The first time I stepped into a Tai Chi class, I wasn’t sure it was the right activity for me. Tai chi is a slow motion exercise program that associates meditation and body movements.
I was stuck in my emotional vortex with a painful back and a bubble of lava in my stomach. When you feel like this:
it doesn’t look like you could fit in a class where slow motion is the maximum speed authorized.
Yet, we don’t go to the gym because we have lost weight; we go to the gym to lose weight, right? So, I decided to give it a try.
Jim, the Tai Chi instructor, welcomed me with a warm smile and gentle encouragement. I am the youngest in the class. Great, I just enrolled for a sport for older folks. Participants talked about their pain and explained why they chose Tai Chi. Mostly it is because Tai Chi helps them improve their balance, and their strength and flexibility. They laugh and they have sparkles in their eyes. They took the class seriously, but as Jim would say later, they smile about it. After all, we are here to relax and enjoy ourselves. Now, I felt stiff and rusty.
Jim put some Chinese music on, and I relaxed. We started to breathe, a large breathe accompanied with slow movement of our arms. I stopped thinking and followed his directions. I grasped the moon and reached for the sun, breathing in, breathing out. I stretched my arms to take a bowl, in and out deeply. I let the air flow, trying not to hold it while I was grabbing earth and turning to heaven. I even served tea to a dragon. Not bad for a person stuck in a tornado, is it?
These movements are supposed to help us take the energy, the chi, that surrounds us, that is in us and that connects us to the universe and all living things. By moving slowly, putting, as Jim said, my intention in every movement, I had a glimpse of the way my muscles functioned and the process that made every part of my body connect to each other. I was focused and forgot about the tornado.
I learned about the Qigong set of animals that include the tiger, the deer, the bear, the monkey, and the crane. I stretched again my muscles, trying to be as flexible, graceful, strong, agile, and elegant as those animals. I put all my thoughts and sensations into my moves, secretly hoping for no deer watching by the widow. It was like dancing on a cloud. I felt like this:
Not yet a graceful bird, but it was a good beginning.
We ended the session by five minutes of standing meditation.
Usually, I am very bad at meditating. My eyes look at a point and I focus on it to force my thoughts to stop. The more I think about my thoughts having to stay still, the more they turn, roll and create their vortex. It is hard for the head to concentrate in the middle of a tornado.
After Tai Chi, the tornado was still active, but less fast and less destructive. The slow breathing, the slow movements, the slow animals’ dance were more in control of it. I still had my bubble of lava in my stomach, but I had the feeling if I could slow down my vortex, I would transform it into a bubble of pure and positive energy. Of course, I would need to practice, but I was ready to try it.
If you too have your head in an emotional tornado, maybe it is time to find a way to slow it down. Maybe you feel like you cannot do that, or that you don’t have even a few minutes a day to focus on your breathing, or the idea of looking like a hippo dancer doesn’t appeal to you. I get that. I know those excuses, I had them for years and the hippo dancer was not the worst I could find.
However, I also know that we can cultivate a relaxed mind and put aside for few minutes those thoughts that erode our energy, and weaken our bodies. If we start by putting some intention on our everyday movements, and focus on our breathing, we can learn to slow down. A few minutes here, and a few minutes there, at the end of a week can make a big difference. Tai chi really helps me realize that.
Why not you? Wouldn’t you like to learn to dance on a cloud?