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#405470 - 08/23/08 10:51 AM The flow experience in Tai Chi Chuan
Martin2 Offline

Registered: 06/23/06
Posts: 11
Hello Taichi Friends,

here comes a little article.
Would like to know, what you think.


Martin Boedicker

The flow experience in Tai Chi Chuan
Form Freya and Martin Boedicker

Tai Chi Chuan is often described as meditation in motion. With this feature, the simultaneity of physical action and the achievement of a meditative state of awareness, Tai Chi Chuan has become famous. This fusion of inner stillness and outer movement leads to a special feeling. One is in the here and now, highly concentrated. All the worries of everyday life are forgotten and it simply feels good. The own body, breathing and the change of movements are perceived without being focused on it. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi saw this kind of inner experience also in artists at their work. He named this state „flow experience“ and investigated it in further studies.

First results of his study showed that many artists even without the prospect of wealth or fame invested a considerable amount of time and effort into their artistic activity. None of the rewards, which are used in the normal working life to motivate employees (money, recognition) played a role. There was also no external motivation. The artistic act was done for its own sake. The motivation must be found in the characteristics of the activity itself. Thus one speaks of intrinsic motivation.

In his further work Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi investigated, which inner experience takes place when it is activated by intrinsic motivation and what factors affect the intrinsic motivation. He made a study with 200 people, who spend a lot of time with intrinisic motivated activities, such as playing chess, rock climbing, dancing, basketball and composing. It showed that many participants described their experience as a optimal state, where the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, as being in a "flow". Thus Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called it "flow-experience". The flow experience can be described in more detail with the following components:

The self and the activity become a unit
One is fully concentrated upon the activity
The thoughts move completely into the background
Enhanced perception of your own body and the environment
There is a sense of control of the current situation

In his further exploration of the flow experience Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found the following conditions for the flow experience necessary:

Fitting of the skill of the performer and the challenge of the task (not too difficult - not too easy)
Clear task
Fast feedback on the activity

I think a flow experience can also often be observed in Tai Chi Chuan. The theory by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi now gives us hints how to reach the flow experience easier in the practice of Tai Chi Chuan. Here are a few suggestions:

Define a clear task before the training, e.g. I try to relax the shoulders.
I choose forms or movements which fit to my current physical and mental situation.
When practicing individual movements, I try to get a feeling for the movements and correct them if necessary.

In addition to improving one‘s own practice you can also modify the learning of Tai Chi Chuan in such a way that a flow experience can be experienced. Conditions are here:

The movements to be learned fit in their level of difficulty to the skills of the student.
The depth of the correction fits to the skills of the student.
The correction of a movement must be clearly defined.
There must be a fast feedback on the exercise by the teacher or by one‘s own feeling

The flow experience in the Tai Chi group is certainly something very special. Is it not often like this: The slower the movements, the greater is the inner experience and the faster the time runs.

#405471 - 08/27/08 12:17 AM Re: The flow experience in Tai Chi Chuan [Re: Martin2]
Ed_Morris Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 11/04/05
Posts: 6772
interesting reference to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi - I hadn't heard of his work before. Thanks.

In your opinion, following his 'flow experience' observation (which it sounds like something I'd agree with, btw), my question would be: how does someone know when a flow experience starts turning into an obsession? Since, obsession can take years to form, it's not always self-evident and could conceptually creep up on someone who instead chooses to justify their obsession as a flow experience. - or - instead of obsession, the flow experience is used to subconsciously (or consciously) justify using it as a self-promoting part of the 'flow experience' gets redirected to a bank account.

it's almost as if honest self-awareness has to go hand-in-hand in order to maintain the self-check and balance.

for me, and others I've talked to about their non-profiting passions, tend to keep the real passions to themselves or with close friends as part of the personal satisfaction and without ulterior motivation or profit - making something your own without selling or advertising it. because if it's *really* just for yourself, then why try and spread it? defeats the purpose of what Csikszentmihalyi seems to be observing.

If someone really enjoys fishing to the point of it being a flow experience, it would be without the consideration whether or not fish are actually caught - since it's the act itself they are flowing with. compare that to someone who says their enjoyment is fishing, but they plan to sell the fish they catch. subconsciously (or consciously) they have the goal of catching fish to be profitable, it's at least partially on thier mind. that, to me, doesn't seem like the same experience.

so...what type of -fishing- are you doing?

just a thought...for self-awareness.

#405472 - 08/27/08 04:13 AM Re: The flow experience in Tai Chi Chuan [Re: Ed_Morris]
Martin2 Offline

Registered: 06/23/06
Posts: 11
Hell Ed Morris,

thanks for your great reply and that you took so much time for it.

Here in Germany I am a professional Taichi-teacher. My wife is one as well, but before she was a teacher for paedagogics. So she showed me the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, because in his further work he asked, how the flow-experience can help the teacher or the students to learn. Being in flow, one learns natural, often repetition of the same task is a joy. I saw the same phenomen in our Taichi-classes and thought, it would be a good idea to talk about flow. So this was my original purpose of writing these article.

so ... what type of fishing am I?

When I started Taichichuan with Ma Jiangbao I was a student for chemistry. Ma Jiangbao was for two years in Germany and I enjoyed the time very much. Then he had to leave to Holland and I went there every week. But I had to go alone and training alone in Germany. This was quite sad, because I already enjoyed doing pushhands a lot. So I asked Ma Jiangbao for the permission to teach and started with two of my friends. This was a great improvement for my pushhands training and it attracked more people. So it grew and after having done my phd in biochemistry I decided to try to be a professional Taichi-teacher.

Yes, her comes the problem of making money with an art. If you want to make money as a biochemist in industry and one has a family there is not much time left to develop Taichi on a higher level. So I decided to try to earn money with Taichi and still keep the balance to teach properly.

Till today this is a hard task. It is a wonderful job, but not easy to keep the balance. One has to earn money to live (we better do not talk about getting rich - I drive a small Renault), but one does not want to sell his art.

Luckily I have a good wife, a good teacher and very good taichi-friends. They all take good care of me. Of course one makes mistakes - that is live - but with the help of others, one can find the way back (I hope).

just a thought ... for self-awareness

Taichichuan is a great art, with self-awarness as its foundation. To bring self-awarness into your job is a diffcult task, but can bring you a full live.

Isn't it sad to live an empty job-live and find you real passion only in your hobby?



Edited by Martin2 (08/27/08 04:18 AM)

#405473 - 08/27/08 07:47 AM Re: The flow experience in Tai Chi Chuan [Re: Martin2]
Ed_Morris Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 11/04/05
Posts: 6772
There is another way: choosing a profession that happens to pay well and enjoying it at a flow experience level.

I wonder if all ex-biochemist taichi hippies are actually happy - or is being poor, reliant and happy part of the image they wish to project? I saw your spear video - I'm thinking you may have been better at biochemistry than as self-promoter.

anyway, good luck with the taichi thing. btw, unfortunately, there isn't suppossed to be self-advertising on the forums, but it seems rediculous to enforce with all the ads invading the space here. so I don't think your self-promotion and recruitment tactics will be a problem.

take care and thanks for the interesting Csikszentmihalyi reference.

#405474 - 08/27/08 12:27 PM Re: The flow experience in Tai Chi Chuan [Re: Ed_Morris]
Martin2 Offline

Registered: 06/23/06
Posts: 11
Hello Ed Morris,

thanks for your honest reply.

You are right: a profession which happens to pay well and gives you the experience of flow is best.

Let's see what the future brings.



#405475 - 09/07/08 10:07 PM Re: The flow experience in Tai Chi Chuan [Re: Martin2]
Ed_Morris Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 11/04/05
Posts: 6772
good luck with your business.


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