Perseverance with Tai Chi brings Great Rewards
– interviewed by Instructor Lis
Eight or nine years ago, a group of Mary’s friends decided a weekly dinner out would be a good idea. Someone suggested they do a Tai Chi class first and then go on to a restaurant. So, the foursome signed up at Dickson. For two terms, they went to Tai Chi, followed by dinner in Woolley Street.
As they advanced, unfortunately, the class time altered to 7.30pm. Dinner was under threat! Mary’s three friends dropped out of Tai Chi, but she continued on to complete the traditional Yang form.
What made her continue alone, when the original purpose for the group had been a social outing and an excuse to meet for dinner?
“I liked the challenge of learning the movements. I didn’t find it easy because it was different from anything else I had ever done. However, I found it interesting and thought there would be long term benefits. I took it on trust that what the instructor was saying about those benefits was true and would come in time.
I found the Quiet Standing Qigong particularly difficult. After some months, I had a very strong emotional reaction which really surprised me. Tears would begin streaming down my cheeks. Focusing on the Dan Tian produced a strong burning sensation — like being consumed by flames. It was very unsettling.”
Occasionally, students will report a similar reaction to this practice. Calming, relaxing and opening the mind allows deep seated emotions to surface, often emotions the student is unaware of, or believed overcome.
Mary completed over a year with the Academy. However, other things intervened for a time and she didn’t return until 2001. This time the Quiet Standing Qigong was much more enjoyable. For some reason, she didn’t experience the teariness at all and was able to relax and enjoy the practice.
“‘It’s at the level of being less bothered by things I cannot change that I have the greatest benefit. I am sure I’m happier than if I hadn't started Tai Chi.
This whole qi thing is a bit of a mystery, really. My husband (also an Academy student) says he feels warmth when he practices, but I feel a strong pulsating, a throbbing which isn’t my heart beat. It’s a different manifestation. Strange.”
When the Academy changed to the Hun Yuan system, Mary embraced the change.
“I believe now I have a better understanding of using my whole body from working on the Hun Yuan 24 form. The main thing I miss (and I know I could practise it myself) is the leg strength from the Tai Chi Walking.
In Refinement, we work on the softness, relaxing the shoulders and gaining more rotation in the waist and joints. Having different teachers is really good. I usually attend twice a week and I learn something from each class.
Sometimes I do a movement and think 'Oh, that felt good'. Then the instructor will correct some other aspect of stance or angle I wasn’t aware of. You can’t get too pleased with yourself because things can fall apart so easily.
I like the way the Refinement classes are pitched at all levels — those just coming into that class and those who have been around for years — and there is no particular pressure on anyone. I really appreciate the instructor’s ability to pick apart the movements and help us gain knowledge of our own bodies. It’s easy to be deluded as to what one’s own body is doing — or not doing!”
One of Mary’s reasons for returning to classes was to maintain flexibility as she grew older. Arthritis in the wrists was another. Both areas have improved and the arthritis doesn’t bother her at all. “The Bang (Stick) really helped with that and I know I’m far more flexible than many of my contemporaries. It’s hard to tell, but I’m sure Tai Chi has made a difference.”
Mary’s husband and son also attend classes. Two years ago, Mary and her husband went on the China trip.
“My most enduring memory of the China trip will be the mountains, particularly Huashan. Not only for their extraordinary beauty, but for the human work over a very long period which has made them accessible, and the stamina and the courage of the people who still work there. Other highlights included visiting the enormous Martial Arts school near Shaolin, the bustle and variety of the cities and watching the rice and corn harvest. Having one side of the long stretches of road spread with the grain harvest was not what I expected. But when spare, flat space is at a premium . . .
Although I have found the mental benefits are, if anything, the more important factor, there are definite physical improvements, too. It’s certainly easier to maintain balance, stumbles are less likely to cause ankle damage, some joints no longer grate when used, turning is easier and my arthritic wrists seem much better.
We bushwalk, and every time we go out, one or the other of us will say, after safely navigating a rough patch, “Gee, I’m glad I do Tai Chi.’ “
(This is an actual interview, but the name has been changed for reasons of privacy.)