Well, we’re moving out, but we’re not sure where we’re going.
After teaching continuously for more than four years in Studio 10, Smiley Building in Durango, Colorado, I will cancel classes this July. Tuesday, July 1 will be the final practice I hold there. This is a hard choice for me in some ways. I began learning tai chi in this same room in 1999 and some of the best times I have had teaching and doing tai chi with enthusiasts were in this room. Perhaps some day I will return to that sweet, familiar place where so much good energy and good intention were lived. Due to rising rental fees and what I surmise is the competition among so many activities available in Durango, which has shrunk class attendance, I had to make the move before I lost more income.
Fortunately, other options exist if you want to continue with me or if you want to begin. Some of them will be much more affordable for both learners and me. So keep an eye out. Sign up for my newsletter to get the latest. I’ll let you know when I find out what the next steps will be.
Our ability to walk and stand and move in all the ways that we do relies heavily on our sense of balance. For some time now research has been finding that tai chi can improve postural stability, especially as we age. Harvard University is particularly focused on such research, much of which is discussed in The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi (Wayne P, 2013).
For something that we take for granted for so much of our lives, the statistics can be stunning.
Muscle strength decreases 20 to 40% between the ages of 20 and 70.
Ankle flexibility, which is critical for postural control, declines by 50% in women and 35% in men between the ages of 55 and 85.
Spinal flexibility is often the first thing to go, especially spinal extension (the ability to stand up straight). We have 50% less spinal extension after age 70 then we had in our 20s.
We don’t have to be “old” to see this progression. It actually starts in relatively early years of life.
As research findings show, it’s a no-brainer that tai chi improves balance. Tai chi practice does so by improving the conditions of aging reported above: improvements in muscle strength, particularly through changes in muscle use and control, joint flexibility in terms of range of motion and speed, spinal flexibility and extension, as well as alignment. Greater overall postural control is possible.
Since the day we stand and begin to walk, we rely on balance as we journey through life. I could tell in my own practice as I have aged that I started out in a particular state of balance and through practice progressed to where I am now. I am my own personal research project. I have seen the progression and can mark its passage in changes in my body and in the way I feel. I think every tai chi practitioner can say something similar if they practice long enough.
Research also suggests that taking a 12-week course of two 90-minute tai chi classes per week can produce noticeable changes in your balance. I would say a number of other changes would be observable, as well. A sense of overall well-being, for example, might result; or a more relaxed feeling when in motion.
I would add that if you practice regularly for two years you would see rather amazing growth in your ability not only at doing tai chi form, for example, but at having cultivated a movement strategy for overcoming conditions, such as chronic pain. I have myself as a case study, but I know many who have stories to tell about overcoming ailments simply by sticking with their tai chi practice.
These positive strides from learning tai chi relate to balance resulting from addressing the functions of four systems in the body, as described by Dr. Wayne: musculoskeletal, visual, sensory, and cognitive. He dissects these into their components and by doing so makes it clearly evident how tai chi improves balance.
Tai chi is a practice of utilizing all of these systems with attention to how they are working in our minds and bodies. We become more adept at how we walk, stand, see, feel, breathe, and even hear merely by focusing on them in movement. Overtime we cultivate expertise through practice similarly to what we do as we grow up, but with a renewed emphasis.
Tai chi movements truly are the movements of life itself. We can transfer the specialized movements of tai chi to daily activities. Just the act of memorizing something new has significant benefits for brain function. And just the simple act of taking a walk can be a practice of tai chi, in addition to a healthy exercise. It’s nothing short of amazing for so many practitioners. I can say this because I’ve seen it and I’ve heard them say so.
We may not be able to completely eradicate the symptoms of aging, but maybe we could slow the decrease in muscle strength, or slow the lack of flexibility in the ankles and other joints. For me, it’s not a maybe, it’s a certainty. The catch is that you have to start and keep it up. The longer you wait the more catching up you have to do—but having less time in which to do it.
The good thing is it’s really never too late to start, especially if you have a knowledgeable and supportive teacher and a friendly group of fellow practitioners with which to practice.
We all have our own unique challenges to tackle in the quest to age more gracefully and with good health. This is something to keep in mind when beginning to learn tai chi movement. Hopefully, you will find a teacher who can help you through your particular situation.
The key is to see and feel progress which comes only after effort and time. Each us takes the time we need and makes the effort that we can and that sets your pace. I’m always confident that just about everyone can make progress and see the difference tai chi can make in their balance and other functions.
How we move says so much about us. We identify so closely with how we move. Whether or not we are aware of it, our manner of moving is very often a matter of self-image. Posture and gait even develop from attitudes—how we see ourselves and how we wish others to see us.
It’s a personality thing. We would not be the person we know if we moved differently. We’re not going to saunter like John Wayne, because we are not him. Our walk is us; our posture is us.
The famous actor’s walk was made up, of course. Normally, we are not conscious of how we walk and stand. We learned without direct attention to how we were doing it. The goal was to stand and walk, maybe just to please mommy and daddy, and to be like one of the big folk.
Over time, we engaged in activities that gave us the postures and ways of walking that matured as we aged in life. More likely than not, those activities were performed under some kind of physical (and mental) stress, whether mild or intense.
So it follows that how we move often correlates to aches and pains that develop over time—from regular usage, but also from over use, misuse and abuse. Some usages result in chronic pain. Chronic pain is an ache that seems to have no source, seems never to go away, and if it does, it’s temporary.
We find ourselves saying, “Why does my knee hurt all the time? I don’t remember injuring it.” Or, “It must have been that time I slipped on ice. But that was years ago! Why won’t it go away?”
Because we return to moving in the old ways. The angle of attack we use to manage the issue often causes even more discomfort. We wish it would go away. We feel unable to change the situation. It just has to run its course.
Sometimes, you reach a point where you think you need to redirect and look for ways to fix it. If you had a new way to move that could alleviate the problem, you might try it.
What if just moving differently could control the problem? We are all familiar with how we walk differently because of a sprained ankle or a bruised leg. We move “contrarily” to alleviate the pressure and the pain.
We can’t stop just for that little problem. Keep moving. It will go away. This thinking usually works, at least until the initial injury heals. Makes sense.
Our tendency to keep going despite a painful condition is normal. Chronic pain presents a unique challenge, though. The old ways of shifting weight or hobbling don’t work anymore. Your body could be suggesting you might need a new direction.
When plugging away at the same old-same old doesn’t work, the question may come up of how ready you are to change your move patterns. You don’t know if anything you try might actually work and it may not be worth the required effort.
I often see people who try tai chi to fix a movement problem by moving in the same old ways. But in tai chi, fixing it correlates directly with shifting your perception of how you move.
You have to look at it in a different way and that’s what the practice of tai chi helps you to do. Tai chi may not be for everybody, but then again, something like tai chi can help to resolve some issues. It’s all about breaking that familiar fixation of habituated movement.
I like tai chi because it can align the mind and body in harmonious motion that produces calming effects.
The challenge at the body level is ongoing and you have to deal with it on the long term; but it’s less of a difficulty for the body as it is for the mindset. Tai Chi movement helps to focus the mind and body on specific tasks beneficial to both. You see more clearly and move more smoothly.
It affects how you feel, too. I get the most excited over this aspect of tai chi, because that relates to what the old Chinese called “Qi” (chee), or life force; or simply, energy.
Life force relates to determination—the will to live, in other words. It’s kind of like the question of which comes first: the chicken or the egg. Movement or life force? Do you start moving differently first, or do you get a will to move differently first? It doesn’t matter, really. You have to start somewhere. It doesn’t matter where, just that you do.
I have recently placed my tai chi retreat for sale. I thought readers of my blogs would be interested in knowing of its availability. You can learn more at forsalebyowner.com (#24201170), craigslist.org, or at Longhollowretreat.info. Here is some of the postings’ text. You can also read about life here on my blog. I invite your comments.
Long Hollow Retreat near Marvel, Colorado
A scenic, recreational property in a natural setting 16 miles from Durango, Colorado. This is a good place for the right person who wants to be near Durango, but not always right in the thick of it. Two adjacent parcels (39 and 37 acres) surrounded by wildlife, forest and lots of sky. A private 76-acre private retreat packed with features that appeal to seekers of seclusion and activities such as hiking, bicycling, X-C skiing and meditation. Good for horses, too. Some fencing is in place.
Long Hollow Creek, a spring-fed creek, divides one of the parcels. From the other, you have panoramic views of the La Plata Mountains, Sleeping Ute Mt., the Lukachukais and Chuskas in Arizona and lands south of Farmington, NM. Both are bordered by Southern Ute Tribal Land and a 300-acre ranch (inactive). An all-season, county-maintained road crosses the property’s southeast corner.
About 1,000 feet of the drive is graded and graveled, and about another 1,000 feet is natural gravel. At the end is a 610 sq. ft. cabin (built circa 1984) located near the stream. The cabin is used as a part-time residence but is in need of repair. It has lots of possibilities for a person with carpentry skills.
More details about the property and cabin are available at longhollowretreat.info where you can schedule an appointment to view.
One thing I like about learning and doing tai chi is that it is something that we haven’t done before. At least what we don’t recognize as something we’ve done before. Maybe we have, but don’t realize it as something familiar, … maybe we do.
Nevertheless, whatever way you may see it, tai chi is taking new pathways into the mind and body and discovering new ways of thinking and being. In fact, learning tai chi is more like discovering. You discover a process of movement that produces new perceptions about what you’re doing which, in the case of tai chi, has movement at its core.
The question I have asked myself in the past is: “What is it that you’re moving when you’re “doing tai chi”? The most obvious answer is moving the body, of course; but is that all there is that is actually moving? What about the mind? Is not the mind moving as well? Are we not shifting our attention, our perception to become aware of something about movement that we didn’t notice before?
Next time you “do” tai chi, maybe you will enjoy thinking about this little aspect of movement than may not have occurred to you before.
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I don’t really know about what other tai chi teachers do, but I show learners loosening exercises that they can do to achieve a number of results. One result is to improve concentration on repetitive, rhythmic motion for building skill in biomechanical efficiency, balance and even power. Usually, I encompass these kinds of exercises in…
The brain must change how it perceives movement in the the body, and the body needs to move in more beneficial ways. You need to move differently or not move at all in ways that have caused pain, whether from injury or chronic misuse. Weakness and wearing down from lack of use also causes these…
In case you were wondering … “Learning tai chi is a process of continual growth in skill and knowledge. It is a matter of sharpening our powers of observation and cultivating greater awareness of the manner in which we move. It also creates opportunities to cultivate insight into one’s self.” PTR Advertisements