Ripples across a pool of water

Meditation has been gaining in popularity in recent years and even if you haven't done it yourself, you may be familiar with the term. But what does meditation mean?

A definition of meditation

The popular definition of meditation is that it is a mental exercise. It uses a process of focussing concentration on something, usually one thing, like breathing, until your mind becomes still and calm (as does your body, it is hoped).

For some it is a process of contemplation or reflection.

The process of meditation is almost entirely based on a mental focus inwards, to explore your own inner world, to know yourself and to create stillness in your mind. It is based on a fundamental belief that all of what is you is in the mind (including the whole of your body).

Tai Chi and meditation

Tai Chi is known as a moving meditation, but it is more than that.

The philosophy of Tai Chi sees the universe slightly differently. It says that the universe contains rhythms, structures and behaviours that can be identified and understood and all of the universe is mirrored within human beings (the human microcosm). This is the same philosophy as used in Chinese medicine and acupuncture.

As a result of this view, the major difference in Tai Chi compared to other meditations, is that we do not focus entirely inwards. In Tai Chi, the meditation comes from focussing on our inner world in relation to our outer world (the wider universe - the macrocosm).

So, for example: how we physically relate to the pull of gravity and how we stabilise ourselves through balance and our feet on the ground. Whilst there may be some specific exercises where we do focus inward, it is for the purpose not only of creating internal harmony in our mind, but harmony in our hearts and bodies within our wider environment.

According to the principles of Tai Chi, meditation is also a bodily practise. The body influences the mind so when the body moves and holds itself in certain ways, this naturally induces a meditation state of mind without having to be in the mind. One of what I think is a most wonderful bonus of Tai Chi is that it gets you out of your head. What's more, your body feels like it has had its say and a fair share of meditation too!

In this way it is remarkably different as a form of meditation.

Because it is simultaneously outwardly focussed it is an effective means of bringing functional benefits of meditation into daily life in a natural and effortless way (over time following regular practise).

This is one of the reasons why Tai Chi is so effective as a martial art, because it brings the effects of meditation into real world experiences and activities.

So martial arts may not be your interest. But when you find you're getting less flustered in heavy traffic; by being cut up by that crazy van driver; or you're suddenly navigating a busy shopping street, scything between people with easy; finding any aggravation in the office is merely water off a duck's back; that's when it all comes to the fore.

Julian Böck