Monday, September 19, 2011

Tai Chi and Me

Tai Chi Circle Drill

I'm half-way around the world and learning new things and trying new things almost on a daily basis.  I started out this Monday morning at 8:15 am with an outdoor Tai Chi Class. 

An ancient Asian exercise system, Tai Chi uses slow, smooth body movements to achieve a state of relaxation of both body and mind.  It is also a martial arts form, but not on day number one in Nanjing, China.

Tai Chi uses the following moves:

  • Slowness. To develop awareness. 

  • Lightness. To make movements flow. 

  • Balance. To prevent body strain. 

  • Calmness. To maintain continuity. 

  • Clarity. To focus the mind

  • Four of us faced east in a courtyard on what is the first breezy and cool day in Nanjing in months. The lack of humidity was awesome and a light jacket proved a necessary accessory.   The breeze was cleansing and Du Yi Sheng (Dr. Du) contorted my arms in a circle of fluid motion.  I closed my eyes to help memorize the movement and feel the satin-smooth breeze.  This took me to a place I like to go to when I'm outside looking at a rising moon or a setting sun.  I can't help but reflect that this will be the SAME moon and sun that my family and friends across the planet will see within 12 hours or less, day or night.  Today's China morning breeze was commissioned to speed along my windy wish that all is well with each of you.

    That thought process seemed to coincide with the "flow" that Du Yi Sheng was demonstrating.  Allow the energy from the air and wind and earth to fill your extremities with life. Inhale slowly and exhale completely. Unclench your hand, spread your fingers and reach. Let life's energy enter into each finger and breath. Don't clutch life with a clenched fist or jaw, allow life to flow into you. Plant your feet on solid ground from which energy flows. It felt like meditation with some very structured, yet fluid movement.  


    Many of the moves were done in rotating circles.  Significant to the circle of life and the way energy should flow throughout each of us, back to the earth and back to us again.  Du Yi Sheng chanted some of this with each circular move,  "Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter."  "Morning, Noon, Evening, Night."  "Yi, Er, San, Si." (one, two, three, four)

    Tense shoulders are the norm for me.  I wasn't surprised that he caught on to this and asked me to "loosen your shoulders" which I did immediately each time he said it.  What surprised me was how quickly my shoulders would tense up again without me recognizing it.  Politely, he would repeat the command.

    Du Yi Sheng was 'hell-bent' on having my shoulders relaxed and my feet planted firmly on Pearl S.Buck's Good Earth*.  My spine should remain erect, my face forward and my elbows bent and moving as I breathed in and out with my tongue gently placed at the top of my upper palate.  That's about 5 more directions then I can accomplish in a 7-direction command, by the way.  Oh...and don't forget to give a wee smile. Tan gardeners walked past in their straw hats pulling green two-wheeled carts and didn't even smirk at today's show. That's composure, people.

    Then came the balancing act of having one leg with knee bent balancing and dangling in the air as the other was planted on the ground.  Believe it or not I could do this.  Not for a LONG time, but I could do this.  He walked in front of each of us to test our "dangle."  We all passed without skinning our noses on the cement.

    This may sound like a generalization but it is descriptive to say that many Chinese people are not gentle with words or volume.  They almost "bark" at each other as they speak. They aren't necessarily angy with each other, they just communicate this way.  Our instructor was much different in his speech and actions.  Never a scowl...never a loud or sharp tone.  That alone was refreshing and makes me want to go again to his Tai Chi session. 

     He said to me as I left, "You be sore in the night time but you sleep very good."  

    My dear neighbor who invited me to the class said, "Carol, this is such a gentle 'sport' that you could do it in a wheelchair."

     Let's hope it doesn't come to that by sunrise....

    Thanks for Reading,




    Becca said...

    So I read this post about YOUR exercise routine just after I finished MINE, which consisted of pounding my feet, pumping my arms, and generally exerting myself so my heart was pounding and sweat dripping off my nose.

    Quite different, huh?

    But pretty indicative of the different philosophies in East and West. Over here, it's always go-go-go, work harder, faster, drive yourself to the max.

    Are we teaching that way of life to the Chinese, Along with our manufacturing and business techniques? Or will they be more successful in teaching us how to slow down and pace ourselves to be healthier and more productive?

    At any rate, your tai chi class sounds like a very graceful and healthy way to start the day :)

    Jim Rowan said...

    I don't think i'd allow some guy to walk in front of me to "test my dangle". HA!

    sparky said...

    I loved my past encounters with yoga and tai chi...but exercising outdoors and with a real Chinese teacher..that sounds thrilling!

    Allison D. said...

    Love hearing all about your adventures! Oddly enough, in ballet and Bar Method, my teachers always push remind me to "relax my shoulders" or come over to push them down. Like mother, like daughter, eh?