Pearls of Juggling articles no. III – Taiji and yoga: philosophy and practice for juggling training

 

I’ve been immersed in this topic for quite some time.

How can Yoga and Taiji integrate with juggling? What can we learn from these disciplines that may help us to improve our juggling and increase its all-round benefits?

I’d like to share some thoughts with you and my hope is that these will allow you to get even more enjoyment out of your juggling and use it as a tool for transformation.

Yoga and Taiji are quite different disciplines yet they have much in common and, in my opinion, the different aspects work brilliantly together with juggling. I’ve been practising all three disciplines for the past two decades.

BALANCE. This is perhaps one of the most powerful aspects of Taiji and Yoga which can be immediately incorporated into our juggling training. On a basic physical level, balance means standing well on our legs. It means placing our awareness in the body. It also means playing with the boundaries of balance and not just remaining stationary on two legs the whole time. Balance is a dynamic state, not static: it’s something we have to continually check into. Balance activity and rest.

On a broader level it’s recognising what we’re doing and understanding the opposite.

As a simple example, if you typically juggle quite fast, consider trying out some slow tricks (and vice versa). Juggle high and low. It’s about finding a balance between the muscles that are actively working and those that are relaxed. As I often mention, cats can be great teachers in this regard. It means being focused on what you’re doing and on what’s around you.

Not too much of one thing.

This means having a balanced training session, which includes developing many different skills and cultivating various aspects one after the other. Balance the high dynamic energy of juggling training with periods of total rest. Listen to the body afterwards and beforehand.

To make sure we train in a complete way we could find it useful to cycle periodically from one aspect to another, so that in the span of a year or so we touch upon everything that otherwise would just not fit into a daily training session.

Work with body throws and catches all around you. Stalls and rolls. Movement. Longer runs of tricks. Working with precision, looking for variations, working on combos and sequences, staying with tricks until you get them, working with feet and head, working blind, fast/slow, high/low, wide/narrow and all sorts of opposites… are you getting the idea?

Train for an hour to music, or in silence (perhaps silencing the phone too).

Sometimes the most random tricks help to master others where perhaps we’ve got a little stuck. We might not even have thought about it this way before.

Change is always refreshing for the mind. Zapping, however, isn’t useful, as we need to go a little deeper before changing trick or prop in order to get the full extent of our brain involved.

Essentially, I suggest training and playing with what you enjoy but without being superficial.

This concept of balance is followed very closely by HARMONY. Living harmoniously, moving harmoniously, and thinking harmoniously.

Harmony has to do with being incredibly present and aware during our movements. It means listening to what we are doing, witnessing, removing the superfluous, and living lightly.

Echoes of movement

I’ve noticed that when I listen to my body after high intensity training, my mind is full of nervous impulses. Echoes of movements. Take time out after training, and also take breaks in between, can be very beneficial to our juggling. Don’t just grab for the phone or move on to the next activity – breaks also help us calm down and integrate and elaborate the mental data we’re accumulated in training.

All that wonderful energy we used in our juggling session is thus allowed to come back to us, recharging us.

Think of light stretching, a state of total relaxation, of letting go of all the effort, laying down or perhaps just watching some children and animals playing. Watch the wind in the trees; observe the clouds passing by.

Then INTEGRATION: becoming one with what you are doing.

Taiji and yoga aren’t the same discipline. I know both quite well, and I also know how much I still have to learn. They both work on developing “ourselves as a whole” to extremely high levels. They have different means of doing this, which I’ll delve into shortly.

Further similar aims are the quieting of the constant mental chatting and the cultivation of a deeper mind and an expanded awareness.

Taiji and yoga have pretty high goals, as you’ll quickly discover if you study the ancient texts in depth. However, as opposed to western philosophy, they are extremely practical and intertwined with living life. In Taiji, the Taoist Philosophy of the Tao, Tao is that thing that can’t be talked about, meaning it’s not a rational concept but something to be lived, based on the alternation of Yin and Yang, searching for the centre or middle point between the two. Yin being a passive, listening force, soft and gentle, while Yang is more active, harder and more dynamic. This is realised and experienced in the body and mind through Taiji practice. There’s more to it, naturally, but this is what lies at the heart of it.

Taiji tends to be a little more poetic, and texts like the Tao Te Ching can be a great inspiration for juggling. Tao philosophy is full of opposites and paradoxes to bypass the ordinary mind. Seeing juggling in this light can be a beautiful experience.

Yoga philosophy is a continual reflection of the self, penetrating right into our very being. It’s a total integration of our mind and body with the whole universe.

Taiji deals a little more with movement than yoga, but despite this, how you move from one position to another is very important even in a series of static poses.

I find Taiji and “preliminary” Qigong exercises very helpful for juggling and movement work. Yoga is very useful for more static work, for releasing tension, creating space, raising energy levels and finding the time to listen.

They both have an excellent way of balancing the body and loosening muscles. Taiji works on a more evident mental level, which can be useful for juggling – but in a perhaps less well-known way, yoga also offers a powerful visualization component to training.

Both disciplines deal greatly with the activation of the sensory part of the brain, expanding and rendering our nervous system extremely sensitive.

Juggling may seem a physical activity but it stimulates an incredible amount of brain activity. The nervous system is greatly involved and constitutes an extension of the brain into the body. Both systems are interested in a spherical awareness around us. Starting with being aware of the space in front of us and behind, left and right and above and below. Slowly this awareness becomes a sphere all around us. This can be very helpful in juggling practice, improving and making more instinctive throwing and catching, while increasing stage presence.

Flow

Another common aspect in all three activities is the hunt for the state of FLOW. We become present with what we are doing, it feels great and for the length of our practice we don’t think of anything other than what we are doing.

This is a truly beautiful space to be in. In my opinion, yoga and Taiji can help us become more aware of how to activate this state every time we train and practice.

Perhaps this is why we ultimately love juggling so much. This state cleans and focuses our mind.

This leads to an altered state of consciousness, a highly focused state very close to meditation. Yoga and Taiji, with their thousands of years of experience, know how to access deeper and deeper levels.

Yoga and Taiji can help to see the body in a different way. Seeing arms and legs, for example, as being connected to the whole body. Exercises are given to integrate limbs into the rest of the body as an extension of our core. Movements are seen as starting in the lower Dantian, a point just below the belly button, and from the feet. In juggling this can help us to throw with the whole body and take the pressure off our shoulders.

Great importance is given to being grounded. The legs and waist have weight and this weight gives lightness to the upper part of our body and our arms. Being grounded is an important part of reliable juggling.

The spine is incredibly important and the role of many of the exercises is to awaken just that.

Juggling as sacred art and discipline

We can dedicate our Juggling practice to something much bigger than ourselves. To nature, to the universe, to art, even God if that’s the name you give this universal principle. This can also help us to access more interesting states of mind and our ‘heart centre’. Dedicate more love to what you are doing. Yoga places great emphasis on not being attached to the “fruits of our labour”. Rather, it focuses on working passionately and being open to what arrives.

This helps by removing stress without becoming indifferent.

Moving on

Even just considering one or two aspects at a time of what I’ve been talking about in juggling training can make it a very different and more satisfying experience. Some things we may already do spontaneously but it’s a very different thing when we gain awareness and know the principles behind what’s happening. Juggling feels great and there are reasons for this. One is that, in a playful way, we use many parts of our being at the same time. It’s this development of the mind and body that starts to turn it into its own spiritual discipline.

To take it further, we may find adopting a “beginner’s mind” very useful.

A mind that is hungry to learn, that is curious and open – a mind that, the more it learns, the more it realises how much we still don’t know.

Being a know-it-all stops the learning process.

Please check out my other articles on Ejuggle:

Fluid Juggling: http://www.juggle.org/fluid-juggling-pearls-juggling-articles/

Finding the Game: http://www.juggle.org/finding-game-pearls-juggling-articles-2/

In my next article I shall post a video warm up, Taiji–style, that I use in my workshops.

Check out my Facebook page www.facebook.com/pearlsofjugglingthebook and sign up to my ML for updates on workshops and convention attendances http://eepurl.com/bXkU2P.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Anthony Trahair

Anthony Trahair is British and started throwing objects in the air while studying Chemistry at the University of Birmingham. Preferring balls to molecules, he set off on a voyage for Europe and arrived in Italy in 1997, where he developed a lasting passion for yoga. He has studied with numerous industry powerhouses and over 21 years of training he has introduced many upcoming jugglers to his special artistic blend. In 2003 he moved to Switzerland for three years to attend the prestigious Dimitri School of Physical Theatre. At age 40 Anthony dedicated himself to the creation of the ultimate book for jugglers, PEARLS OF JUGGLING, be they journeyman or professional, in order to properly explore the fusion of the art of juggling with other complementary art forms such as dance and yoga. When he can he looks after his vegetables, climbs trees and eats cherries.

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