Positive lessons from a tai chi workshop go beyond the physical benefits
I attended a tai chi workshop this past weekend. I “play” Taoist Tai Chi™, a form a Yang style t’ai chi ch’uan. It offers many physical and health benefits, a discussion of which may merit a post of its own in the future. An intensive weekend of practice with a national or international level instructor can advance one’s tai chi and accelerate many benefits. That is what I was looking for in the weekend workshop, but I also took away a few life lessons.
- Things are not always what they seem. Someone who watches tai chi but has never done it may assume it is an easy, undemanding form of exercise. I know this not to be true. Tai chi, as we practice it, builds strength, flexibility, stability and endurance, as well as enacting a number of positive physical changes, and can be physically demanding. Knowing this, I worried about having the stamina and strength to last the weekend. I made it, but I was tired and had one of the best sleeps in a long time on Saturday night. Sometimes things are not what they seem on the surface and we need to look a little deeper to see clearly.
- We need to understand what we have been doing in order to change. Over the weekend, we worked on refinements to improve our tai chi. Sometimes the refinements seemed minor, but had a significant effect, such as the improved balance gained by keeping the arms a little higher. After practicing the change a few times, the instructor had us do it again, this time remembering what it was we did before. She said that if you don’t know what it was you were doing, you don’t understand the change and will revert back. This struck a chord, because in the synchronicity that can occur when the universe is trying to tell us something, my last post had been about changing habits.
- Don’t let a wall stop you. Attendance for the workshop was good. There were 63 of us. Sometimes, when doing the tai chi set, that seemed too many for the room. People at one end ran into the wall and couldn’t easily stretch out to complete a move. Instead of stopping because you cannot move as you’re used to, the instructor talked about adjusting your stance with a slight step backward and doing what you can until space opens up. And space does soon open up. The tai set is full of turns and we would soon be going in another direction.
- Sometimes when we think we deserve to take it easy, we actually need to work harder. When age or disability makes it more difficult for us to do something, it is easy to not try or to give ourselves permission to take it easy. The instructor said we need to do more, not less, to get the benefits and improve our abilities. Of course, there is a balance. We need to be aware enough of our bodies not to push at something that will do harm. But there is a lesson here about not being too “soft” on ourselves and giving up just because it is hard.
Tai chi is a “dual cultivation” art, which means it works the mind as well as the body. I should not be surprised that I took more away from the workshop than the physical.