May the Life-Force Be With You

Tai Chi Chih is Tai Chi Chuan's American offspring.

In the Chinese character for qi, three horizontal lines depict rising steam. That’s one way of imagining this concept of a vitalizing life-force that flows through the body like another kind of breath.

It’s qi that practitioners of Tai Chi Chuan strive to stimulate with their slow, silent movements. Developed centuries ago from elements of go-with-the-flow Taoism and respect-your-elders Confucianism, Tai Chi Chuan’s 108 movements aim to heal and calm body and mind, facilitating a meditative state from which to engage in deft and, if need be, lethal combat.

Knowing that his fellow Americans love shortcuts, Albuquerque Tai Chi Chuan master Justin Stone devised a streamlined version in 1974 and called it Tai Chi Chih: Comprising twenty movements, it’s about not combat, but calm.

Whereas tai chi chuan is Chinese for “supreme ultimate fist,” tai chi chih means “knowledge of the supreme ultimate,” according to Sharon Potts, who teaches Tai Chi Chih on Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings at the Home of Truth Spiritual Center (1300 Grand St., Alameda). A six-session, beginner-level class starts on Thursday, March 4.

“I had practiced Buddhist meditation off and on for a number of years, and read a lot about the mind-body connection,” said Potts. “I had taken Tai Chi Chuan and loved the beauty of the sequence of movements, but it was very difficult to learn and stick with. I wished there were some other, shorter, easier-to-learn form that would have the same or similar benefits — especially as people get older and cannot do the more complicated form.” Trying Tai Chi Chih at a retreat, “I knew immediately it was what I had been looking for,” she said.

Its appeal was obvious. The short version works in the long term. “It’s good to know I’m doing something that’s good for me, and it brings me to a quiet, peaceful state of mind very quickly — usually,” Potts explained.

Her favorite movements include “bass drum,” in which a practitioner “moves the hands in a circular motion in front of the body as though the fingertips are tracing the outline of a drum …. The hands are kept about one foot apart and a lot of qi is circulated from the circular movement and the polarity of the two hands facing each other.”

While Western minds often struggle to comprehend traditional Asian concepts that appear hard to put into practice in contemporary urban environments, Tai Chi Chih aims to bridge those gaps.

“One saying in Tai Chi Chih is ‘Serenity in the midst of activity,'” Potts said. “At the end of each movement … we return our hands to a resting pose at the waist level just at the sides of the body. It’s called ‘Gentle Conclusion,'” reminding practitioners “that no matter what is going on around them, they can come back to ‘gentle conclusion.’ Personally, I think the whole practice is a metaphor for life.” 11 a.m., $50.


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