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The Dragon's Head Blog: Finding A New Grace

Everyone probably has lockdown stories to tell: here is mine. Even after years of Tai Chi, I still sometimes wondered if I could get through a set without clues from my fellow practitioners, but was determined to try and do a set each day during lockdown. I had fallen in love with Tai Chi from the moment I joined nearly a decade ago, knowing instinctively that it had a secret to impart, but though I earnestly worked at it, I couldn’t begin to decipher its gifts … yet.

During lockdown I found a little-used space near the beach to do a set without interruption. Very soon I realized I could work to my own inner rhythm, slowing down and feeling how a move was affecting my body and balance. I had up until then often experienced fatigue or exhaustion in classes after an hour or more of putting my body (especially arms and shoulders) into positions I thought I observed in the teacher or perhaps the “corner people” when doing a set.

Suddenly I had time to go inwards, with no-one to look to for guidance, and there I was … just myself and those years of patient attendance at classes: but BLIND to the fact that this was a metaphor for my whole life! I had so often looked outside myself for clues as to how the world worked, never trusting my own senses or body-awareness. I’d been overlooking my own body which was giving me clues if only I’d listen. The beautiful silence, only broken by bird-song, sea sounds and the autumn breeze helped me slow down and learn to complete the moves rather than scramble to keep up with the class. A new grace could sometimes be felt, and I knew enough not to “grasp” at it but be thankful for those moments laying down learnings.

I began to see that it is much more important to tune in to your own body than put your arms and feet into exactly the move you see being demonstrated. The central message of upright posture, gentle spine turning, and deliberate weight shifting while remaining internally relaxed, showed me that all the “arms and legs” stuff was rather an optical illusion and that they didn’t move nearly as much as I had thought, but quietly followed the central setup of posture and spine turning.

It wasn’t until I took ownership of my own practice that I could make these learnings my own. Now they are a taonga (treasure) for me, and I hear our teachers through new felt experience.
Today I came away from a good morning session relaxed in my legs and shoulders … and smiled at how very long it has taken me to link that insight about looking outward for validation or clues as to how the world works with my Tai Chi practice. Well, approaching 80, I think I can begin to change. — Jenny

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