– interviewed by Instructor Lis
Catherine’s interest in Tai Chi goes back to the early 1980s when, as a school teacher, she organised classes for some of her students. “They fizzled out after a while. I can’t remember why but it wasn’t very successful.”
Her next Tai Chi experience was in 1995, travelling in China. “My friends and I joined in with a group in the park — me with my patchy knowledge from the lessons at school eleven years before. It was embarrassing. The instructor came and moved us into the positions because we were so bad at it.” Catherine is laughing when she tells me this.
Many years later, when she retired from the public service, having moved there from teaching, she retrained as an English Second Language (ESL) teacher and spent the first half of 2005 in Hang Zhou, teaching medical English to specialist doctors. More laughter and some very funny anecdotes unrelated to Tai Chi. “That was an experience! But every day on the way to work, I’d walk past groups of people practising Tai Chi. Mostly old ladies. It looked beautiful. When I returned to Canberra, I started classes with the Academy.”
“I’d practised yoga but I often went to sleep lying on the floor in the meditation and the teacher would have to wake me up to continue the class. I was surprised by the emphasis on the meditation in the Tai Chi lessons. I hadn’t realised Tai Chi had that element so strongly but it wasn’t the reason I started, or even why I continue.”
Catherine has no physical problems and is slim and active in her mid sixties, but as she ages, she knows her joints are stiffening and that arthritis could be creeping into her fingers. “I haven’t done any of the extra workshops or courses because I’ve never had the time, but I think the Tai Chi Bang would be a good one in the future. My partner has done a couple of terms of Tai Chi in the past, but he should continue because he has a bad back.”
“I don’t practise but I think about Tai Chi. I visualise the movements when I’m in bed, and it helps me get back to sleep if I wake in the middle of the night. I don’t think I’ve ever thought my way through the whole form before I’m asleep again. I have a really strong left/right confusion, so the visualisation helps a lot when I come to do the movements.”
“I found Tai Chi incredibly challenging because of my lack of co-ordination and I think I did Level 2 about five times! It’s made me aware of my lack of gracefulness. Sometimes I wonder why I keep coming to classes but one reason is, I think, it’s a huge achievement for me to have finished the form. And I enjoy it. There is always so much to learn although as a teacher, I often think we must be very frustrating for the instructors when there isn’t much progress and they say the same things over and over again.”
Like many students, Catherine is disorientated when the Refinement class focuses on separate movements. “I can never work out quickly where we are in the form and the context of the particular sequence. The other thing I find hard is to stay in synch with the group when we do the form. It seems to be a paradox that we need to get the movements right without relying on following others but to stay together as a group. I often think I’m going along really well and then discover someone is ahead or behind me which is confusing. I also often feel I’m like a bridge between two halves moving at different paces, though am not confident in my ability.”
Catherine now works as an electorate officer for a Member of Parliament – a job which can be very stressful and demanding. “Sometimes I just get up from my desk and do some calming breaths. My co-workers don’t join me even though I suggest they do. But they don’t laugh at me either. Knowing those relaxation techniques is a really good anchor.”
Good News! Now you can learn Tai chi from your home. We are offering a series of Tai Chi Online Courses for all countries.
(This is an actual interview, but the name has been changed for reasons of privacy.)