simply allow the hands to close again and reflect that you have controlled your hands by intention not effort.

So here you have demonstrated external movement from muscle effort with internal feeling and mental intent, so you can understand that the extenal presentation is a reflection of the internal process, but not a definitive one since we cannot directly observe what the other person feels mentally and physically. However, as our own experience grows, we develop greater understanding of what lies within the movements we observe. Like reading a water course by looking at the patterns on the water – our experience of the depths and shallows is coupled with our knowledge of currents and wind effects on the water surface to gauge what is going on below where we cannot actually see.

So as students we have some very powerful tools at our disposal but they usually need refining.
  • We can look at our teacher and see the external choreography of their movements
  • We can sense the internal feeling of our own movement and relate it to the movement of others
  • We can listen carefully to what teachers say and use our experience of language to interpret
When we look we interpret what we see in light of our own internal experience. When they demonstrate we get an enhanced picture in much higher definition which allows us insight to their internal process. When they describe what they are doing then we can relate it to what we ourselves experience and notice how they compare as a way of interpreting the words used. When we practice we can adjust the movement by changing our intention or the feeling we wish to express e.g. relaxed, sinking, soft, hard, fluid, extended, light, springy and so on.
Attribution for Tensegrity structure image: By Tensegrity_simple_3.gif: Cmglee derivative work: Cmglee [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

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