I woke up this morning to my alarm at 7:30am. I turned it off, and was about to get up. And then I woke up again, this time at 8:30am. Oops. Fortunately, I didn’t have any real need to get up early. I just prefer to get up early enough so that I can finish my morning routine before noon!
It doesn’t sound like I do a whole lot (at least to me), but it always seems to take a couple hours at least. Anyway, that’s not what I want to talk about today.
When I did get out of bed, my body was sore and stiff. And once I was fully awake, my mind started running out of control. I don’t know if it was just the fact that I’ve only just recently returned from the trip to the River House, part of it might have been that it’s the day after Independence Day, it may have been thinking about my friends getting on a plane to Africa… I honestly don’t know what it was. All I know is that I felt really out of sorts and, in a lot of ways, exhausted.
I sat, doing my meds, and I tried to read to distract myself. Then I went online and checked my email and responded to a few. But nothing really brought me back to myself. Until an hour later, after breakfast, I started my Tai Chi. By the time I had finished my Tai Chi routine (which is four times through the basic 24 forms and takes about 25 minutes) all those thoughts had left me and I felt grounded and present. I also felt my energy come back into balance. The soreness and the stiffness in my body disappeared. The difference was remarkable.
I know I have written a bit about Tai Chi before, but I want to focus on what this practice is like for me, and why I have continued to do it every single day for over a month now.
I chose Tai Chi for two main reasons. The first was because I had been basically laying in a hospital bed for over a month, and my body wasn’t able to handle more strenuous exercise like running or weight lifting. I also chose it because I wanted an exercise routine that had a mental and spiritual component to it. Tai Chi fit the bill. It is low impact, and stresses muscle tone, flexibility, and the flow of “Chi”, or energy, through my body. The best part in my opinion? The discipline required to be able to move through a series of forms as slow as possible. That may seem odd to those of you conditioned to other forms of exercise. But if you think about something like weight lifting, proper form requires a four second extension and four second contraction of the muscle group you are trying to work. So if you are doing a bench press, you lift the bar from your chest – four seconds up, then four seconds down. Not exactly “as slow as possible”, but slower is better than faster.
Tai Chi is similar. The discipline of moving in what might seem to others as “slow motion”, requires focus, balance, and flexibility. And it requires one to be fully present. It is practically impossible to think about anything other than what I am doing right now when I am truly practicing Tai Chi. I notice that as soon as I start to let my mind wander, I speed up, rushing through the forms as if they are just something I am trying to get through in order to reach some abstract goal.
The wonderful thing about Tai Chi is that there is no abstract goal. The goal of Tai Chi is….to do Tai Chi. Sure, there are the secondary benefits that I listed above, like improvement in core strength, flexibility, balance, concentration, to name a few. But the main focus of Tai Chi is to learn to practice Tai Chi better. It is an end and a means in and of itself. Although Tai Chi began as a martial art, it has lost much of its use in that field. In a Tai Chi competition, competitors do not fight each other. The go through a series of complex forms in front of judges who score them on their speed, form, style, and posture. It is not about fighting against other people. It is more like fighting against the human tendency to step out of “now” into “then”.
The last, more abstract, benefit of Tai Chi that I am going to list here is the spiritual aspect of “Chi”. In traditional Chinese medicine, the energy that flows through one’s body is called Chi. It is comprised of two opposing forces, commonly called the Yin and Yang. They are opposites, like hot and cold. And when those forces are in balance, one’s Chi can be said to be “in harmony”. And when they are not balanced..well, that causes illness.
Tai Chi is said to help balance that energy in one’s body. And it is said to improve its circulation or flow. It may not make sense to those who haven’t tried it, but I can honestly say that I feel my energy change before, during, and after I do my Tai Chi.
And this morning, I went from being completely distracted with my mind and my energy scattered about, to being present and focused. Pretty amazing what doing pseudo-martial-arts movements really slowly can do!
Sorry for waxing on about this, but I felt like you all ought to benefit from my experience if possible. Try it sometime, you might like it.
Physical, mental, and spiritual – it’s all about balance.
- Tai chi helps brain grow, study shows (staradvertiser.com)
- Teaching tai chi (cloudandmountain.com)
- The Many Benefits of Tai Chi (everydayhealth.com)
- Bored With the Gym? Try Tai Chi or Yoga (everydayhealth.com)