To learn anything well or develop any skill you have to be able to pay attention. For me it is the single most useful attribute that anyone could develop to improve all aspects of their life. Paying attention means to intentionally focus on what is happening in the present moment (both internally and externally) at any given time. It is the art of noticing things without the distraction of thinking and judgement; the art of empirical observation. Paying attention is very simple. It is so simple in fact that it is usually overlooked by almost all of us but actually it underpins everything that we do. To begin with it can be a bit of a tricky skill to develop for it is easy to assume that you are paying attention when in fact your mind is wandering, but with regular training little and often, even small improvement can foster great benefits.
In terms of how we move and use our bodies it is our ability to pay attention that governs the quality of our actions. A good boxer in a bout, for example, focuses purely on what is happening; he pays attention. He watches and senses his opponent for any precursors to attack or discrepancies in his defence. He is completely in his body, engulfed by accurate real time sense perception. If his mind is dominated by thought then his performance is seriously impeded and a punch on the nose is the result; a sharp reminder to pay attention and not be distracted by thoughts.
A good example of not paying attention is when a person drives their car on a familiar route and then can’t recall anything about their journey upon arrival; they daydreamed all the way there. It’s when you’re not paying attention that you can get into trouble!
You can vastly improve how you use your body and therefore your health and fitness by paying attention to your body. Most people have very low levels of body awareness and because this is so common in our society it goes largely unnoticed. If I go running, for example, without paying attention to how I am running then I seriously hamper the quality of my movement because I ignore the vital feedback that my senses constantly deliver. This results in highly inefficient movement and usually injury at some point along the way. When I see a dogs out for a run in the park they always appear so happy, they just love to move and take joy in the process! However, I don’t think I have ever seen a human runner with a smile on their face. It is very curious.
In Tai Chi training we learn how to pay attention right from the very start and throughout our training, for it is fundamental to being able to relax, stay balanced and move really well. Sometimes the first and most important step in learning to pay attention is simply experiencing just how difficult it is to do. Unfortunately, most people give up at this point, however it is important to consider the implications of spending most of our time being unaware of what is happening both in and around us!
All of our new Tai Chi courses for beginners and improvers commence the week beginning April 13th and until then we have Tai Chi in the park every Saturday from 8-10am. All the details are on the website.