Oneness of Thought and Gesture

I’ve just finished writing up the handout for my sessions at the ACDA Eastern Division Conference next month.  It will be different from my session in Chicago, which was structured like a class with warm-ups and then teaching each movement, then putting them together into the full form.  For these sessions, one every morning of the conference, it will just be Tai Chi practice: getting together and doing the form, more like traditional practice.  That means you don’t need to be there for the full hour!  Just show up for twenty or thirty minutes at your convenience, then have your breakfast and go to the 8:00 session with an aligned body and peaceful mind.  It will be out in the open, in the pre-conference area, and doing the whole form over more effectively shows off how beautiful Tai Chi is at the same time as getting us high on Qi.

Oneness of Thought and Gesture: Tai Chi for Conductors

2012 ACDA Eastern Division Conference

Amelia Nagoski

The Form:

  • Open, Qigong breath
  • Push the Mountain, Wind in the Branches
  • Waving Hands Like Clouds
  • Harmonizing Yin and Yang
  • Embrace Tiger/Return to Mountain


Practice Etiquette

This session can be enjoyed without being present for the full hour.

  • Feel free to join any time!  Please do so in silence, and remember to silence your phone.
  • Feel free to leave any time!  Please do so in silence, and remember to enjoy the rest of your day.
  • You don’t have to know what you’re doing; just follow along!
  • I recommend at least three full repetitions of the form, which takes about ten minutes.  I feel my best after at least seven repetitions.


Practice Schedule (subject to change)















What is a “practice session” and how is it different from a Tai Chi class?

In China, people get up early and go to an available open space, join their friends, practice some Tai Chi, then go home and start the rest of their day.  There is no teacher or leader—they don’t need one!  If you’re new, you’re surrounded by people who have been doing the form for decades, so you just follow along.  A few decades later, as new people come, you are the expert that they follow.  The things you learn come naturally with time.

†When we do silent practice, it is in the spirit of this ancient approach to Tai Chi.  When we do it, just follow along, keeping your mind in the present by focusing on your breath and/or feeling your feet.  Keep your breath paced with your movements.  Sense your weight divided evenly across the ball and heel of each foot and notice how much of your weight is on the left and right feet respectively.

We’ve only got three days, not three decades; and I can’t surround you with people who already know the form.  So I talk to speed the process up.  I do not describe the movements I’m doing—just follow along and imitate what you see.  Perfect form is not the point; the point is to be mindful and to experience the connection between your mind and body as an isthmus that grows wider and stronger until eventually the two parts become one seamless entity.

There are many, many forms of Tai Chi, though there are movements and philosophies common to all of them. I’m not here to teach you any “definitive” Tai Chi form—there’s no such thing. The movements in Tai Chi for Conductors are selected for their usefulness to conductors. Rather than teaching you a form to memorize and perfect, the goal here is to give you the meditative experience and some memorable movements to take with you to practice beyond the conference.


What is Tai Chi?

Tai chi, also transliterated taiji, means “immense ultimate,” which isn’t even a noun! Roger Jahnke describes it as “the mutual interplay of opposites,” as represented by the traditional ying-yang symbol.  It is moving meditation in which the movement is a result of the intention behind it.


What do the Chinese words mean?

Qi, pr. [tʃi], is the life energy in us and around us. Other ways of describing it might be spirit, God, electromagnetic fields, The Force. The Chi in Tai Chi is a homonym of Qi.

Qigong is “Qi work.” Tai Chi is a form of Qigong that is practiced with a wider variety of movements and less repetition. “Tai Chi for Conductors” is an approach to Tai Chi practiced as Qigong.

Where can I find out how to study more Tai Chi like this?

Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi,; & The Healer Within, by Roger Jahnke

Living Tao Foundation,; & Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain, by Chungliang Al Huang

Omega Institute,


Also, my blog:

Or just come talk to me.

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2 Responses to Oneness of Thought and Gesture

  1. Mary Root says:

    Hi, Amelia, I stumbled onto your blog doing research for my own little blog. What great stuff! I am returning to the world of conducting after a seven-year hiatus (mommyhood beckoned!). I’ve been happily clicking around to your various posts after googling “mindful choral conducting.” As a practitioner of Tai Chi, I thought I might try some Tai Chi in rehearsal (I work with an auditioned community chorus). Do you ever use Tai Chi in rehearsal? This summer I decided that I needed to retool my tired choral warm-ups and read James Jordan’s book, and I am loving the immediacy of the kinesthetic gestures. They have taken well to those movements, and I think Tai Chi might work to undo some of their tension and alignment issues. Just curious to know if you incorporate any in your rehearsals.

  2. amelianp says:

    Hello! Yes, I use some tai chi explicitly in rehearsal, and I do a little guided meditation when it seems like it’ll help. More importantly, though, I think tai chi practice has informed my conducting implicitly, and thereby informs their singing. We have an explicit interest in the unity of intention and action, and tai chi is good practice for making that happen. It also reminds me that accuracy of pitch and rhythm is NOT my goal.

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