Dangers of Overusing Images in Movement Arts

Images are very helpful and are used in many movement arts such as dance, Yoga, acting, sports, and T’ai Chi. Such images are provided to beginners so that they can have something to remember and practice. However, imagery is only a tool, which can become problematic when used beyond a certain point. An example of an image used in T’ai Chi is the idea of “swimming on land,” which involves doing the T’ai Chi movements while imagining the air to have the consistency and resistance of water. After continued practice, the air is said to feel like iron (see article). Other T’ai-Chi examples are imagining holding a ball, imagining your head suspended from above, and imagining your center of gravity to be far below the ground.

The problem is that imagining something untrue involves self-deception. Then, sustaining the desired state provided by the image requires continuing that deception, which is limiting to our understanding and becomes inefficient because it requires the continued, unnecessary use of the conscious mind. The conscious mind is slow and can only deal with one thing at a time. Instead, it is better to see things as they are; namely, just learn how to achieve the benefit provided by the image but without the need for it. Then the subconscious mind, which can deal with myriad tasks simultaneously, can take over, and you can own the principle instead of having to rely on an artifice.

Using an image beyond its usefulness also involves a preconception and violates the principles of non-intention and being in the moment (see article). Being attached to an image then masks sensory input and creates an obstacle to ever getting past the image to the next level.

Consider the image of holding a ball between the palms of the hands. This image is useful in remembering landmarks within the movements and also is helpful in helping students to recognize the sensation of ch’i (see article). Students initially taught this image tend to use it even when they become advanced in their practice. The result is that, instead of experiencing the natural swing of their arms in doing such moves as “Ward Off Left,” they reach for an imaginary ball with their hands. Having that intention involves being in the future instead of the moment and prevents them from experiencing the natural swing of their arms in doing that movement, That incorrect action then carries over info other similar movements.

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