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Tai Chi Chuan Part Two: Miss-conceptions

I knew absolutely nothing about Tai Chi the day I walked into the gym where my Tai Chi Chuan course is being taught. All I thought I knew was that it had something to do with stress relief and they'd used it to help with health benefits. I thought most of it had to do with arms, and that it was like a Chinese version of ballet. I laugh as I think about it because I really didn't know what I was talking about.

Due to many reasons which I won't get into here I didn't start class the first day it started. It's offered once a week and I came to the second class. I arrived a few minutes early and met the student who is helping me and the two instructors. I knew the class would be challenging when, after shaking my hand, my instructor told me how I'd need to stand. It fit exactly with what my physical therapists have been working on for a year and she picked up on the tightness in my lower back quickly. The more I heard, the more scared I became.

Tai Chi is actually a lower body art. It has a lot to do with how weight is shifted, footwork and balance and coordination. Obviously, I figured out pretty quickly that I was in for a challenge. Part of me wanted to walk out without even trying my first class, but my need for a credit and my desire to learn Tai Chi, even if only because I had no other choices, kept me in class. By the end of that first class, I was tired, sore and very glad I'd stayed.

Practicing Tai Chi is like practicing another language or maybe a new style of writing, but instead of learning how to move your lips or string words together to form a sentence or blog entry, you move your whole body, string postures together to make a form and instead of studying to memorize grammar, we study principles which guide our practice of each exercise we practice. Just like our previous experiences with language influence our ability to learn a new language or even become a better writer using a style we've not used before, my physical challenges and strengths greatly impacted my ability to do Tai Chi Chuan.

As I mentioned, the first thing I have to learn to do differently is standing. I need to use my core muscles to keep my body upright. This is actually challenging because what I tend to do to stand and take the weight off of my sore foot is use my back and shoulders to carry my weight. In Tai Chi, a straight back is important and that means relaxing my lower back which tends to tense up, creating what looks like a hole in my lower back and tilting my pelvis backward. I also struggle with standing because of the weight-bearing. Putting weight on my RSDS/CRPS affected leg hurts and Tai Chi is very much about the weight-bearing.

It takes discipline to keep working on Tai Chi just due to the pain alone, but my anxiety also poses huge challenges to my Tai Chi practice. In reality, I have a lot to be anxious about: the pain of standing, anxiety about the pain from moving, the fear that I'm not good enough at Tai Chi concerns about what the other students think about me receiving extra help, worrying about whether I understand the movements correctly and a hundred other thoughts rush through my mind. Tai Chi is specifically good for anxiety because it is supposed to quiet the mind. What I ddidn't understand is that Tai Chi in itself can't take away my anxiety. Rather, my practicing and focusing on my Tai Chi is what helps with my anxiety because I actively relax my body and mind. It's the same as how biofeedback itself doesn't relieve pain, but rather the pain responds to the control of my mind and the physiological responses. Tai Chi is an internal art and that miss-conception I had, that Tai Chi is some magical thing that will take my anxiety away had to be challenged.
Those miss-conceptions have slowly gone away, and I'm glad they have. Next time, I'll share the joy and peace I've felt throughout the class and how those miss-conceptions have been challenged.

Comments

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jenandbronze
Mar. 29th, 2009 05:22 am (UTC)
I found reading your account of this experience quite interesting and fascinating.
ext_178826
Apr. 2nd, 2009 01:48 am (UTC)
Great write up and biofeedback regarding standing in taiji. While most assume it's easy to "just stand", few realize the difficulty in learning to relax in any structure. Good luck!
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