Nosey, Noisy Muscles and Training Your Brain

Tai Chi Chuan ward off right, showing hands

In our daily lives, most of us, even those who consider themselves relatively relaxed and stress-free, are holding a lot of muscle tension in our bodies, and corresponding tension in thoughts and feelings.

As psychologists and scientists have been exploring for well over 100 years, there is activity in the brain–feelings, worries, and so on–that cause us to create that muscle tension. And we are not even aware of the majority of that tension, since it is habitual.

Tai Chi Chuan practice is one way to gradually release that tension. By focusing on full brain / mind / body integration and action, we start to cut through our own seemingly endless loops of thought and feeling, loops that create stress and loss of simple enjoyment in our selves.

I like to call the Yang-style Short Form a framework for self-development. The reason we repeat the “same” thing over an over is that each time we do so, we are learning something new.

The Tai Chi Chuan form is never the same, even for the same person who carries it out twice in a row. Each time we practice the form, we are actively creating our experience as we move slowly and with awareness from moment to moment.

What does that mean in practical terms? How do we do this?

Ying - Yang symbolOne key is to understand and use the Yin-Yang polarity. As human beings we can never function in total release nor in total action. Life is a moment-by-moment flow between letting go and engagement, on a background that is neither one of those. That is our reality!

While practicing Tai Chi Chuan, we are connecting to and embodying that reality. And when that happens, our brain / mind / body starts to feel both more awake, and more free of stress. In pre-action moves we release into the ground and sink energy into the feet and below into the Eart. In the subsequent action move, the energy expands from toes to fingers, filling our whole brain / mind / body with warm feelings and energy. The flow between release/letting go and action/engagement helps our nervous system function better, circulation improve, and has other positive effects as well.

This scientific article points out positive, measurable brain effectiveness changes due to Tai Chi Chuan practice. It is dense reading, but the conclusions point to less “noise” when we activate functions, and more consistent integration of the parts of the brain that need to be integrated.

Grandmaster Chen coined the term “nosey muscles”, referring to the unwanted activation of muscles that get in the way of simple, enjoyable movement. It turns out, we can also call them “noisy muscles”… that is, muscle and thought activations resulting from noise in the brain that interferes with clean, effective, enjoyable functioning in the moment.

Nosey, noisy: the key is to realize our brain can and should activate our body functions in a more integrated and less stressed manner.

Practicing the form day after day and year after year helps build a new set of circuits and a new set of resulting perceptions and experiences that allow us to accomplish more with less stress and more enjoyment. And that is a good thing, right?

Why Tai Chi Chuan is a Great Martial Art Practice

Tai Chi Chuan practice among trees and plants, solo

Many people come to practice Tai Chi Chuan for good reasons: the most common reasons are better balance, “relaxation”, and maintaining or improving health.

These are all valid reasons!

However, there can be a tendency to forget that Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art; it is actually an excellent fighting art.

I want to share WHY it is important to remember that Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art, even if you never intend to use it for that purpose.

When practicing the Short Form, it is not enough to go through the movements, and memorize them, without understanding the principles that are the basis of these movements.

Because of my experience, in my teaching of Tai Chi Chuan I focus on the dynamic energy and feeling that is the basis of high-quality Tai Chi Chuan. This means integrating the energy and feeling of brain, toes, and fingers while we are moving.

When brain, toes, and fingers can communicate, energy can expand freely, resulting in power without tension, and softness without weakness.

In summary, the results of practicing with the right understanding are:

  • increased speed and power
  • improved balance
  • better health, and
  • a sense of peace and well-being

It is worth noting that if you do want to try using Tai Chi Chuan for sparring or competition, it is also necessary to actually practice Sanshou (boxing) as well as Push Hands. In that way, the foundation of connection and energy flow can be channeled successfully into the mindset of confidence under pressure, and into the responsive movements that are required for the more rapid-fire engagement of martial art practice.

The Real Meaning of Relaxation for Health, Well-Being, and Martial Arts

Tai Chi Chuan hands

People pursue Tai Chi Chuan practice for a variety of reasons: health, fall prevention / balance, well-being, improvement in martial arts and other sports, and for relaxation / de-stressing.

I can make the case that to deeply relax and de-stress is the most central experience in Tai Chi Chuan practice that explains all the other benefits. However, the word “relax” can be misleading. We all want to be able to relax, but what does that really mean and what does it require?

When I feel stressed, if I lie down on the beach—or lie in bed for that matter—am I relaxing? Well, yes and no. We are indeed avoiding excessive stimulation and giving our awareness a chance to let go of a demanding daily life. That can have some benefits, but the benefits are limited!

Once we go back to a busy daily life and to the demands of relationships and society, the experience of stress is likely to resume where we left off.

The benefit of Tai Chi Chuan practice is that we are actively training our brain / body how to  stay calm and happy more consistently despite any daily stressors. When practiced with the right approach, Tai Chi Chuan involves intentional letting go and then energizing, repeated over and over in a fluid, rhythmic pattern. As a result, our brain can stay connected with a deeply relaxed and open experience to a wide variety of daily experiences, including those that many people feel are boring or stressful.

The benefits I have experienced, and have seen others experience, from Tai Chi Chuan practice include: a positive state of mind; the ability to let go of stress while being energetic and active; and excellent health into ages of 60s, 70s, and beyond.

There are many “right approaches” to Tai Chi Chuan study and practice, including variations on the form positions, but what they all have in common is learning how to release at a deep level, and how to engage our whole brain and body when we decide to energize.

It is the looking inside with brain and body during practice that allows us to train for a happier, more vibrant state of mind along with increased empathy for self and others. The brain functions with more energy, while the busy thinking mind lets go of excessive and repetitive worries. Muscle and mental tensions also release in this process, leading to a feeling of well-being as well as improvements in health.

In short, when there is less worry and tension, there is more opportunity for all kinds of positive states of mind and body.

So, coming back to the word “relax”: in Tai Chi practice we can enter a state of deep, peaceful focus. The awareness expands and is alert, while the body is fluid and comfortable. We are no longer locked into the physical perimeter of our being, but feel more connected to other people as well as to the surrounding environment. This experience goes well beyond the usual meaning of the word “relax”!

The shifts that occur with Tai Chi practice happen gradually, for most people, but can usually be felt at least a bit, soon after starting to practice. Tai Chi Chuan practice is beneficial at each step of the way, because it is constantly teaching us more awareness of self and others.

How to start? The most effective way to learn this practice is to participate in classes with a skilled teacher, along with practicing on your own to reinforce the learning experience. If you would like to discuss this, I can be reached at (718) 229-2609. And if you are not in the NYC / Long Island area, I can help locate a group practice that may be accessible for you.

I hope you will explore the ways you can stay healthy and feel more well-being. Tai Chi Chuan can be an important part of living that fulfilling life.