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The T'ai Chi Way of Life

by Per Oden(more info)

listed in chi energy martial arts, originally published in issue 104 - October 2004

I have sometimes in my life experienced that specific words made a deep impression on me the first time I heard them. It was like that with the word 'meditation'; I felt a deep inner peace and understanding inside me. It was also similar with the word T'ai Chi. I felt peace, but also joy. When I first saw T'ai Chi I remembered a man I met in the USA. At that time I was practising transcendental meditation and I told him eagerly about the benefits of this meditation. He said that he didn't like the idea of withdrawal from the world, but if he found a meditation that also implied movement, he would start at once. I sincerely hope that he has found T'ai Chi.

This article is about my meeting with T'ai Chi and the inner journey that started when I connected to this ancient art that has its origin in China.

Assessing posture

But before I continue it is important to know that T'ai Chi can be different Things. To explain that, it is necessary to start with a little history. In 1644 the Manchurians invaded the Chinese empire and established the Ch'ing Dynasty. Although the Dynasty was founded by force and for the benefit of the rulers, the Manchus were soon absorbed into the Chinese culture. In the early stages of the Dynasty, episodes of hostility and conflict between the Chinese and their Manchurian rulers were serious and often brutal. Even though the Manchus tried very hard to learn the culture and adapt themselves to the Chinese ways, native Chinese still regarded them as barbarians.

As soon as the Ch'ing empire builders heard about the sophisticated art of T'ai Chi, they drafted the most famous master of the times, Yang Lu-chang (1799-1872), founder of the Yang style or Yang family system, into royal service. Unwilling to teach the Manchus, Master Yang deliberately modified the T'ai Chi meditation forms, converting them into a kind of slow-moving, outer exercise and completely ignoring the inner philosophy and mental discipline which is the key to T'ai Chi. Master Yang knew that if the royal family learned about his unwillingness to teach them, and his modifications, the emperor would take retribution for this offence and appease his anger by murdering not only him, but his entire family. Since Master felt he could trust no-one except his own sons, it was to them and no one else he taught the genuine art of T'ai Chi.

In this way, the modified form of T'ai Chi became today's T'ai Chi Chuan. In these modern times, a person may receive instruction in and practise T'ai Chi for years, and regardless of which style is being taught, still stand a very good chance of learning only 'public' T'ai Chi. In other words, most of the T'ai Chi practised today (also in China) is not the original T'ai Chi and is devoid of meaning.

However, Master Yang Lu-chang's forced instruction did serve a useful purpose. Although public T'ai Chi is merely a shadow of the original, classic, temple-style T'ai Chi, it has offered the Chinese people and others the greatest opportunity to be introduced to the art. As a matter of fact, if the Ch'ing Dynasty rulers had not become interested in T'ai Chi, it might have disappeared altogether under the rising tide of industrialization.

In some places the temple art is still alive; it is my hope that I can show that T'ai Chi is not only beautiful movements, but that there also is an inner T'ai Chi. You have to understand the principles of a Heart/Body/Mind/Spirit system. The principles must be integrated in your own life and you must be able to show others how to use them and connect them to their daily lives. True T'ai Chi is aiming for a development of the whole human being. A heart full of compassion, a body that is healthy and full of energy, a mind that is silent and clear and an open spirit that knows what is needed to create a healthy development for the earth and the human race.

My Way to Tai Chi and Chi Kung

The Calling

I was sitting in my bed extremely awake. In my jacket was a plane ticket from Bergen to Aberdeen. The next day I was going to visit Findhorn, a spiritual community in Scotland. The purpose of the trip was to find out if I wanted to stay there for a year. After twenty years of teaching and working with youth, I was kind of tired. I wanted to find out what to do with the rest of my life. How often do we take the time to stop and look at what we are doing and how we are living? I really felt it was time for me to stop for a while and go inside, and I had heard many positive stories about Findhorn. So I was very exited and thought that I would not be able to sleep. But then I was suddenly gone. I slept, but in my sleep I woke up. Not in the ordinary sense, but I woke up into a higher consciousness. I experienced how it was to travel with the speed of light. That is the only way I can explain the feeling. Then I went into the light. It was bliss. Total peace, total silence, infinite space, no time and total freedom. I was home. In the silence I heard one word: Findhorn. The next day I felt so high that I was not sure if the plane was carrying me or I was carrying the plane.

I loved Findhorn. What better place would I find to look at my life? So the whole family moved over. Right after Christmas I saw a sign about a Tai Chi class. It was love from the first movement. Later when my T'ai Chi teacher had a weekend course in Chi Kung I signed up at once. I wanted to find out everything about these Chinese movements. After the Chi Kung weekend I felt renewed and energized, so I started to practise every day. This was something I had been seeking for a long time. Slowly I regained my energy and after three to four months with daily practice I felt better than ever. I felt that I could go back with new energy and inspirations. I didn't know that Findhorn had another gift for me.

Shortly before our return to Norway, I signed up on a course called 'Dancing with the light beings' with another T'ai Chi teacher. I found the title exciting and since it also was about T'ai Chi and Chi Kung I was very curious. After three days my whole perception of nature had changed. It also became clear to me that I wanted to give these tools to other people, and I knew that I had found the right teacher. After an interview, I became a T'ai Chi student. One weekend a month for two years I went to Topsham (outside Exeter) to study the 15 fundamental and Chi Kung exercises. The education was based on the book: 15 ways to a happier you. Or maybe you could say that the book was based on the education. Very soon I realized that this education was not only about learning T'ai Chi and Chi Kung. As my teacher would say it: "My purpose is to bring you back to you". It was about inner growth and how to find back to your own centre. In these two years I went through an inner change. I could go back to teaching with new energy, and when I was tired or exhausted, I had tools to recover. And they were really working. Many times I was tired after a long day at school, and then I had a T'ai Chi Chi Kung class in the evening. Every time I experienced that even after teaching T'ai Chi Chi Kung for one-and-a-half hours I was filled with energy. But I also knew that one day I would go back to study more.

The Study

When you look at the subjects you are going through in the education, it looks really exciting. There is a lot to learn, to recognize. But this is only one side of the education, the mind side. But it is a Heart/Body/ Mind/Spirit system. That means the Heart comes first. Every lesson is based on where the students are in their hearts, with their emotions.

In October 2002 I started my second part of the study. I had finished the first part six years earlier. That study changed my life, but now I was back, and again I was experiencing not only a change, but also a Transformation. The first step towards this Transformation happened in a one to one session. The realization had come to me that I still had some emotional tension in me after my first marriage. My teacher asked me to go inside and let those emotions come forward. I could clearly see myself as coward and a person that was always guilty. When I saw these selves I said: "How could I be so stupid?" Then I heard my teacher's voice: "Don't judge these selves. Stay with them and see what they need." At once I realized that I always had pushed these selves away. Now I stayed with this theme and gave them space, love and acceptance. Then suddenly it was all right to feel guilty, and it was something that melted inside me. I felt a deep peace I never felt before and at the same time I was full of energy. This session became a turning point for me. I thought that I had understood the principles we where studying, but the understanding had been mostly intellectual. Now I was beginning to see new depth in the principles and the study.

The study of T'ai Chi became an inner journey. At first it was difficult because when I started working with my negative emotions, I became more aware of them, but now I had decided to stay with them and accept them. Sometimes I could sit with one negative emotion for one hour. Very slowly I started to change. I became aware of my heart. It was like a door was opening up in the middle of my chest. At the same time I felt more grounded and more peaceful than ever before. All my life I had believed that I should nurse the good feelings and try to purify the negative and unpleasant ones. That the road to heaven was plastered with all that is good and could only be tread when you have purified your 'bad' sides. Suddenly I turned 180 degrees and started confronting my dark sides. It was like the heart had doubled in size. Because the negative selves were accepted just like the positive, and that is truly being in your heart, because the heart doesn't judge, only the mind. This is the first step to peace.

Fusion of the Five Elements:

The accepting principle is only one among many more principles, but it would take too long to go through them all, but I would like to take the reader one step further.

In Taoism, which is the foundation of T'ai Chi they speak of five elements in nature and how these elements are connected to our inner organs and emotions. The heart is connected to the fire, the kidneys to the water, the lungs to the metal, the liver to the wood and the spleen to the earth element. The study was one month intensive; it became the most amazing month in my life. I had been on many courses earlier, (Findhorn and other places) and felt very high and happy and thought that it would last forever. But it didn't. The negative selves came back. The feeling after this course was quite different. I didn't feel 'high', I just felt happy. The beautiful thing was that I got the feedback from the outside. When my partner appreciated my total change I laughed and said: "You know what? I didn't try to change – it just happened effortlessly." A friend of hers said that I looked 10 years younger. In the New Age movement there is often spoken about near death and out of body experience. This is the opposite, near life and into the body experience.

During the study it became very clear to me that I had never really had a relationship with my inner organs. I slowly learned not only of their presence, but also to love them and appreciate them. It was like a new world was opening up for me. Yet it had been there all the time! The next step was to connect the organs to the elements in nature.

It is impossible to describe the feeling when the connection is there, not as a metaphysical idea but for real. You feel how this element is outside you and inside you and there is pure joy and peace. For the first time I understood the meaning of the sentence: 'and God created man in his image'.

I sincerely hope that this article may be an inspiration for others to have a closer look into T'ai Chi. Some people might find that the 'public' T'ai Chi is the right thing for them, while others might be more curious about the 'temple' T'ai Chi.

Aqua T'ai Chi

When a school has a close connection to nature and the elements, it is only natural that it also is the only T'ai Chi school in the world that is teaching aqua T'ai Chi. The human body consists of about 65 per cent water and we have lost contact with that element in us. The movements in T'ai Chi are soft and fluid and to really feel and experience this you must connect to the water element. After years of training you will gradually find this connection, but it is also possible that it can come easily and effortlessly. When you do T'ai Chi in a swimming pool with water close to body temperature, you learn that the water can be your teacher and then your progress in being with the T'ai Chi movements will dramatically increase. When we are really connected with the elements and if we humble ourselves to listen and learn from them our lives will truly change.

This is written in deep respect and love for this ancient art. It is my hope that other people also may find that the T'ai Chi way of life also will bring prosperity and happiness to them.

Further Information

The Rainbow T'ai Chi School can be contacted on Tel: 01364 653 618;


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About Per Oden

Per Oden has 25 years experience with Yoga and has been teaching Qigong and Taiji Fundamentals for 7years. He has just completed study to be a Taiji teacher in 37 steps Taiji form Yang style. He can be contacted on

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