Connecting Drills
Kim and Chris Earn Blue Sashes

The First Step to a Centered Life

"Standing stake" is one of the fundamental exercises in Chen tai chi, and it's also, in my humble opinion, the best chi kung exercise you can do. If you spend a few minutes a day doing this, you can begin the journey to use the internal arts to create a more healthy and positive life.

A centered life.

Here's a very basic guide -- stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Your feet should be parallel. Relax the knees--don't lock them out. Keep the head up and the chin slightly tucked in (slightly). Relax the lower back by slightly tucking the hips under. Raise your hands so that it appears you're embracing a tree. Your palms should face your body, your fingers are pointing toward each other.

Relax your shoulders. Working your way down your body, focus on relaxing every muscle.

Calm your mind and place part of your awareness on your dan t'ien (the fist-sized area about 1.5 inches below the navel and an inch or two inside the body).

When I do this exercise, I use mental imagery. I imagine energy coming into my body as I inhale, and I follow that energy down to the dan t'ien. When I exhale, I imagine the energy staying in the dan t'ien and growing warm.

I try to focus on my dan t'ien, my relaxation, and my breathing. I try to feel my weight melting into the floor. And I focus on the energy coming into the body and warming the dan t'ien.

If I start thinking about work, or bills, or things I need to do, I turn my mind back to the relaxation, the breathing, the energy, and the dan t'ien. I keep my mind and body relaxed.

If you start with just a few minutes of this, you'll feel refreshed, as if you've taken a quick nap. If you work up to half an hour, your leg strength will grow.

If you practice this daily, you'll learn to calm your mind and body and achieve a state of mental and physical balance. Your goal then is to recreate that feeling when you find yourself in a situation that would normally make you tense or angry. Say your boss gives you an unreasonable demand or deadline--you get cut off on the highway--your spouse gets angry unexpectedly--any tense situation. Your goal is to train yourself to react to those things with the same sense of calm that you achieve when doing standing stake. Calm the mind, relax the body, put part of your awareness on your dan t'ien.

Then take care of the problem rationally.

I've been doing this since 1987 and I can tell you that it works. My wife Nancy remarked recently that she's never really seen me get angry, and she's never heard me yell in anger. That doesn't mean I'm not a joyful, passionate person -- it means that in a tense situation that could create anger I've learned to calm myself.

I am the eye in the center of the hurricane.

It's my belief that chi kung's healing "powers" are the result not of chi (which I don't believe in) but in the stress management skills that you can develop by doing chi kung. Stress is a killer, and if you learn to manage it, your body will naturally function more efficiently. It's simply a matter of calming the mind and body. It's a trainable skill and it's a skill you can teach yourself with just a little guidance.

All it takes is a little concentration and work, and then you have to deliberately use the techniques when you find yourself in a stressful or tense situation. This little tutorial could be step one in your journey to a centered life.


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