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Memory problems

A lot of adults worry about problems with their memory. Sometimes they may have legitimate reason to be concerned.
However, the problem often lies with expectations and use of the brain, not with the functionality of memory itself


Memories are recorded all the time. It is an involuntary process. The more frequently you perform an activity or a situation, the more readily accessible the memory will be.

We are checking our smartphones on average 221 times a day. Recent research found that 80 percent of millennials look at their phones upon waking; this addiction is a strong one. As a result, our cognitive processing has become shallower and we have become so distracted that we play directly into the hands of the autopilot. Digital devices are the modern day equivalent of tranquillisers. They instil a trance-like state almost immediately as they are anchors for our subconscious to take over. 

(Chris Barez-Brown)


People have naive expectations regarding memory. We usually remember what we need for day-to-day functionality.
The name of somebody we worked with 10 years ago is simply not relevant since we do not encounter them with any regularity.
What did you eat for your evening meal on the 15th of August three years ago?


Scientific studies have proven that human memory is far from reliable. Even events that we imbue with great significance are always remembered partially.
Plus, we change. How we see the world alters as we grow, experience, reflect and re-evaluate.
Could the viewpoint of a child conceivably be compared to that of an adult? Are your childhood memories remotely accurate?


Most people compartmentalise their tai chi training. They attend one lesson a week and do no training at home between lessons.


When the student thinks about class on the day of class their brain begins to refresh the components associated with the tai chi class.
By the time the individual arrives at class, they are once more familiar with tai chi, the class and what to expect. But the memories from the previous week are a little sketchy.


One danger in a tai chi class lies with copying other students or seeking to copy the teacher. This is a major folly. Copying is lazy.
You are relying upon somebody else's memory rather than exercising your own. By cheating you are not learning or understanding anything.

Daily practice

A tai chi student who trains every morning between lessons is far more likely to remember the art than a student who only practices once a week in class.
The movements and exercises are familiar because they do them every day. Frequency creates habit patterns in the body.

Muscle memory

One major advantage of consistent on-going home practice is the cultivation of muscle memory. Rather than having to recall every movement, the exponent's body knows where to go and what to do.
This is the first step in moving in a tai chi way... What's the catch? To accomplish this, frequent, mindful practice is needed. There's no other way to attain this skill.
The more often your body performs tai chi movements, the more likely it is to remember them automatically.


High repetition of qigong and tai chi movements results in muscle memory. The muscles are familiar with how and where to move and the brain directs the action.
It will feel as though they moved by themselves. This is essentially no different to what happens when you drive a bicycle or a car.
However, with tai chi you are learning long, complex sequences of movements/combat drill/applications, so the challenge is greater and more diverse. The advantage of muscle memory is habit.
You do not have to think as much. You can become immersed in the event itself.

Class time

The student who practices on a daily basis does not attend weekly lessons for a reminder/refresher. Instead, they seek new material, corrections, refinements and insights.
Each lesson is deeper and more productive.


Class time can be used more productively when your mind is actually on the task at hand.
If you are worrying, watching the clock or thinking about something else then your brain is not going to be remembering things too well. Meditate. Bring your mind back to what you are doing.
If your brain is anticipating something or you are daydreaming, what exactly are you trying to remember at a later date? The activity itself, the train of thought or the daydream?


Reading The Tai Chi Classics and more challenging theoretical books such as The Art of War, The Way of Chuang Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Tai Chi Theory & Martial Power, The Book of Five Rings will prompt your brain to engage with the tai chi to a greater degree.
You invest more time and energy. By thinking, contemplating and seeking to incorporate discoveries into your tai chi, the art occupies a larger part of your memory.
Not only is memory involved, but the also problem-solving part of the brain. Over time, your consciousness changes and you begin to see the art quite differently.


Beyond study is the pursuit of specific lines of inquiry. You scour the web or read your books seeking a particular piece of information (i.e. what is peng?).
Or you want to compare different approaches, insights or practices. Once again, this process of engaging more fully assists in both your learning and your recollection.

Anecdotal stories

Anecdotal stories provide an opportunity to look at tai chi/martial arts practice in a more entertaining way. Rather than study in earnest, you can read quite casually and just enjoy the story.
There are lessons to learn, things to avoid and ultimately your knowledge may deepen in scope.
Examples: There Are No Secrets, Steal My Art, Gravity Never Stops, Zen in the Martial Arts, The Power of Internal Martial Arts, Chinese Boxing and Moving Zen

Application in daily life

The strongest way to help your memory recall the tai chi is to take the principles and insights into your everyday life. Make use of the art. Do not compartmentalise it.


Page created 18 March 1997
Last updated 16 June 2023