I’m trying to learn Tai Chi – or actually, Qi Gong (no need to get technical but sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference) – and it’s turning out to be one of those why have I waited so long to do this? kind of experiences.
I love learning; in fact if I’m not in the process of learning something or other I feel that I’m in some way stuck, that the doors and windows of my life are closed and I’m not really alive. Like WordPresser Pamela Young, I’m a Magpie Learner – I tick all the boxes on her aptly described list of what makes a learner of this kind, and I love knowing there are others out there who feel that if they’re not learning they’re not living, and can’t wait to take on something new. But I’m not good at learning in a normal or formal way; I prefer to explore and discover, to root out and experiment, and this can be a meandering and unpredictable way of doing things.
In the end I found learning simple Qi Gong from videos was a great introduction. Once I’d spent time weeding out the good from the bad (and this took some doing, as I doggedly viewed my way through hours of YouTube footage, watching everything from home movies of performances against a backdrop of wild nature, to pedantic descriptions of how to stand in exactly the right way and use measuring devices to correct the angles of your arms and legs) I ended up with a short collection of clear demonstrations (and some fascinating background information) which means I can now practise simple moves and postures and be pretty sure I’m getting it right. I would love to learn at first hand from a good teacher, but for now at least I’ve got a road map, courtesy of some the best teachers there are through the medium of the internet (and I’ll put some links below).
There have been surprises. I hadn’t realised how just standing still in a certain way and sensing and releasing the tensions throughout your body can make you slide naturally into relaxation much more easily than, for me anyway, a sitting meditation can. And the slow, rythymic movements of Tai Chi automatically slow your mind down to the pace of your body – it’s as if you can feel the wheels engaging and then gradually, effortlessly moving together in a slow hypnotic descent. I’ve never felt anything like it – except when I’m walking slowly and aimlessly in the woods, being rather than doing, seeing and feeling rather than thinking. (Another discovery is that Tai Chi is said to be even more effective when practised out of doors and particularly under trees; I’ve tried this out and would swear it’s true. Ten minutes practice under an enormous spreading copper beech the other day and I felt I was walking on air, and even my eyesight was clearer. Colours were brighter. Everything looked crisp.)
The most unexpected thing of all has been finding that it simply makes me happy. I can’t understand why it should but it does, reliably and somehow without my noticing – until the realisation steals over me and I smile. Even the names of some of the movements make me feel good; White Crane Spreads Its Wings; Parting The Horse’s Mane; Calming the Waters of the Heart; and my absolute favourite – Immortal Paddles Boat. Yes, really! This one is an easy relaxation or song gong exercise; every time I even think about it I smile, and when I actually do it the smile often spills over into laughter. Its ridiculous; I feel like a child running in a playground, swinging on a swing, laughing for no reason. Immortal paddles boat. It’s wonderful.
Standing Qi Gong is a practice all of its own; you hold a position and ‘stand like a tree’, rooted, still, balanced, while at the same time staying relaxed and supple, simply noticing and accepting all sounds and sensations, being aware of energy. Now I not only walk in the woods and gaze at trees – I’ve found a way to exercise like one. Isn’t life extraordinary?
Various resources – in no particular order
Rolling The Ball by Dan Kleinman
5 YouTube Videos You Can Actually Learn From by Dan Kleinman
Daily Qigong – 4 minute exercise by Don Fiore
Tai Chi Standing Exercise from Beginners Tai Chi website
Qigong: the art of developing vital energy from shaolin.org