Embrace the tiger. Repulse the monkey. Creep low like a snake. I was bumbling my way through my first tai chi class, feeling incredibly uncoordinated, a little self-conscious – and totally relaxed.
“Why do you want to try tai chi?” the instructor had asked upon meeting me.
“To destress!!!” I replied, with a bit too much enthusiasm for a room full of senior citizens.
Just a little while before, I had been searching what to wear to tai chi class on Google. Dressed in loose clothes, I set off walking through the park to the community recreation center. And I was stressed. STRESSED. One of my dogs was very sick. One of my clients was very unhappy. My father was scheduled for knee surgery the next morning.
And to top it off, I came across a thick, black, six-foot snake winding around in a puddle a few steps off the path. I gasped in surprise. Just breathe, I thought to myself – after snapping a pic of the beast, of course.
Arriving to class, I was happy to take my mind off things and try something new. My classmates were all females, except for one old guy that cracked jokes on cue about his time in the war and the metal plates in his body. It was a friendly bunch and the instructor was very welcoming. I felt at ease and in control. And then the lesson started.
What I Learned at My First Tai Chi Class:
- Tai chi is much more difficult than I thought it would be. It takes a very high level of bodily coordination and mental focus – two attributes that have always been elusive in my life.
- Moving my body into unfamiliar poses with strange names felt a bit like my first yoga class. Shavasawho? Chaturangwhat? It all seemed very foreign, which I loved – like peeking through a keyhole and getting a glimpse of whole new world you’ve never seen before.
- I overdo everything. To be fair, I already knew this. But the instructor pointed out that I was overdoing all my moves. Stepping too big. Lunging too low. Reaching too far. Story of my life, I thought. I work too hard, drive too fast, worry too much. “In American culture, we don’t value restraint,” the instructor explained. “We push ourselves.” But like many martial arts, tai chi is all about restraint, discipline, and self-control. Lao Tzu expresses this idea as “the middle way” in the “Tao Te Ching.” Today we call it “balance.”
- Exercise doesn’t have to be about forcing your body to its limits. I lift weights and run for miles three days a week. I’m always trying to be stronger and faster. Physically, tai chi was quite easy for me. But the challenge – and value – of this exercise is not defined by physical exertion.
- Tai chi felt a lot like guided meditation with movement. As a high-energy, on-the-go person, it seemed to suit me much better than meditating while sitting still.
- Pressure points We hit our hands together, pounded our hips, and knocked on our thighs. I felt a wave of relaxation wash over me.
Tai chi helped me to relax and focus, and I will definitely go back. I felt perceptibly calmer at the end of the class. I walked much more slowly on the way home, noticing things I’d missed before: the sound of the wind through the tall grass, birds jumping around in the treetops, small purple flowers at the side of the path.
The snake was still there, twisting around in his puddle. I didn’t gasp. I didn’t take a picture. I just smiled, said hello, and strolled on.
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