Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tai Chi Or Chai Tea?

I have been going to Tai Chi classes for quite some time now. I think this summer it will be two full years.

I can honestly say I have no idea how stressed, cranky and unhappy I would be without it.

I generally go twice a week - Tuesday and Thursday mornings - for about an hour or so. We stretch and do some breathing exercises. Then we walk, and then we start our first section. All of that may not make any sense, so here is the breakdown:

Stretch - well, everyone should know what this is. It's not that hard to do - we warm up our bodies, moving side to side, rotating our arms and shoulders and toes, taking care to remember our poor knees and our spine. I (and most of my family) have always been able to "crack" our necks - this is just one place I get to do it and no one looks alarmed (actually they might look a little jealous if they are not cracking!). Part of the way we stretch will focus on the breathing while we stretch. Reach up, breathe in. Reach down, breathe out. All controlled, at a steady pace - not a race to finish but a steady in and out to relax the body and clear the mind. One of my favorite stretches is for the toes. Place your weight on one foot, and lift the other so the toes only are on the ground. (Note: we do this barefoot or with socks on for best results). Then, rotate the toes 9 times in one direction and then 9 times in the opposite direction. Next, press down on your toes. Next, press down on your toes, but this time, you bend the toes backwards (crack!crack!crack!). Last, to stretch the ankle a bit, put the foot behind the one with the weight on it, and press with the toes backward. Then you switch and do the other foot. IT...IS...SIMPLY...AMAZING! You have now just given all of your internal organs a quickie massage (and you didn't know you doing anything but cracking your toes, huh?)

Next is the walk. Have you ever thought about how you walk? Remember being taught how to walk? I have no idea how I learned how to walk - and I do it everyday! (In fact, I have to do it now to walk Whiny Puppies - be right back!)


The tai chi walk is really no different than a 'regular' walk, but because you are now thinking about it, it suddenly becomes a challenge. The basic things to remember are to have your heel hit the floor first, to rock to your toes - not to land flat footed on the ground. It is not a march - STOMP, STOMP, STOMP, but rather a gliding. So, let's pretend. Start out putting your right leg out, heel touching the ground, rocking/gliding forward so your toes touch the ground. Shift your weight onto the right leg. Next, shift back and put your full weight on the left leg and lift your right foot up on the heel so you can pivot it 45 degrees to the right. Roll your foot forward so the toes (and heel) are now on the floor. Next, bring your right foot up to your left foot, with the toes touching the ground (not your heel or full foot). Next, step out and to the left a bit with your left foot, again having the heel touch down first and gliding forward to have the toes touch the ground. Shift your weight onto left leg and then shift the weight back to the right leg, lifting your left foot on the heel and pivot 45 degrees to the left.

I think it took me a month to get that down. Then my teacher added MOVING MY ARMS!! This is like the proverbial 'chewing gum and walking at the same time' thing. When I had felt confident about my walk, I suddenly couldn't go more than one step without falling into confusion.

I have a real admiration for the natural instinct that we as humans have to learn these multi-level steps to complete "simple" tasks such as walking, using our fingers/thumbs, how the body all works together. I have even more admiration for those going through physical therapy to re-learn those "simple" tasks after surgeries or health issues. It is not an easy thing to do.

Now I have several kinds of walks under my belt - basic, brush knee, monkey back (what fun that one is!), toe kick and heel kick. Some of them are better than others (my kicks still need work) - but it is a process and no one expects me to know them all and do them perfectly.

The next part of class is when we do "section one". In the type of tai chi I am learning, there are three sections, made up of over a dozen movements. I really like section one, for several reasons. One - it is the one I have done the most and am most comfortable with. Two - There are no kicks. Three - I have done it so often that I can concentrate on other aspects (breathing, flowing chi) and still complete the movements (in the correct order, too!). Four - there are no kicks (did I say that already? It bears repeating.)

I have completed Section Two at this point, although there are still rough patches and some stop and go times. I still think too much during section two - it is not memorized in my muscle yet. Of course, there are overlapping moves in section one and two, so sometimes when I am in section two I will inadvertently go into a section one move instead of the section two move I should do. I have heard it gets worse in Section Three - just slight changes from Section Two, plus some more kicks.

I have started Section Three over the past few weeks. The starting moves are straight from Section Two, so that has moved along well. I am learning the next set of new moves, which I know fairly well. I have been shown the next moves, and they are "repeats" out of section one or two (I can't remember), but I haven't done them enough to even say I know what they are for sure.

The time spent on Tai Chi has allowed me to get away from my busy thoughts - to concentrate on the basics of breathing - to have a mini vacation twice a week. I will practice my breathing if I start to feel anxious about something or if someone is aggravating me. I am known to be a big crier - everything from TV Commercials to books to music to church sermons. I have visualized the tai chi walk in those moments, and have found that I can control my emotions from overwhelming me.

But... as to the title of this post... Tai Chi or Chai Tea... it gets so mixed up in my head that I often ask Hubby to make me a cup of Tai Chi after dinner. Hey - you try saying them both and not have them sound awfully similar!

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