Is my Ai Chi practice mindful?

The idea of “being mindful” conjures many different images. Perhaps you think of a Buddhist monk sitting cross-legged, meditating on the top of a mountain in a distant place. Maybe the phrase reminds you of being told as a child to “mind your manners” or “mind your own business!” Someone absorbed in doing a difficult task properly may also be described as being mindful. So when considering a mindful Ai Chi practice, the first question to ask is, what is mindfulness and how does that relate to Ai Chi movements?

In his on-line course “DeMystifying Mindfulness,” Chris Goto-Jones describes the primary goal of mindful movement as being to explore the sensations experienced during a particular movement or aspect of a movement with openness and curiosity. It requires attending to the felt experience with such attentiveness that the resulting movement is generally slow, gentle and deliberate. Mindful movement is making a conscious choice to focus awareness on the sensations associated with the movement, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.

So if you are dong an orderly practice like Ai Chi~ with the goal of moving through the prescribed Ai Chi steps in a set way, are you truly being mindful? Is your focus on experiencing the sensation of movement in the moment, or on doing the movement properly~ striving for a performance standard and judging yourself in your performance? If you do Ai Chi so many times that it becomes second nature and you enjoy the mesmerizing experience of “finding flow,” are you then being mindful? Or is this actually the opposite of mindful awareness~ like the “no mind” state of Zen Buddhism?

The key to finding mindfulness in Ai Chi lies in Jun Kono’s first premise, “however it turns out is how it was meant to be.” There are steps and a progression to Ai Chi that take attention~ setting a grounding posture to engage core muscles which give the basis for extremity and trunk mobility and for higher level balance and coordination activities. But it is understood that if you do the Ai Chi steps in a different order or create a new movement in the moment, that is how it was meant to be. This does not diminish the opportunity to to practice Ai Chi mindfully. You can choose to turn your focus to the sensations of how your skin, your joints and your muscles feel in the warm water as you move through it. You can choose to notice the ripples~ the relaxing fractal patterns created as your arms move in the water. Ai Chi has many benefits: to increase joint mobility, strengthen core muscles, enhance breathing, improve balance and reduce stress~ occurring concurrently during Ai Chi practice. Our wonderfully complex minds and bodies allow for us to give attention all of these.

Mindful movement does not mean being single-minded. We do not live in isolation tanks, devoid of input from the things around us. It is just the opposite. Being mindful is noticing and acknowledging everything that is happening in the present moment, with blinders off and without preconceptions. Then it is turning our attention to how our bodies are moving and feeling without being critical. It is accepting the present moment, not with resignation but with the reassurance that this is how it is meant to be.

Are you interested in learning more about GaitWay to Mobility? I will be teaching a pool workshop at the ATRI 2019 Fall National Aquatic Therapy conference in Chicago, November 7-10. For more information, visit the ATRI website.

To follow this blog, click “Follow” in the lower right corner of your screen.

Writen by mpierce

MS PT, Northwestern University; BS PT, St Louis University; CEEAA; ATRIC; Ai Chi Trainer since 2015; De-Mystifying Mindfulness by Universiteit Leiden on Coursera, Certificate earned on November 4, 2017;