Tips for Your Tai Chi and Qigong Practice

A Live Chat with Professor David-Dorian Ross, Founder and CEO of TaijiFit

On July 29, 2015, Professor David-Dorian Ross sat down for a live Q&A session with his fans from across the globe. The chat is over, but the transcript is posted below for you to enjoy.

photo of David-Dorian Ross, International Master Tai Chi Instructor
David-Dorian Ross, International Master Tai Chi Instructor

ROSS: Welcome everyone! It is such an honor to be here with the launch of the Professor Chat program. Tai Chi, Qigong and mindfulness practices have been a part of my life for more than 35 years and have given me health, great relationships and a compass for navigating the aging process. I am delighted to be able to share what I’ve learned with all of you.

RABBIDOCTORSHELLY: As a yang long form daily player, I discover deeper tendons popping because of bad posture and a somewhat forward protruding pot belly and a hollow back. Should I just keep working them to see if they will stop popping and open up into fluid motion?  It does not hurt, but it signals that I am opening up restricted areas of my torso. I hope I am developing more openness in my body to go wider and deeper into my stance.  Do you agree that I should keep going as long as there is no pain and try to loosen up all the way to fluidity? Does this happen as a posture correcting response to deeper tai chi?

ROSS: This is a challenging question since I would want to see exactly what you mean by “popping.” On the one hand it is quite common for the body to make noise, experience new sensations etc as you open up the body. But you should also know that what many Tai Chi books translate as “tendons” actually refers to the Fascia and not to the fibers that connect muscle to bones – so be careful. I would love to talk to you about this more.

RAYANDFRAN: I have been practicing qigong for about a year and a half. I feel the energy in my hands but cannot feel the energy movement up the spine or down the front. I have been using the Lee Holden Medical Qigong videos which are good. Can your videos help me to continue and to advance the energy movement in my body?

ROSS: Congratulations on working with Lee’s videos – I’ve known Lee for many years. If you are already feeling the energy sensations in your hands then you know that the energy is moving. There are four things that will take your practice to the next level – and all of these develop gently and slowly simply by continuing the daily practice. 1.) To allow the spine to return to a natural and neutral “TaiChi” alignment, 2) To develop a deep, gentle and rhythmic breath; 3.) To relax more deeply and 4.) To learn to visualize the movement in you mind

DCL: Should all the breaths be of approximately the same length while playing tai chi?

ROSS: This is a good question – but I caution you as I answer. Theoretically the breaths are about the same length – sometimes slightly longer on the exhale than on the inhale. HOWEVER… do not ever force the breath to be any length. Breathe naturally.

TOM: What stimulated your interest in Tai Chi?

ROSS: I took a wrong turn looking for a cup of Chai Tea. Just kidding. 🙂 I was actually wanting to learn to meditate, but I was terrible at sitting meditation. When I learned about “moving meditation” I signed up right away. I didn’t know how it would change my life!

DAVE: Are you planning a part 2 of the course.

THE GREAT COURSES: We’re in the early stages of developing a sequel to Professor Ross’ best-selling first course, focused around the philosophy and techniques of his practice.

JEFF R: Has the concept of chi been scientifically proven?

ROSS: This is such a great question – the short answer is yes… and no. 🙂 The concept of Qi is “accepted” in Western medicine.  For example, the AMA embraces acupuncture and other types of Traditional Chinese Medicine because their efficacy is so consistent. But Qi is not a substance or an energy that can be observed, measured or captured so in that sense it is left to Western medicine to use other explanations for why it works.

HARVEY JOYNER: It helps to know that Tai Chi has been underwritten as a treatment therapy by the American Arthritis Foundation. Also, Harvard Medical School of Research has published a book signaling measured health benefits.

STEVEO: Other elemental substances – like Dark Matter – are accepted as existing, but have not been “proven”. Measurable results will hopefully keep Chi under scientific study until the process is fully understood..

photo of David-Dorian Ross filming in Hawaii
David-Dorian Ross filming in Hawaii

DCL: Minor question, David-Dorian, but is the salute on your course “Ching an, ching ping heng” in pinyan?

ROSS: Yes! In short: May you have Peace and Harmony!

LYLE MUNRO: Is the short form adequate to get the health benefits of Tai Chi or should one carry on to learn the long form. I always thought one should work out or train for 20 minutes at one time, or is more shorter training sessions with the short form as good.

ROSS: I love this question! My old teacher used to say (when asked something similar) “You should practice Tai Chi whenever you can, wherever you can, for as long as you can – even if it’s only 5 minutes!’

HARVEY J: Your comment on modifications with movements like Heel Kick Right/Left and Lower Movement & Rooster Stands on One Leg. How high does one need to kick and/or how low does one need to go?

ROSS: The height or depth of the movements in Tai Chi are always measured against your own development. No need to strive to kick higher or drop lower. But you will notice that your flexibility will definitely improve as you do a little bit every day. This is not meant to be a cop-out. It is in line with the basic philosophy of Tai Chi: be like water, lapping away at the mountain. It is the only force strong enough to change the landscape.

THINKERBELLE: Is Chi the same as zero point energy or scalar energy?

ROSS: Although I’m not a quantum physicist, I would actually say probably not. Qi is much more active.

JOSIE B: I have been working with your beginning Tai Chi DVD as well as the Great Course and am happy to say that I have gotten further away from having knee surgery! I have also been getting into Qigong, specifically the eight pieces of brocade. Is it OK to do both on the same days? Which should I do first?

ROSS: Wow! Congratulations – these practices are well suited for rehab from surgery. It is absolutely OK to do both on the same day. Traditionally, one would start out with the 8 Pieces of Brocade first, and then your Tai Chi practice. (But it won’t hurt you to mix it up!)

MIKEYRSINGLEMOM: What is a good age to start teaching children the art of tai chi? My boys and I currently do yoga together. I usually do tai chi before bed after they are sleeping.

ROSS: You know I was just talking to someone else about this last night. There is no real age limit for children other than their own attention span. Whether old or young, Tai Chi is best done when you do it because you like it, not because you “have to.”

KEVIN M: Can you recommend a book on the mythology/history in your course? #taichichat

ROSS: Let’s see… didn’t I write a book like that? No just kidding!! No actually a great book is called The Tao of Tai Chi Ch’uan by Jou Tsung-hwa. Many stories that relate to the mythology and history of Tai Chi.

HARVEY J: Any suggestions about how to select a Tai Chi style that works best?

ROSS: Hmm – all the styles “work” equally well. It depends more on how the teacher introduces his/her style to you. Like buying your new car, I recommend taking a test drive first.

JOSIE: Sorry if this question keeps repeating LOL! Is it ok to do Tai Chi and Qigong on the same day? Does it matter which I do first? I love the Great Courses!

ROSS: No worries about repeating – it shows me that people are excited about getting both into their daily practice. That’s awesome. You can absolutely do both on the same day, or in the same workout. It doesn’t really matter which you do first, although typically the Qigong warms up your energy for Tai Chi after.

Professor Ross teaching a class

: I am interested in the music you chose for the course. It is different than that I normally hear with Tai Chi, and it works well for me. I am interested in why you chose that and how you choose music for your student.

ROSS: I’m so happy someone asked me about music! to be clear, I also teach in silence, or in the sounds of nature when outdoors. But music is made to evoke FEELING in the listener. That is a step in the development of mindfulness – my end goal in teaching Tai Chi. And btw – I just pick music I like. 🙂

THINKERBELLE: What about those of us who teach Taiji Qigong? What is important for us to keep in mind as we share this practice with beginners?

ROSS: Before you emphasize correctness of form, help the beginner simply fall in love with Taiji Qigong. Then they will practice for life.

AVNER: Does Tai Chi have any emotional release effect like in Forest Yoga?

ROSS: Interesting question – think of Tai Chi as a method not as an effect. It depends on how you use the tool, right? But if we think of enmotions as energy, and Tai Chi causes energy to move – then yes it can help with emotional release.

DAVID: I broke my hip in a car accident when I was very young. Most of Tai Chi requires a good bit of pressure on the hips, but I was wondering if Professor Ross could suggest some principles a person could implement to make it easier on the hips?

ROSS: The body itself is a moving miracle. Much healing and rehabilitation can take place if the body can be placed in a position/condition of least stress. Pressure on the hips in Tai Chi usually comes at the beginning stages when the student doesn’t yet know how to get into a neutral position. You can start out in a chair, and alternate between sitting and standing to build up strength and stamina – and learn to be relaxed and neutral.

NAWAINAWRAS: As you know I’ve been learning tai chi ball qigong and I use 1 ball. But I’ve seen you using two – I haven’t finished reading the YMAA book yet and of course I’m waiting for yours to come out but is there a fundamental difference between 2 versus 1 ball?

ROSS: Yes – in two ways. When two balls are used they teach bi-lateral dexterity as well as stimulate the flow of Qi in both arms. And secondly – the smaller balls are much lighter than the single TaijiQiu (Tai Chi ball)

PAM: I have been learning the short form since Jan and have eliminated the arthritis pain in my hip. However, I still have a great deal of difficulty quieting my mind to sleep at night. Do you have any suggestions?

ROSS: Don’t do Tai Chi just before bed. LOL – actually this affects people differently, so just be careful. Currently when I teach an evening class, I include a guided seated meditation to quiet the mind and prepare for restful sleep. The Qi in the body flows like the tide, and should be led into quiet as well as into action.

SAUNDRA: I recently purchased this and have watched it the past two days. After completing the first exercise, the Door and Parting the Wild Horses Mane, I was surprised that I was more relaxed. It was enjoyable. Can this help with hand stiffness—I have plates in both wrists. Thanks, again, for this course and the opportunity of this live event.

ROSS: Yes absolutely – Tai Chi has been shown to have superb results for people with arthritis, peripheral neuropathy and chronic pain as well/

JOHN GARGAN: I have a right rotator cuff problem. It is not torn but limits my range of motion. An orthopedic physician has given me a steroid shot in the past but it didn’t work on a more recent visit. Any ideas?

ROSS: Hmm – this is another question that’s tough to answer without actually being able to assess/observe your shoulder. If you got a steroid shot, I’m assuming that it gives you a lot of pain. Has your doctor indicated that there is another problem? Impingement perhaps? Tai Chi is normally quite effective at relieving inflammation, pain and limited range of motion. Using Tai Chi in this way, however, remember to take the gentle path.

JEFF R: I have recently purchased your Great Courses lectures on Tai Chi and Qigong. Is it necessary to have live instructor in addition to your lectures in order to learn Tai Chi and Qigong?

ROSS: All other things being equal, I think it is always best to have a live instructor. Live instructors can give you feedback, encouragement, tell you stories that relate to your specific level. But a bad instructor – or just one you can’t relate to – is worse than no instructor at all. But now live streaming technology using the internet gives you access to live teachers no matter where you live.

PAUL L: What’s a great followup to Yang 24?  The web lists a “more symmetric” Yang 42 maybe. I like the forms, as well as the daily qigong.

ROSS: A great follow to the Yang 24 is exactly what our next program is all about! 🙂 Seriously, I gave a lot of thought to what would take someone like you to the next step. The form in the next course will be the Yang 40 form. (BTW – the 42 is an international competition form, combining elements of Yang, Chen, Wu and Sun styles.)

PAUL L: I’m looking forward to it, and any additional qigong advanced methods. I noticed that there seem to be “A” level and “B” level, and that the Chinese National “Demonstration” team has way advanced moves in the 5 Animals and Brocade.

LYLE M: Do you give classes in Tai Chi through a type of distance learning?  If so how would I find out about these, basically how, where, when and costs?  I already know your quality is excellent.

photo of Professor Ross practicing Tai Chi at sunset in Hawaii
Professor Ross practicing at sunset in Hawaii

ROSS: Thank you so very much for the kind words! Yes, I do offer daily classes as well as a traditional Tai Chi Academy all online, using interactive live streaming. I was the first (as far as I know) teacher to use this technology to offer a complete curriculum. Now I have students on every continent – and they all meet in our virtual school, using two-way video and audio. By the way, we hold a monthly open house for anyone curious to see how it works. The next one coming up is August 2.

PINK: Is there any particular music or soundtracks that are well-paced for accompanying the practice of TaiChi? Meditation bowls, nature sounds, etc?

ROSS: I like almost any kind of music for Tai Chi – the key is that I am not following the beat of the music. I am just tapping into the emotion/spirit of the music and finding my own rhythm in that.

ANDREY: Professor Ross, thank you for the great course! You mentioned that you had difficulties with sitting meditations and tried Tai Chi instead. Do you think it can be a replacement for sitting meditation or just makes learning it easier?

ROSS: Great question! I do think that moving meditation is more appropriate for some people. It may suit your character/age/experience better. Whatever gets you into the state of mindful meditation (letting go of thoughts) is what is right. And by the way, now that I have studied Tai Chi for all these years, I can sit in meditation much better!

PAT R: Have you advice to share on when breath goes in and out with movements? Also any advice on placing one’s attention(mind) which can wander?

ROSS: Yes, there is a general rule of thumb about the breathing cycle – but be careful not to force the breath, especially at the beginning. Movement of the body and movement of the breath should match each other. Moving into transitional postures is typically an inhalation, while moving into final positions are typically exhalations. To quiet the mind – focus on the breath!

HARVEY J: What advice would you offer to those whose mobility is significantly compromised (e.g. degenerative arthritis, parkinson’s disease, etc.)?

ROSS: My old teacher used to say: you always do Tai Chi with the body you brought with you today. Be the Tortoise, not the Hare, in your Tai Chi practice, and it will improve your mobility. How much is unknown – but all of my students tell me it has greatly improved their quality of life. I guess perhaps to more completely answer this questions, I would say that Tai Chi is absolutely appropriate for those with compromised mobility.

SERGIUS: Is Qigong common to all martial arts? Can it be developed outside of Tai Chi? In the same line as the other commentator, I would appreciate if you could point to more resources/videos for further Qigong practice. Thank you.

ROSS: Qigong is not common to all martial arts actually. In Chinese martial arts, they are typically associated. But many people do study Qigong independently of Tai Chi or any other martial art. For more videos on Qigong, I would recommend Dr. Yang Jwing-ming or Lee Holden.

David-Dorian Ross is the founder and CEO of TaijiFit and the creator of the TaijiFit mind-body exercise program. He has a B.A. in Human Movement Studies from San Francisco State University.
Professor Ross now has two lectures series with The Great Courses.  Essentials of Tai Chi and Qigong and Mastering Tai Chi are both available to stream on The Great Courses Plus.