For this issue we are exploring the “softer” art of Tai Chi through Adam Montoya of the Desert Song Healing Arts Center. Adam teaches a Tai Chi form, inspired by all five Tai Chi styles, that he created himself. His personal practice and study is with the Chen Practical Method. (1) He teaches a style of Tai Chi that is a combination style that focuses on health and well-being.
You could almost feel the calm emanating from the building. As you walked through the front doors, you were enveloped in a sea of bliss. Soft lighting, peaceful chanting, and delicate
incense embraced you as you entered. “Welcome to Desert Song Healing Arts Center,” lilted a voice from behind the front desk; and with that, our Tai Chi adventure began. Lady luck had smiled upon me as it just so happened that Adam had started a 3-week intro class the week before. Here was my perfect chance to join other would-be practitioners otheir quest. It was interesting to discover what had brought the different classmates to this introduction class. One woman was looking for a “moving meditation,” another was searching for a workout that was “less intense than yoga”. It was clear that all of them were enjoying the camaraderie of pursuing a new path with fellow explorers.
Before class, Adam had instructed us to set up a folding chair with a yoga mat spread out in front of it. He greeted us as he started class and then asked us to lay on our backs with our heads towards the chairs. Next, he invited us to notice the support that the earth offered us. “What an interesting perspective,” I thought. So, I gave it a try, and, yes, it was quite comforting to note that the earth supported my body completely without any muscular effort on my part. Next, he asked us to bring our feet up by our bottoms with the soles on the floor. He then instructed us to move our feet to the edges of the mat and let our knees touch.
Hmm, where did all the stress in my lower back go?”
Following this, he encouraged us to keep our feet in the same spot but let our legs fall to the left. We stayed in this position for about a minute and again focused on how little we needed to do to support ourselves; gravity and the earth were doing all the work. “Hmmm, so if I harnessed the energy of the earth and used it as my support, I would be pretty connected and rather formidable,” my little mind suggested. “Clearly this is going to be an interesting night of learning,” I concluded. We balanced this movement by dropping our legs to the right and again spent a minute or so noting the effect.
Next, we placed the soles of our feet together and let our legs fall out to the sides (kind of like a frog) and again centered ourselves in this new position.Finally, we rolled to the right, rested a moment then used our arms to push ourselves to sitting – no straining here, just centering, observing, and focus. Nice. We then rolled up our mats and prepared to do some movements while standing.
Adam then stood in front of the class and instructed, “Follow me.” He proceeded to perform dozens of intricate and flowing movements. At first I panicked a little and thought “Holy cow, this is the INTRO class?” But,then I relaxed into it and just did my best to follow.
During our interview later Adam commented on how fun it is to watch students as they release “thinking mind.” This is exactly how it felt. When I quit thinking about it so much and just “felt” the form, it was fantastic. All the moves were done incredibly slowly and it was fun to recognize the weight shift required in Adam’s body before he would be able to lift a limb. It became quite easy to tell which way his next move would go simply by paying attention to his body position and replicating it with your own weight distribution. You began to feel what must happen next just by the way your body was prepared.
Like watching a Hawaiian hula dancer, you suspected that each movement had a meaning, and a benefit. I felt that if I studied this art long enough I would be able to unlock these secrets. According to Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming, certain movements will heal or prevent illness in specific parts of the body. (2) Adam later explained that he designed his form to slowly open and balance his students.
I must say that towards the end, when the moves were getting more elaborate, I loved the way that it made me feel inside. I felt powerful and agile.Powerful may seem like a contradictory word here as each move is done intensely slowly, and your goal is to keep your muscles and mind completely relaxed throughout; but somehow it just felt bold to move in this way.
Adam later explained that many people believe that the body and Chi are separate, but the body and Chi actually are reflections of each other. When you open your body, you automatically open your Chi. When your Chi is open, your body can use energy better and the body becomes like a vessel utilizing the Chi. (**) Obviously, this is an art form that you could study for your whole life and never completely master.
After giving us a “taste” of what Tai Chi feels like, he went back to the beginning of the form and showed us the intricacies of the first couple of moves. This is where it really got fun. When you begin the form you stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and bend your knees. You then sink until you can feel your feet connecting with the earth. From here, you gradually sink until every part of your body feels like lead that has bonded with the earth except for your head. Your head is suspended above your neck as if you had a string tugging from the tip of your skull. It is amazing how grounded you feel.
In the next move, you mindfully raise your arms with a slight bend in them with relaxed wrists. This seems deceptively simple. If I asked you to pick up a glass of water, you would start with your bicep and pick it up. But here it is completely different. You sink into the lift and your arms come up as your elbows sink. Confused? We were to, so Adam did an awesome demonstration. He had each of us, in turn, push down on his arms. He showed us how it felt when he lifted with just his arms. It was very easy to hold his arms down. But then you could see his body sink into the earth and the movement came from his base. Each woman in turn fell off balance and giggled at their inability to hold his arms down. It was very cool!
He demonstrated a similar lesson with lifting our legs. Several times in the form you must lift your leg and step to a new location. But he explained we didn’t want to lift that leg, but rather move our bodies in a way that the only possible outcome is for the leg to raise. What? Again, I was struck by how cleverly he guided us to the answer. He had us stand near the wall and
ease our weight onto the leg that would become the “base leg.” Then, gradually, we pushed against the wall and moved our energy into that base leg. Low and behold, at the tipping point, your other leg just rises, because you have set it up where there really is nothing else for the leg to do. AWESOME!
Now, here is the kicker. Imagine doing a form that lasts 15 minutes with each move being that intricate! No wonder Tai Chi is renowned for healing and focus. With that kind of centering
you would be unstoppable!
All too soon, class was over. We had so much fun exploring the form that we didn’t get a chance to meditate. Adam shared that he often has meditation at the end of class. There was no formal bowing in or bowing out with the class. We just quietly put our chairs and yoga mats away and said our goodbyes.
Wikipedia defines Tai Chi as the following:“T’ai Chi Ch’uan training involves five elements: taolu (solo hand and weapons routines/forms), neigong & qigong (breathing, movement and awareness exercises and meditation), tuishou (response drills) and sanshou (self defense techniques). While T’ai Chi Ch’uan is typified by some for its slow movements, many T’ai Chi styles (including the three most popular – Yang, Wu, and Chen) – have secondary forms with faster pace. Some traditional schools of T’ai Chi teach partner exercises known as tuishou, pushing hands, and martial applications of the taolu’s (forms) postures.” (3)
According to an article by Bruce Frantzis, there are five different types of Tai Chi. (4) He states that all Tai Chi styles are similar in that they develop Chi, use slow-motions, and flowing,
circular movements. Yet, each of the styles focuses on different specific strengths and its practitioners espouse varied benefits. The fivetypes are Yang, Wu, Chen, Hao and Combination. Yang is the most popular and widely practiced. Wu emphasizes small, compact movements. Hao is focused primarily on internal chi, and the physical movements are less important. Chen is known for a combination of fast and slow movements with jump kicks and stamping actions, and it is often preferred by the young and athletic. As you might expect, combination is a mixture of the other four styles. (4)
You may also find this martial art listed as T’ai Chi, Taiji, T’ai Chi Ch’uan, Taijiquan and Tai Chi Chi Kung.
Written by Jill Roth.
You can read the interview with the instructor Adam on pages 29-31 here.
Email requests to Jill at: firstname.lastname@example.org
1)You can learn more about Master Chen Zhonghua and the Practical Method at
(2) The Essense of Tai Chi Chi Kung, Health and Martial Arts, by Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming.