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by Michael Taylor

Michael Taylor is a mind-body movement expert, martial artist, and the co-founder of Strala Yoga. In his new mbg class, The Complete Guide To Tai Chi: Everyday Practices To Drop Stress, Release Pain & Create Whole Body Harmony, you’ll learn not only the basics of tai chi but how to use it to achieve your goals and dreams with ease. 

You have a way to unstick what’s stuck, unblock what’s blocked, fix what needs fixing, and create what needs creating. You just need to practice this way a bit, every day, to make it yours.

We’re at a crossroads today, each of us, and all together. It has something to do with what we practice.

In our life, we’re at a crossroads of mindset. We can continue to build stress on top of stress. We want to achieve, we want progress, it’s part of being human. And for so long we’ve followed a myth to get us there—call it “no pain, no gain,” or no victory without battle—it’s a myth that says, “If I’m not suffering, I won’t get anywhere good.”

It’s also part of being human to look for confirming evidence that this is the right strategy. After all, why would I have been so hard on myself for so long if it wasn’t absolutely what I need for me, for my family, for everything to go right? Why would I have been this way for so long if it was actually inhibiting my potential, making me age faster, and harming my health? Why would we all be this way if it was harming the world?

There’s something else we know at this crossroads. We know something is not quite right here. And the science has caught up with what we suspect. Our stress and survival responses—which release cortisol and endorphins into our system—are designed to mask pain and even create a feeling of euphoria, so we can escape an immediate attack. They were meant to help us survive, not to live. But we’re living now under attack.

Addicted to suffering as a society.

We’ve become addicted to suffering on a chemical level, and we put it in everything we do, even our health practices.

This is producing nearly every health problem that Western medicine struggles with today: obesity and digestive disorders, weakened immunity and chronic pain, depression and anxiety, even diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Because we know we have a choice. We can choose to move in a very different way, that creates a very different life and a very different world.

We can choose to release the stress and tension from our minds, our bodies, and our lives that inhibits us, weighs us down in every step we take. By choosing this, we can literally rewire our neurology, our chromosomes, and our gene expression to perform at a higher level than we ever dreamed possible.

At a crossroads with our wellness practices.

We’re also at a crossroads in our tai chi, our yoga, the practices we choose to elevate our health, our fitness, and our lives.

I began learning traditional Chinese and Japanese practices for movement and healing more than 30 years ago. I was lucky. In the first 10 years I learned about me, how my mind works, how my body works. When we arrived much later at forms and techniques, they could arise naturally from me, for me. So my discovery of these systems had something in common with their origins, hundreds and in some cases thousands of years ago. It happened naturally, from inside, as a discovery of who I am.

But this isn’t so much of tai chi today. The fellow I practice with is now in his late 80s, wonderfully more adept than he was in his 60s. This is one of the things I truly love about arts like tai chi and why we designed Strala the way we did. He still goes to the occasional conference and competition and comes back with stories. Tai chi is now not tai chi. It is tai-chi-like-exercises, an external practice of studying and copying the details of someone else’s form.

There’s no internal discovery here, no independent arising of form out of your own nature. And the result is the same as with yoga. Something elegant and sophisticated in its simplicity has been made complex and unnatural. We all become less adept in our minds, and our bodies, through this practice. Always looking over our shoulder at what someone else is doing, what someone else believes is correct for us.

Paying attention to how we move.

All of our practices can be hiding from life or a way of recreating it.

They can be pushing even harder or learning a different way to navigate through our lives. Our path can be rigidly dictated to us, or it can be discovered naturally in each one of us. Who we are, and what shape we can take in our bodies and lives, is entirely up to us.

The science supports what we’ve suspected. As mind-body medicine pioneer Dr. Deepak Chopra puts it, “We’re not nouns; we’re verbs.” We aren’t fixed beings, stuck where we are, unchangeable. We’re move like a river, not hardwired but soft-wired. We know that rigidity is both cause and symptom of mental illness. When this rigidity arises in tai chi—holding and moving with tension in both our minds and bodies—this isn’t a tai chi that’s very useful. We’ve only taken the most common symptoms of human neurosis and put them into our health and healing practice. This isn’t a problem with tai chi. It’s a human problem. And we have a choice here. We can choose something different.

How we move—with tension or without, with force and aggression or grace and coordination—rewires our neurology and rebalances our microbiome every single day. It can change our gene expression, make our chromosomes healthier, and even alter what we pass along to our children. We create our lives, our health, and our world, in this way.

It matters deeply, the choices we make. It matters first to ourselves—how we choose to take care of ourselves and move in our lives. This is the beginning of everything. It matters to the people we care for—how we are able to support one another, what we are able to give. And it matters to the whole world. Because this is what we create. And this crossroads is a choice we each make, every day.