– interviewed by Instructor Lis
At the moment, Gloria is working as an Art teacher at one of Canberra’s colleges. She has many other skills, however – psychology and Indonesian and has studied Conflict Resolution at tertiary level. Gloria’s partner often travels with his work and if he is to be away longer than one year, she goes with him. She has worked with the UN in Croatia, dealing with refugees in conflict zones. She has also found employment with private agencies in Jakarta. There, she has worked with national bodies and international organisations involved in conflict resolution issues such as domestic violence, refugee and women’s issues.
Working with people in very stressful situations, Gloria became acutely conscious of her own need for focus on her inner self. If she isn’t centred and aware of her own emotional reactions and able to control them, she is not in a position to help others. This is where she sees the strong link to, and the benefits of, Tai Chi and in particular, Qigong.
A bubbly, energetic woman in her fifties, Gloria came to Tai Chi after trying yoga. She found it impossible to sit still and the postures quickly became boring. Her first Tai Chi class exposed her to Qigong, an experience similar to yoga.
“I was amazed that the instructor could stand so quietly for so long. Sitting or standing still, doesn’t feature in our culture at all.”
However, she persisted because she realised the value of the practice in her work in anger management. Now, about ten years later, she meditates every day and loves it. “At those first classes, I really liked the quiet confidence of the instructor’s assurance that everyone can learn and succeed at Tai Chi. There was no value judgement. Everyone was encouraged, regardless of age and ability. I like the all inclusive nature of the Academy’s classes and the acceptance that everyone comes for different reasons and with different intentions.
The Qigong practice has given me a choice in how I react. I tended to talk more than listen but in mediation and working with any team or group, it’s important to listen to other people and let them open up. Knowing myself well through the Qigong training gives me confidence – although I still haven’t completely mastered my general tendency to speak out strongly when I should perhaps keep quiet.
We need to train our reactions so that they do the right things – like our bodies in Tai Chi or martial arts.”
Gloria has had a long association with the Academy, starting many years ago with one term at a Charnwood class and punctuated by extended overseas working trips. After one difficult sojourn in Jakarta, she came back with depression, but Tai Chi helped her through it.
She has no particular physical injuries or problems. She is positive that the acute body awareness gained from years of Tai Chi has enabled her to address any minor injuries before they become major or chronic. Occasionally, she has hurt a knee or pulled a muscle when moving heavy equipment in her ceramics studio work. She knows if she is very careful with her stance and alignment during practice, most of these niggling injuries disappear quite quickly.
While doing pottery in Canberra, Gloria discovered the clay became very cold. She felt twinges of arthritis developing in her fingers. She likes warmer climates but stays in Canberra because of friends and Tai Chi. Without her practice, she is sure the arthritis would have taken hold. She is justifiably proud of her flexibility, inner strength and general good health.
Gloria’s approach to training is not to overthink – the body has to learn. Tai Chi is about relaxation (not just physically but mentally), an awareness of body and strengthening.
“Nothing works if you try too hard. The less you try the better it feels. I focus on something in my practice until I feel it’s right, for example, my feet or my waist. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. It’s not going to be, for example, a week, it might take a year.
Focusing on one thing through the whole form is difficult – especially staying relaxed. That focus comes back to the anger management work I do – staying centred and relaxed and letting other people open up.
You learn how your body responds, not just emotionally but also internally – the muscles and joints all moving.”
Gloria began the Martial Arts classes last year. She had two reasons:
“Firstly, I wanted to understand how Tai Chi fitted in. I wanted to understand the movements better. I’m not into hitting people.
Secondly, I was interested in the balance of power between two beings. Any two animals or people have a power balance. I wanted a better understanding and awareness of that power and to be able to use that in my work. The less and less confident or focused people become, the less power they have in all sorts of ways.
Some physically small people are able to project a very strong aura of power that isn’t physical, it’s mental. This training enables people to empower themselves. So does the Qigong practice. Relaxation techniques are really good to learn, but it’s something that has to come from inside. Our own body has to deal with it and learn.
Some of my friends say they use relaxation tapes, but I wonder what they would do if they don’t have the tape. I can do my meditation practice anywhere.
I think Tai Chi is a fascinating, an on-going thing. I love the Academy’s openness to change and its policy of seeking better methods, not becoming stuck in one way of doing things, adapting – it’s almost expecting change to happen and embracing it.
I’m also deeply indebted to the instructors I have had – to Lis, Chris and Peter, a big thank-you. Also thank-you to Brett and Fontane for setting up such a professional and expert Academy which provides an ongoing source of knowledge for the students.
I always feel as though I’m at the beginning even though I know I’m not.”
(This is an actual interview, but the name has been changed for reasons of privacy.)