Tai Chi is an internal martial art that improves one’s health, focus, strength, and balance. It covers every part of the body, and is known to ease tension of the mind. In the words of my teacher, Master Alex Dong, “Tai Chi and Qigong are also practices that can improve our way of living; the principles and movements are something we can use in everything we do.”
When I started practicing with master Alex 15 years ago, I was not aware of how many Tai Chi forms one can choose to learn. As Sifu says, “The slow movements are the key to learning to develop awareness of movement to gain a better connection of the mind and body.” This I found easy to accept, having been immersed in mind-body connection with so many other movement disciplines. But, what I didn’t expect was that developing this awareness –through slowness- would also be the key to learning to move quickly, and with more precision.
In Tai Chi, some forms are fast. Some forms are sharp. Some are more energizing. Some require the dexterity of holding and using weapons, and all require A LOT of self-knowledge. Through practice, a student learns that when the mind is calm, the body can adapt to so many different requests on command. That is one beautiful possible definition of “flexibility.” And because Tai Chi holds the principle of inclusivity at its very core, all ages and ability levels are practicing these movements together, at the same time, and the same pace.
This is not easy. Having to hold a steady soft focus while staying present and moving slowly and together is one of the hardest and most rewarding things I try to keep myself accountable to. But I see so much benefit, and that is what inspires me to keep practicing, learning, growing, and teaching.
I practice because as a physical therapist I can’t help but notice how many people there are in my Tai Chi school who inspire me. I’ve watched a woman in her 90’s balancing on one leg while holding a sword overhead. I have seen disabled friends and classmates whom, when I sit to rest on a nearby bench, are strong enough to keep on going. I see people of all shapes, ages, and sizes practicing, and have often said about these strong role models, “I know who I want to be when I grow up.” My grandmother also practiced Tai Chi in her 90s. Like all of the strongest people I know, she was literally exercising until the end of her life.