Tai Chi is the commonly seen term that is short for Tai Chi Chuan or TaiJiquan. Translated it means The Supreme Ultimate. Arlene's philosophy is to help tai chi students learn what they are doing and why they are doing it. Focusing on both the actual moves and principles underlying them, helps students incorporate them into daily life.
Eileen is a great example of making Tai Chi a major part of her life experience. She shows up. She practices outside of class. She has received many benefits from her practice. Thanks, Eileen, for your example, your continuing commitment and sharing your good energy with all of us!
I am in my 13th year of weekly tai chi classes with my instructor, Arlene Faulk. This amazes me, because it is far longer than anything I have ever pursued outside of a job. Arlene asked me recently what has changed over these years and my first, and really only, response is ME! I have changed. I have come to a level of comfort and confidence in my ability to do this physical thing, to learn the many steps of a complex process, and to have patience and enthusiasm to keep refining what I have learned.
I remember an experience after my first two years, when we were learning the Sun style. I had spent a miserable day stuck in O’Hare airport, then waiting at Boston Logan in noisy traffic for a country-bound bus. When I finally got to a small bus terminal in rural northern MA, I was five hours late, no one to meet me, everyone had left. I inhaled the fresh scent of the surrounding pines, absorbed the quiet of the evening, and started to do my tai chi moves. It was the most freeing experience! I realized that I knew enough to go through all the moves, no special clothes or shoes required. I could do this anywhere, any time — just me being me and moving in slow rhythm. That was when I fell in love with this ancient form of artful exercise. Since then, we learned the Wudang form, and more recently, Cheng Man-chi’ing’s Yang style short form, my favorite.
Now I am 13 years older, classmates have come and gone, and I so enjoy the five people with whom I have shared this experience in recent years. After a knee replacement, my balance isn’t perfect. On several occasions, I have started to trip and fall, only to right myself by planting my other foot “like the roots of a tree” as Arlene always encourages us to do. I stabilized and I have a firm faith that I will continue to do so.
What has not changed? Arlene has remained a constant leader and teacher, imparting her extensive knowledge, and encouraging us to breathe in peace and calmness as we experience this life force energy that surges through us all.
What has been most memorable in your life over the last 20 years? Life events probably come to mind – birth of children or grandchildren, a graduation, a marriage or divorce, starting a new job, the death of a loved one, a great travel experience. . .
Given you are now thinking about the last 20 years, what have you learned? What do you know now that you did not know as your younger self?
I have been thinking a lot about these questions as I join colleagues in celebrating Heartwood Integrative Health and Healing’s 20th year and also celebrating my 20th year of teaching at Heartwood. I will begin with what Tai Chi has taught and continues to teach me, because Tai Chi has and continues to offer me so many valuable life lessons.
A BIG LESSON – The Tortoise Wins. The story of the tortoise and the hare, in Aesop’s Fables. The hare is boastful, laughing, telling all that a race with the tortoise is no match, because the tortoise is so slow. Not even thinkable that the tortoise would come close to winning a race between the two. And what happens? The tortoise with slow, steady, focused steps forward wins the race!
I love this story and what it teaches us, in a culture where speed is valued so highly. The tortoise is clear about its path, stays focused, is not deterred by distractions and reaches the goal line first. We do not have to be in a race although some of us are in one with ourselves, with long to-do lists, places to go, people to see, with not enough time.
The tortoise tells us there is enough time. We all have 24 hours in a day. With focus and slow, purposeful steps, we can move forward, or even better, we can be in the moment. Tai Chi is like that, our minds directing our energy in specific ways to be in the moment. Stresses of the day fade away as we shift our weight methodically, gracefully and with purpose.
I find with regular Tai Chi practice, I have more time. Slowing down, breathing, clearing the mind all promote increased energy for all i have to do and be.
What have I learned in 20 years that has enhanced my life? Take time to be like a tortoise. “Slow and steady” has advantages.
Heartwood Integrative Health and Healing in Evanston, Il. is celebrating 20 years of providing excellent health care to the community. This is a milestone to honor and celebrate. We have a great celebration planned for June 22, noon to four in Heartwood’s parking lot, 1818 Dempster. Do stop by, say hi, eat a taco if you are in the Evanston area.
For me this year is a double celebration – along with Heartwood, this is my 20th year teaching. I am an original at Heartwood, there since the beginning in 1999. As I reflect over the 20 years, I can’t help but think what I have learned, what I feel my contribution to integrative health and healing has been and continues to be.
One of the biggest things I have learned is that potential students are eager to learn. Even without knowing much about Tai Chi or how a class might enhance health, women and men come to class open to a new way of thinking, a new way of moving their bodies. They show up, take the first step. Recently, I thanked my students for showing up, sometimes getting in the car, driving in traffic, feeling tired and still, they show up. Often, students will say how glad they are that that they came, even when tired, because they feel so much better, have so much more energy by the end of class.
So many people know there are resources, classes, exercise routines that can help in improving health and feeling better. What is it in a person who says, “yes”? Some know that and don’t do anything about it. Others get out the door and start. . . and continue. . . and make Tai Chi or another energy practice part of their lifestyle.
I want to applaud each of you who took that first step and continue to show up. I thank you. Your body thanks you. Keep showing up!
I am sharing some photos of the early days of our Tai Chi classes at Heartwood, when it was located at 1599 Maple in Evanston.
I wrote this for the 20th year celebration of Heartwood Integrative Health and Healing and my 20th anniversary teaching there. It is posted on www.heartwoodcenter.com/blog and now on my blog.
In the first week of October, 1999, with butterflies in my stomach, I open the redwood-colored front door, climb the steep stairs in the two-story non-descript building at 1599 Maple Street in Evanston, Il, across the street from Bennison’s Bakery. I am about to enter a new holistic health care center, the vision of Nancy Floy. And on this day, I am about to teach my first Tai Chi class here.
To the left as I hit the second floor landing is a long, rectangular waiting room, that is welcoming, homey and comfortable. A little turn to the right on the landing is the classroom, my destination for this day.
A couple years earlier, as a patient of Nancy Floy’s, we were in conversation when she told me about her vision for a center filled with highly-skilled, caring health care professionals. “I want you to teach there,” she said out of the blue.
I said “yes” and here I am, ready to welcome three new students into my first class. The carpeted, rectangular classroom has a ceiling fan and a screen in the corner and is quiet.
My balance continues to improve through work with Nancy and regular Tai Chi. I am gaining strength, stamina and a smoother gait in my walking. My MS symptoms are now not as debilitating as they once were.
Pushing through initial doubts about my physical ability to teach, I am ready and eager to start my first class on this Wednesday morning.
“Welcome,” I say to the three women ready to start their first Tai Chi class.
The Beginning. That morning was 20 years ago and I have been teaching Tai Chi classes at Heartwood from that day forward. All these years and stories of students making huge strides in managing and improving their health with Tai Chi. And it continues – Fresh. New. Fun. Calming. Energizing.
Happy 20th Anniversary to Heartwood Integrative Health and Healing, to the wonderful healers who have made a difference in so many live and also, for the opportunity to celebrate 20 years of teaching in this special place. I am very grateful.
Right now I want to focus on things that are kind to my nervous system and psyche. Too much chaos, raised voices, we/they attitudes around.
Visualization can be an effective way to go to place of calm, just like a book can take us to worlds far away without leaving our home.
My picks for this week:
During the past six weeks, I have been focusing on writing my elevator speech for my book, brainstorming possible titles with myself while looking at hundreds of book titles on the internet, writing a sample query letter to a literary agent and building up my social media posts. I attended a workshop on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. So much to take in!
And that is only part of it – Tai Chi practices on YouTube filmed and produced by Paul Freedom at www.peaksunrise.com. My 12 minute Tai Chi video – https://youtu.be/lCQhGv521SE. This is the first of a series of short practices that can be done anywhere and any time. I can tell you from my own experience that these exercises are effective for relaxing, increasing balance and breathing. If possible, 10-12 minutes twice a day is a good way to incorporate Tai Chi into your day. Take a look, click on the “thumbs up” icon, and forward the link to others, particularly if you know someone who cannot get out of the house to go to a class. More to come. . .
This past week a professional photographer shot pictures during our Monday night class in Evanston. With my website/marketing consultant, I have been viewing the photos and selecting those I want to add for a fresh update on my website. They will be up soon!
Refreshing photos, tackling new endeavors can be invigorating, educational and challenging, too. I continually have to ask my niece and her teenagers for help on social media “how-tos’. YouTube has a video on how to do almost anything but I find that even those are sometimes more confusing than helpful.
In the midst of all this, I give myself the moments to just breathe, some moments to get up and do the Preparation and Beginning moves of my Tai Chi form. Ah, that helps me relax and focus. Are you taking a moment to breathe in your busy day. Maybe click on my YouTube link https://drive.google.com/a/treerockinc.com/file/d/1TbPidlygpeA9YD2HOBBJrMqCrd7ruQXN/view?usp=drive_webin just for a few minutes, to find a little time for yourself.
Isn’t it amazing what a warm, sunny spring day can do for our spirit? After a long winter with more than one polar vortex, wind, snow and ice, we in Chicago are experiencing some spring days. Two in a row so far! I am grateful. In emails from friends, I am hearing “glorious”, “spectacular”, “motivating”, all words ascribed to our current weather. We notice and pay attention, to the bright sunshine, deep blue sky, and green on the trees.
Trees.I often talk about trees in Tai Chi class. We start class by visualizing legs and feet like a tree, growing roots deep into the earth.Trees actively bring up earth energy to grow, produce leaves, aid the environment. We aspire to be in sync with the rhythms of nature, to be more like a tree.
This brief time of blossoming is exciting, seeing the light green new leaves appear, just because they do, just because it is just the right moment to appear. The green color shimmers. The leaves take center stage, cover the dark branches. We are in a moment not to be missed. I felt the spring energy of this tree today, right on my city street in front of my condo building, in the process of sprouting leaves. Amazing to be still and watch, anticipate.
Pay attention. Look at the green flourishing all around. New beginnings, new life surrounds us and just maybe can seep into our being, lift our spirit and help us feel alive. Thank you, trees. We need you.
Do you know how impactful those two words are? How significant they can be in your life? Showing Up.
During Tai Chi class this week I thanked my students for showing up. Some quizzical faces, with raised eyebrows looked at me. A small pause, moment of silence. I had their attention. “Thanks for showing up. It is so great that you stopped doing what you were doing and made your way to Heartwood and now are standing in the Skylight Room ready to start class.
I added that it takes intention, motivation and sometimes grit to show up in class every week. We need to thank ourselves for our commitment and coming to class, even on days when we don’t want to. We all spontaneously clapped.
It is not unusual to hear a comment from a student that she debated coming because of a hectic day, running from here to there, being tired and wanting to just plop down on the sofa. “I want you to know, Arlene, that I thought about skipping class tonight. What got me here was knowing how much better I would feel. And I do. I feel so much more energy.”
Our minds are busy talking to us, at times working to keep us from the activity we know we know will be positive, make us feel better. It presents in various forms, from sitting down to write some pages for a book draft, taking the mile walk outside, going to the gym to lift weights, extending ourselves to go to a social event where we will not know anybody, developing a business plan for that business we have been wanting to start for years, going to Tai Chi or yoga class. Not just thinking about it, not just putting it on our to-do list. Actually physically showing up, ready to engage in the activity.
Think about it. What is it you have been thinking about, want to try, have some passion for that you have not acted on yet. What will it take for you to do it, show up? It feels so good. For you who are showing up, you have my admiration and applause.
A big day. This is a huge day. We do not get a day off from school or work. It is not a holiday, but we know what today is. We know this day has arrived. We feel it in our bones. We smile and are encouraged. Why?
It is officially the first day of spring!! The spring equinox. “Equinox” comes from Latin, meaning ‘equality of day and night’. A moment of balance as the sun moves north across the celestial equator. It is special. It happens only twice a year. This is the one we get most excited about because it signals longer minutes and hours of light in our day, more sunshine, more outside and one of my favorites, the green budding of the trees, soon to be lush with leaves and new life.
For me this time, this moment is what Tai Chi is about, moving gracefully and gently to find the moment and moments of balance. Tai Chi relates to and symbolizes this day in nature for me, balancing yin and yang as dark and light are in perfect balance.
Take time this day to pay attention, feel nature doing it’s work to create balance, then flower fully into spring. Look at the sky, the trees, the water, the mountain, all participating in this wonderful moment of equinox.
Feeling stuck – we all experience that at one time or another. I felt stuck yesterday and know it is up to me to move through that space. The first helpful thing I did was to express how I felt, in writing. Admit it. Name it.
A second step I took yesterday was to clear my mind. I still remember Deepak Chopra, headlining a conference in Chicago in the 1990’s, say to the large audience that most of our thoughts are the same ones we had yesterday. And most of tomorrow’s thoughts will be the same one we have today. Guilty. I had been repeating the same thoughts about not moving fast enough, not making connections, doubt about being successful in this mind-boggling publishing world. I visualized Tai Chi movements, shifting my weight, balancing yin and yang, focusing my mind on the movements and nothing else. When I am not in a position to actually move my body through Tai Chi, visualizing them in my mind is the next best relaxer. It works. I went to see “How to Train your Dragon”, a delightful, colorful and action-packed movie that continued to shift my thoughts to a new place.
Today I feel open to new thoughts, because I cleaned out some of the continuing thoughts stuck in my closet. As I stood singing a rousing hymn this morning in the Fourth Presbyterian Church, it hit me, that I have friends and contacts here whom I can engage. I have friends in different circles whom I can reach out to and with that, I started to feel encouraged, excited about possibilities.
I am stirred, motivated to move forward with more specifics that I will plan this week. The key in starting for me, and maybe for all of us, is stop the current mantra, the thoughts that stagnate and hold us back. Quiet the mind through stillness and create room for new thoughts and new possibilities.