– interviewed by Instructor Lis
Silk Reeling training has given Michael the freedom to live the life he chooses. If he doesn’t maintain his daily regime of Tai Chi practice, he is quite sure he would be unable to function in the normal daily life most of us take for granted.
About eleven years ago, he underwent an operation on his lower back to remove a piece of bone which had broken off the spine. The procedure wasn’t completely successful and Michael thought he was in for a lifetime of heavy duty pain medication. Five years later, in December 1999, his surgeon performed a second operation, this time more successfully. The back operations have left Michael with heavy scar tissue on the bone. He says it feels like a band of cement across his lower back. He is in constant low level pain and has reduced use of his left leg.
As part of his recovery, Michael went to a Bowen Technique massage therapist. She recommended that he do Tai Chi. He commenced classes at Woden about 5 years ago. He is now in the Refinement class, although he doesn’t feel qualified to claim that level of expertise.
The Silk Reeling exercises are his saviour. Michael did a summer course with Fontane in January 2003. The emphasis on circling the joints in a gentle, repetitive but wide ranging sequence of movement is invaluable for loosening the rigid areas in Michael’s lower back and hips. He particularly loves the “Open and Close” pattern we teach in class, saying he could practise that forever.
Michael has great respect for the Eastern way of health improvement. In February 1998, he began receiving acupuncture and still follows the routine of alternating acupuncture one week with Bowen massage the following week. His acupuncturist commented that although Western medicine is very good in certain areas, we tend to neglect our bodies after the treatment — after we’ve undergone an operation, for example. If Michael hadn't begun Tai Chi when he did, he is quite sure he wouldn’t have maximised the benefits of that second operation. "The improvement in the back has been constant since I commenced Tai Chi. Also, the degree of pain, discomfort and lack of mobility in the back has significantly reduced over time."
He is able to work at his Public Service job, cycle, walk and do all the normal activities without pain killing drugs.
If he wasn’t forced to take up Tai Chi for physical reasons, which in Michael’s case are imperative, would he practise the art?
“I love the fluidity of the movement. I like the way it’s slow but hard. I think it’s extraordinary that the power comes from floor level rather than from the arms. I like the whole body involvement, the way the weight transference involves the whole body. It’s economy of movement.
I take a long time to learn the movements. I need to understand how they work before I can truly incorporate them into my body. In the last six months, I’ve suddenly made the connection between the waist and the force coming from the feet. It suddenly clicked. It’s a massive change — intellect versus feeling — it’s starting to come together.
It’s strange how that happens. The incremental improvement is there but I seem to plateau for a while and then there’s a sudden improvement.”
Michael fits in forty five minutes of practice every morning before work. He admits he isn’t so conscientious about the Qigong training although he does enjoy it.
Tai Chi has revolutionised Michael’s world in more ways than one. He relates this story, attributing his quick reactions entirely to his Tai Chi practice.
“Recently, early one Sunday morning, I was a passenger in a car driven by my wife on a suburban Canberra street. We travelled through a roundabout at about 20 kmh. In front, about 150 metres on the left, I’d noticed a utility stationary in a driveway and didn't think much more about it. As we increased speed to 40-45 kmh, I noticed that the utility was reversing. Then I saw that a heavy, long plank of wood was sticking out over the back of the tray. There was no towelling, or other warning sign, at the end of it and it was protruding over the road. We were heading straight for it about 15-20 metres away, and it was heading for me at eye height. I only had enough time to yell and grab my wife's arm. In an instinctive Silk Reeling action, I forced her left arm sharply to the right, to attempt to avoid the plank. I didn't have enough time to duck and I knew that my wife had not seen the wood. Luckily, at the low speed we were travelling, the car just swerved sufficiently to avoid the plank and fortunately there was no oncoming traffic. We veered sharply to the gutter on the far side of the road.
A vehicle close behind us also veered. As we were later told, on the basis of such a severe reaction on the part of our car, the driver realised something was wrong and just reacted accordingly.
From such a mundane event of driving slowly along a Canberra suburban street, a situation suddenly arose where the Silk Reeling training instinctively took over. You just never can tell when Tai Chi training can be invaluable.”
(This is an actual interview, but the name has been changed for reasons of privacy.)