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The first thing you must consider is: Should you play music while practicing tai chi or not?

As long as any music or sound is not the main focus, or a distraction, to your practice it doesn’t matter.  You just need to make certain that you don’t get dependent on music playing in order for you to do tai chi.  You should be able to practice with the same concentration and calmness in any environment.  Remember that the ultimate goal is not to keep tai chi locked up in a little box apart from the rest of your world, but instead, to have it positively influence your entire life.  In fact, there are ways you can actively use music as an auditory enhancement to your tai chi practice.

Here are some tips that most folks have never hear about.  The majority of tai chi enthusiasts just put on some calm tai chi music in the background and that’s all they know what to do with it.  But now you can use music in ways to enhance your tai chi development, which over 99% of tai chi masters and students never even thought of. These methods are very creative and different. May they encourage you to think of other creative ways to use music or sounds to enhance your practice.  Try this:

1)  Play some loud, fast, aggressive music.  Make it your challenge to remain as focused and unstimulated as possible.  Keep chest and shoulders empty and relaxed.  Han xiong. Move slowly and keep your breathing slow and deep.  Tell yourself that the louder or faster it gets, the more it actually will make you relax and feel at peace!

2)  Enhance your creativity and ability to follow yourself or an opponent with the following tip.  Play music that has variable rhythms, mood and volume – like a long piece of classical music.  Speed up and slow down your practice in precise timing to the music.  Without emotion, match your mental intent to the changes of aggression and gentleness in the music.  But keep emotion completely out of it – do not use anger, sadness or joy.  Only modify the intensity or ferocity of your concentration and intent.  The reason you need to keep emotion out of it is because Chinese medicine and meditation practices, for thousands of years, have warned us about overstimulating the emotions.  It blocks the road to peace and enlightenment.

3)  For something to enhance your reaction time – whether for self-development or martial arts skill – use the radio.  Music, talk or news is fine.  Do a punch, kick, jump, or other movement whenever you hear a specific common word, such as “I,” “me,” “the,” “a,” etc.  Just don’t repeat this exercise to the same word every time.  Use different words or sounds as cues, to ensure that you don’t wind up subconsciously conditioning yourself to a certain word or stimulus!

4)  Bring spirituality to your practice.  The old way of tai chi chuan practice had a strong spiritual component to it.  Practice your tai chi along to sacred music to magnify positive energy in your life.  For example, if you’re Christian, you can do your tai chi to songs of praise and make your entire practice a moving prayer.  Feel free to vocalize.  If you prefer earth-based religions and spirituality, search for world music such as African chants, Native American songs, Druidic or Shinto chants or tunes, etc.  If you are Buddhist, perhaps you may resonate along with Buddhist chants or sutra recitations.  Some people enjoy the heavy and spiritual sound of Tibetan Buddhist chants.  There is also sacred Hindu music, Islamic music and the music and prayers of Judaism.  You know what your beliefs are – enhance the vibration around you in your tai chi practice with spiritual sounds. What a wonderful way to explore spirituality with sound and movement!

My teacher, Master Jou Tsung Hwa, actually loved Turkish and Egyptian bellydance music!  He liked to practice fa jin (fajing – issuing energy for martial purpose) of the Chen Second Routine Taijiquan to the heavy drumbeat.  I have a fond memory of once presenting him with a cassette tape of African bellydance music  to which he got so joyously carried away that he accidentally knocked a picture off the wall!

So, have fun exploring the use of sound in your tai chi practice.  Please write in about what unique ways YOU can use music to enhance your tai chi chuan (taijiquan) practice.

Author: Shifu Loretta M. Wollering