During my three years of teacher training for Alexander Technique, I also learned Tai Chi. The practice nestled inside me like no other form of movement. It was as if this silent ballet-like dance powered by slow respiration, balanced relaxed postures and calm mind was already embedded just waiting to awaken.
Tai Chi became part of my daily routine and booked ended my days until depression overwhelmed me. Once the worst of the darkness passed, I attempted to resume the practice but failed. Still, whenever I came across people practicing the form out in the wild or in movies, I’d long to return but never committed.
Slide Sideways into my current audio read— The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. The first third of the book deals with Josh’s rise to win his first National Chess Championship at the age of nine. The middle explores how he segued out of chess into Tai Chi to earn the title of Push Hands World Champion. The final third brings the methodology of these two disciplines together to show how to master the art of performance psychology. I originally read the book about a decade after the height of my depression. Loved it, although not enough to dust off the form. But as soon as I started listening to Josh’s narration about his segue from Chess to Tai Chi, my body ached to return to the practice.
Trouble was I couldn’t remember the form. My mind flickered with snippets of postures like Cloud Hands, Golden Peacock Stands on One Leg, and Punch, but blanked on exactly where they appeared in the form and refused to dredge up the missing thirty-four postures. A Google search seemed unavoidable. But it felt like a cheat. Ridiculous notion but it held strong. And so, I planted my feet in first position and waited. I let the breath come and go until my body gave into the opening plié. Then my body’s weight automatically shifted onto the right foot so my left could lift and replant itself— toes facing straight forward. My weight shifted slowly back to the left, and my body turned naturally toward the direction of the angled right foot. With seventy percent of the weight on my left foot, my right toes lifted and the foot revolved on the heal until the right toes also faced front, bringing me back to center. With weight on two feet, the energy of the earth moved through me and brought my body to full height. Then my arms sailed through their motions. Voilà. I’d completed the Preparation and Beginning sequences.
This thirty seconds of movement revitalized my body like a sunrise awakens a spring day. The rest of the form remained elusive, but the energy inside gave me hope. I repeated the sequence three times, just as I did when first learning the form, and the Ward Off Left posture moved through me as did Ward Off Right. The form was reawakening and my entire body smiled. All I needed to do was commit. And so, using my maddening lack of urgency, I’ve been moving through the form as far as my body remembers three times, twice a day. The “next” posture usually rises up naturally during the third round at the end of the day. If it doesn’t, I don’t Google, but I will consult T’ai-Chi by Cheng Man-ch’ing and Robert W. Smith. It’s a beautiful illustrated version of the full form, which gently nudges my body to recall. As of today I’m, once again, comfortable with the first third of the form and confident the rest will follow.
Why?— because relearning Tai Chi is an ongoing visceral lesson in trust.
The universe has been pushing me in this direction over the past few months, but I’ve been reluctant. After polishing the manuscript, I signed up for a series of workshops to develop my skillset in querying, writing memoir, and character development, believing each session would give me the tools I need to take my writing to the next level. But all three workshops left me disappointed. I learned nothing new. And I realized I’m no longer a beginner. Sure my understanding of craft needs a lot of deepening and refining, but the toolbox is solid.
Chinese say that whoever practices T’ai-Chi…will gain the pliability of a child, the health of a lumberjack, and the peace of mind of a sage.
I don’t expect to be a sage. But the more I practice Tai Chi, the more its resurgence in my life feels like Big Magic. The kind that will allow me to fall into the wellspring of my intuition and trust myself and my process no matter what lies ahead. Because like Tai Chi, the confident-writer-me was always embedded inside me just waiting to reawaken.