– interviewed by Instructor Lis
About twelve years ago, when they were living in Sydney, Frances’s partner became very ill. They explored various medical treatments including traditional Chinese medicine and it was through this that she became aware of Tai Chi. She attended a few classes in Bondi but was very disillusioned. She thinks now that was because the lessons weren’t well structured and consequently she found it very difficult to learn.
She and her partner moved to Canberra shortly after his recovery and in an attempt to become healthier, decided to try Tai Chi again. By contrast with her Sydney experience, the Tai Chi Academy classes gave Frances a sense that if she persisted she would learn.
“It gave me confidence. I’m not a very co-ordinated or focussed person so I’d stand at the back of the class to make it as comfortable and easy for myself as possible. I think a good school gives you the opportunity to learn if you make the effort. I think the Academy and its instructors are very good. It’s not a boastful organisation. It’s very accessible.”
They both began in 1999, learning the traditional Yang style. They reached refinement level (completed the whole form). However, after about eighteen months, they had to return to Sydney for further medical treatment for Frances’s partner. They continued practising the Yang style intermittently during this time. When they eventually came back to Canberra and started Tai Chi again in 2003, the Academy had switched to the Hun Yuan style. This was initially disappointing but they both began learning the new form.
With the Yang style, it is easy to move the arms without really moving the torso. In the Hun Yuan Tai Chi, the emphasis is on turning the waist and opening and closing the torso. Now Frances was using her body more to incorporate the bigger movements.
Frances began work as a nurse and like many nurses, had back trouble. Her problem began about 15 years ago with an injury. The underlying back issues surfaced due to her work and she stopped classes, although her partner continued. “For some reason, I didn’t equate the nursing work with the back pain. I don’t know why. It’s obvious now.”
“My partner got me back into it. The real cause of the pain was poor posture and being unfit and unhealthy. About two years ago, I started getting really bad pain in both feet. My toes went numb. I’ve discovered it’s related to my back. I have to do Tai Chi to maintain good posture and to keep my back strong. If that’s good, the pain in my feet goes away. For a while, I could only wear one pair of shoes. Now I can wear anything I like again. It’s amazing. People will probably think I’m mad to say it but Tai Chi has done that, I’m sure.”
“Tai Chi also particularly helps me cope better with difficult things, such as my partner’s ongoing illness. If I am practising Tai Chi during an exacerbation of his illness, I feel stronger physically and stay calmer. I can remain positive and have better control of my emotions (obviously the challenge is to continue to practise regularly, despite such disruptions to your life).”
Frances and her partner began learning Push Hands in Term 3, 2009. “It’s fantastic for improving posture, stance and the waist movement. I’ve learned a lot more about the form and body co-ordination. It’s really good because we can practise together. Everyone should take the opportunity to learn Push Hands. I’m hoping to try the Wu Dao Gong martial arts next term, too, although I’m a little apprehensive about how physically hard it will be. It is appealing because the people who learn that always seem to have a good sense of their bodies and be pretty fit.”
“I’ve never had a good sense of my body in space. Learning the movements of the form was really hard for me but I got slowly and incrementally better at it. My co-ordination has definitely improved. It was hard but interesting. I still have trouble remembering the sequence but it’s mainly a focus thing now. If my mind is scrappy, I forget where I am in the movements.”
Years ago, Frances did one of Lama Choedak Rinpoche’s sitting Calm Abiding Meditation courses. “I’ve always been interested in meditation. I’ve wanted to learn since I was about eighteen. I usually do sitting meditation practice, not the standing Qigong, although I am trying to do more of the latter at the moment.”
“I have never been a very focussed person. However, when I practise Tai Chi every day, my mind is much clearer and calmer. I feel physically and mentally more relaxed and confident. Tai Chi, together with the Calm Abiding Meditation practice, has a very positive effect on my life. I enjoy the Hun Yuan Qigong a lot and I think it is fundamental to my enjoyment of Tai Chi. It helps me relax, physically and mentally and get the feeling of Tai Chi. I find it harder to get this feeling doing the movements because the form is more complicated. However, this improves according to how much I practise both Qigong and the Tai Chi form.”
“In terms of learning the movements, I think the Chan Si Gong (the silk reeling joint exercises taught during the January break) also really helped to give me a better understanding of Tai Chi. We’re so lucky the Academy offers all these extra things.”
(This is an actual interview, but the name has been changed for reasons of privacy.)