The Most Important Thing


The most important thing
is to keep the most important thing,
the most important thing



What a powerful mantra! Important in understanding our Tai Chi practice and important in life. Imagine that it’s time for dinner. The most important thing to do is to prepare the dinner. Now imagine that as you are preparing the dinner the veggies begin to burn. The most important thing is deal with the burning cauliflower! The most important thing is to keep the most important thing, the most important thing. But . . . the most important thing changes.

Scientists agree that the human brain is an amazing organ—capable of solving complex questions and problems and/or able to produce beautiful poetry. While they will agree that is true, scientists seem to have a couple different ideas about how many things are brains are capable of doing at one particular time/moment. Debating that isn’t the purpose here (although I did find a number of interesting articles on the subject—actually Google gave me 12,420,000,000 results when asked the question). What I’d like to talk about here is knowing we can’t focus on multiple things at once, how do we decide what is the Most important thing. What do we focus on?

In our practice we will frequently talk about multiple principles. In the summer Form classes for instance, we focused on alignment, shifting, turning, and arms. What we tried to do is revisit the principles of each and then demonstrate them within the context of various exercises. But which is the MOST important? That depends. That depends on the student, of course, but also on how we layer our exercises.

Alignment and Breath: Start by standing and focusing on your breath. The focus we’re talking about here is a gentle focus, one of a silent observer. The breath should be long (deep), fine, quiet, and slow. Is your breath natural? Once you are comfortable with your breath bring your awareness to your body. Have you opened and released your joints? Have you done a quick scan of your alignment? Are you standing with your weight over your Yong Quan? Is your Bai Hui gently suspended to the sky? Is your body comfortable. Stay here for a while. Smile and enjoy being there, quiet and comfortable. Quieting your breath and quieting your body and your mind are the MOST important things you can do first.

Shift:  Once you feel that comfort and quiet, shift from side to side. Does your breath remain long, fine, quiet, and slow? Does your body remain open and comfortable? Those principles of practice remain important but as you start to move your focus of awareness changes to your body moving and what happens as we start to move. With the switch your awareness and focus, so does what is important. Is the whole body moving together not being led by a hip or a shoulder? Are you moving to the Yong Quan? Are your knees remaining soft? One by one we bring that gentle awareness to each point. Gently becoming a silent observer.

Turn:  Now that you are comfortable in your shift, introduce a turn. Does your breath remain long, fine, quiet, and slow? Does your body remain open and comfortable? Is your body moving together from one Yong Quan to the other with knees soft? Again, with those principles in place, introduce a turn. Are you twisting or turning or spinning? Are you rotating from the outside or the inside? Does your weight shift to the toes or to the heels when you rotate? Are your knees remaining safely over the toes? Right now the most important thing is to focus on the turn, gently observing, not critiquing, just observing.

Arms: Okay, so you are comfortable with your alignment and breath, your shifting, and your turning, now bring a gentle focus to the arms. Are they moving before the rest of the body? Are they leading the exercise? As you add the arms does your turn switch from a spin to a twist? Are the hands going higher than your shoulders? Are your elbows collapsing? What have you noticed?

You get the idea. What is most important at any given time is what you are focusing on! As you begin to draw those principles into the various exercises and forms, it would be impossible to focus on every one of them at once so we isolate the principles until they become our new habits. Once they are a habit, we no longer, or rather only occasionally will we need to focus on them.

This is Tai Chi practice! Practicing Tai Chi is very important. . . it’s all important but what is MOST important!

Pam Hultgren
Lead Instructor, Northfield