Ritual is important to us as human beings.
Lao Zi might have said, “Ritual is the husk of faith” but in reality there are certain benefits to performing rituals perhaps not dreamed of in your philosophy. There are many books, reports and videos touting Taijiquan as a great health exercise and others discussing its martial merit.Today many baby boomers and millennials use Taijiquan as a form of meditation in motion or even seek some mystical spiritual experience from its practice. It is no secret that with our modern highly active life style stress is becoming a major factor in the reduction of our health and longevity. Did you know that routinely practicing a specific form of Taijiquan actually any style will do, and can provide stress relief especially when it becomes ritualized?
Some have only used this word ritual in the context of religion or a cult activity. Before we judge let’s get the actual definition and benefits of the word. A ritual is defined as a prescribed procedure or collection of actions, words or activities performed in a certain order. Rituals can be verbal recitations repeated at a certain day or time or on a recurring basis as in mantras used in Tibetan Buddhist practice, or a spirit dance routine as found among the American Indians.
Rituals can be performed in communal settings or in solitude; at times they can involving fixed, repeated sequences of actions, at other times they may be a series of free flowing expression of spontaneous origin when one is feeling “at one” with a particular concept or idea. People engage in rituals with the intention of achieving a wide set of desired outcomes, from reducing their anxiety to boosting their confidence, alleviating their grief to performing well in a competition.
Recent research suggests that consistently performing rituals may be extremely effective at relieving stress and anxiety. Rituals performed after experiencing stressful life events have shown to be able to alleviate anxiety and increase people’s confidence. What’s more, rituals appear to benefit even people who claim not to believe that rituals work.
While anthropologists have documented rituals across cultures, this earlier research has been primarily observational. Recently, a series of investigations by psychologists have revealed intriguing new results demonstrating that rituals, when performed on a regular recurring basis, can have a causal impact on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a positive manner.
A memorized routine of form as used in training any of the styles of Taijiquan can become a ritualized practice. Taijiquan certainly can be used as a ritual. A Taijiquan form or routine fits the description of a ritual as “a prescribed procedure or collection of actions or activities performed in a certain order” performed as a ritual on a regular recurring basis simply flowing through your Taijiquan form can bring many meaningful mind body experiences.
Of course, you can practice your form anywhere, anytime wearing anything, but studies show that when ritual practice is developed there is more benefit to the training at least for relieving stress and improving well being. To make a practice more ritualistic it is helpful to create an atmosphere where whatever you are doing feels special and exists outside of the everyday world.
Here are some things that help make Taijiquan a beneficial ritual.
- Play the form at least five to six days a week
- Try to do the practice at the same time each day
- If possible have a special place inside or outside where you train
- Prepare yourself before practice with some meditation or standing practice
- Wear special clothing like a traditional Tai Chi Han Zhifu to honor the arts lineage.
- Perhaps you might light some incense and let it burn to time your practice
- Focus on making each movement with complete attention to the actions.
- Bow respectfully to the ancestors when you complete your training