As a full-time instructor I’m most interested in how we can improve our health, both physical and mental, in tangible and sustainable ways. One of the main reasons why I feel Tai Chi is so good at ticking these boxes is that it facilitates a clear shift in focus from a goal or outcome based orientation to one which is much more process based. By being mindful of how we use our bodies and minds we can start to understand the intrinsic nature of health and well-being and appreciate that it is very much an integrative ‘work in progress’ or process. Central to Tai Chi practise such emphasis can be traced back to ancient Taoism: a philosophy derived from the observation of the ebb and flow of all natural phenomena in a bid to facilitate a harmonious existence without having to struggle or torture oneself too much.
So what is the difference between goal and process based focus? To illustrate this very simply let us use the analogy of walking. As I walk, I could rush and focus on getting to my destination as quickly as possible. Instead, I might find myself switching off and thinking about something completely unrelated until I get to said destination, operating on autopilot as it were. Or perhaps I savour my surroundings as I walk and perceive the delicate movement of my body, observe my thoughts and take in the journey as a whole. This last example of course represents how we might focus on the process of walking rather than just the goal or destination.
It’s all too easy to operate on autopilot or to rush and pay little attention to what we are doing. When we travel somewhere, especially when it is a route we regularly take, we often have little or no recollection about what our journey was like once we get there. We tend to assume we know what is going to happen on our familiar journey and cease to pay attention. However, these small details are very important as they construct our experience of life and greatly inform the quality of it.
By applying the idea of process to how we use our bodies/minds both on a day to day basis and how we exercise we can make some vast improvements to our health and well-being. If we slow down a little and start to pay attention to how we move and what we think we tend to engage the body and brain more as the integrative working whole it really is rather than running on autopilot or rushing manically. This allows us to be much more present in what we are doing and facilitates a higher quality of activity whether that be playing sport or making a cup of tea.
One might argue that there just isn’t time for this kind of thing and that circumstances dictate that we rush. Let’s be sensible, sometimes even a tortoise has to get his skates on. However, on a more day to day basis if we can learn how to take our foot off the accelerator we actually start to perceive time more steadily as our stress/adrenaline levels drop. It’s all about awareness and perception; by emphasising the process we come to feel we have more time to focus on what we are doing and how we do it. This way we can mindfully adjust our behaviour so we that don’t get injured, push ourselves to exhaustion or indeed become too sedentary. For if we focus on the process the outcome will look after itself.