Weighty Matters

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Are You Balanced?

“Are you balanced?” Our instructors at last week’s Tai Chi workshops asked us that time and time again.  In the moment, it meant if we felt we were balanced in our bodies.  To properly balance requires a lot of different aspects to line up.  The first is the actual alignment, the stacking of my body over my feet.  Then there’s the notion of “equal and opposite force”.  When I stand up to kick, the intention in my hands and arms as I position them aids my balance.

Every time I practice my Tai Chai, I keep the question in mind and ask myself if I’m balanced.  It reminds me to strive for that feeling as I do the moves.  When I am balanced, I move with greater control and flow, as well as an absence of pain in my creakier joints.  I have to say that I feel wonderful in those moments.  They don’t always happen and, when necessary, it’s okay for me to use a prop foot, but I know how balanced feels and that’s the goal.

Balance infuses all of Tai Chi.  There’s a natural balance to be sought between body, mind and spirit.  Expanding out from the martial art, I seek balance in all areas of my life.  In OA, we sometimes talk about the three legged stool.  The “legs” are physical, mental, and emotional.  If those are not in balance, our foundation is uneven and doesn’t provide proper support.  We tilt and rock, spending more time adjusting or compensating for the part of our life that’s out of whack.

When I’m out of balance I am more vulnerable to my compulsive eating disease.  In those times, I most need to be aware of the which “leg” of the stool is shaky and do what I need to in order to secure it and bring myself back into balance.

Today I felt balanced all day.   I was able to sleep in a little this morning.  When I woke up, after I took care of the dogs, I went out on my porch to enjoy a beautiful day.  I did my Tai Chi foundation exercises, followed by a set.  Then I practiced a couple of moves that challenge me balance-wise.  I worked on finding my balance point in those moves so that I can remember how it feels when I do them right.  That muscle memory will help the next time.

I’d made plans to go to breakfast with a friend to celebrate her new job.  I knew that I would have the treat of a mimosa and some breakfast treats.  To compensate, instead of driving, we road our bikes.  After the meal, which was delicious, I opted to extend my bike ride a few more miles.  This balanced out the caloric intake a little, I think.  (Don’t worry, I only had one mimosa and we lingered over the meal so my cycling was not impaired.)

After an enjoyable ride, which benefited me emotionally as well as physically, I came home and addressed a variety of tasks inside and out of the house.  It’s a great feeling when I get things done instead of procrastinating.  I feel sharper mentally when I complete things and cross them off of my list.

In between, of course, there was also time for some dog cuddling and simply breathing in the fresh air while relaxing on the porch and watching boats cruise by.  These things warm and settle me emotionally.

Sunday afternoons, some of us get together at the beach to do more Tai Chi and this provided another opportunity not only for physical activity, but also relaxation and a connection to spirit.

When I got home, I prepared a nutritious and yummy dinner.  I think the act of cooking healthy food nourishes all three aspects of my balance.  I’ve discussed before that the evening hours are often challenging for me to remain with my food plan.  That’s when I most often want to eat or overeat on junk food.   Being in a balanced state freed me of the compulsion tonight.  I stuck with my plan to eat half an apple for a snack.

A few paragraphs ago I talked about paying attention so that I can feel my balance points in different moves.  Tonight, I’m looking back over the day and paying attention to how spending it in balance feels.  Hopefully, this self-awareness will make it easier for me to find this balance point again.

So, how are you doing?  Are you balanced?

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Transformation

Transformation is a big word that relates to big change.  I feel like I’ve experienced it over the last few days.  I’m not talking about my three years of post-surgery with the weight loss and regeneration of physical fitness. Here’s what took place.

After the great Taoist Tai Chi International Workshop I attended in Miami in February, I decided I wanted to do even more work toward improving my tai chi.  So, I signed up for a weekend workshop on Women and the Taoist Tai Chi Arts, followed by part of a five day workshop.  These workshops took place up on the west coast of Florida, led by top level people in the Taoist Tai Chi Society.  Top level as in they studied with Master Moy, the man who created this style of Tai Chi and the other arts connected with it.  Learning from the knowledge they shared, receiving corrections personally or observing them work with others was simply an amazing educational experience.  I am internalizing what I learned, applying it to my practice and feeling myself improve.

But why do I think the experience was transformational?  Was it really so  remarkable that I feel like I was transformed?  Yes, but not in one big, hit-by-a-lightning-bolt-from-the-blue.  I can compare it to Tai Chi itself.  We talk of doing a set which is a sequence of 108 moves arranged in a specific flowing order.  When we first start taking classes, we learn the set move by move by move.  Commencement of Tai Chi followed by left grasp bird’s tail, followed by grasp bird’s tail, followed by single whip and so forth.

Each move is important.  Each has many elements.  Even the simplest looking move incorporates complexities.  When someone watches Tai Chi, it might look simple, but it isn’t.  Trust me.  After we learn the full sequence and practice awhile, eventually we stop thinking of the whole by listing the individual parts and, hopefully, finishing each and automatically flowing into the next and the next and the next after.

In the workshop we worked on key things that are important to the overall ways in which we do Tai Chi.  We look for balance, alignment, stacking our bones, dropping down and rising up.  Those are a few.   Often, the instructor picks foundation exercises and has us work on them.  Sometimes it seems like the practice is endless on one or two exercises done over and over and over again.   They might follow that by selecting a move from the set that includes that exercise or exercises and then we do them over and over and over.  While we do so, the instructors move around, offering corrections to individual students and sometimes stopping the entire class while something is demonstrated as an example that all of us can see.

I received some individual corrections over the four and a half days that might seem simple if described, but which created great improvement in all of my Tai Chi.  The corrections might appear to be small, but oh the changes to which they can lead.   I won’t describe the corrections.  To do so would involve a lot of explanation that would easily be confusing to someone who doesn’t practice Tai Chi.    So hopefully you’ll just trust me on this.  Instead, I’d like to describe the experience of the results.

Monday night, after a 12 hour day of strenuous, repetitive practice, I returned to my hotel room and needed a warm bath, a couple of Ibuprofen and some Arnical gel on my joints.  Even with that trio of treatments, I ached.  My knees were tired, sore and, quite probably, inflammed.  I had great difficulty even falling asleep!

When I woke up, I didn’t know how on earth I’d make it through another day of Tai Chi, but I soldiered on.  That morning, we started out day by doing two complete sets from start to finish.  I focused on all the adjustments I’d learned in the previous days and did my best to include them in the way that I did the moves.

I should point out that the instructors frequently remind us to smile when doing Tai Chi.  Honestly, I think most of the time, we then rearrange our faces into grimace-like expressions meant to look like we’re smiling.  We’re uncomfortable and think that we’re faking.  Honestly, it’s not that we’re unhappy or suffering.  Our tendency is to concentrate and focus, determined to “do it perfectly”.  Conversely, the instructors want us to smile because smiling relaxes us.

During the second set that morning, the instructor again encouraged us to “let it go”, to “enjoy”, and, of course, “to smile”.  Something in the way that she said “let it go”, translated itself to my body and how I was  doing the set.  I was using all that I’d learned in my set that morning.  I was relaxed, moving with grace, finding my balance in difficult moves that I’d struggled with.  It was amazing and all of a sudden, I felt better than I ever have when doing the set.  I couldn’t contain my inner happiness, so it bubbled out of me into a broad smile.

No fake, grimace, but a true blue, genuine smile.   I continued through to the end of the set with a big grin on my face and pure joy glowing inside.  When we finished the set with a bow, I breathed my thanks to the instructors, to the man who developed this form, to all who practiced it in Florida and around the world.  I thought to myself that I always wanted my Tai Chi to feel the way that it did in that moment.  I felt forever changed.  Transformed.

Suffice it to say, my Tai Chi probably won’t always go that great.  I’ll fumble or need to check my balance with a prop foot,  but it won’t matter.  I know how it is supposed to feel, how great it can feel, and will be able to tap into that whenever I need to.

It’s a fine life-lesson, this.  Transformation doesn’t need the magic, all-at-once event.  It can be created by putting a series of small changes into place, refining the individual moments, and then opening ourselves up to the joy.

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Realizations

I went to a two day International Workshop for Taoist Tai Chi this weekend.  The instructor trained with the master that originated the set that we do in this form and has practiced it for more than 30 years.  He says he’s close to 60.  If that’s the case, then he is a walking advertisement for the health benefits of practicing this soft martial art.  Not only does he not appear to have any of the aches, pains or normal things that affect us when we get older, but he also doesn’t look older than 35.

I derived a number of benefits from this weekend.  We had three sessions on Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m. and ending around 10 p.m. with lengthy breaks for lunch and dinner.  On Sunday we returned for another 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. session.  It’s a lot of Tai Chi for sure, but if you were there watching you could be excused for being bored watching 100 people do the same few things over and over and over and over and over and . . . you get the idea.

This was my first time attending an International Workshop and it wasn’t quite what I expected.  On Saturday, it seemed like the instructor did more talking than showing – which isn’t what we’re used to in our regular classes where there is comparatively little chatter and explanation but repeated demonstration of the moves.

Honestly, I started to get really impatient by lunch time.  Internally, I felt myself getting out of sorts and borderline annoyed.  It was ironic to me that we were spending so much time talking about the importance of being balanced in our movements when the program appeared to be so out of balance between actually doing Tai Chi and yacking about it.

Just the fact that I characterized it in my head as “yacking” shows that I was feeling sort of pissy and diminished what was being said.  Had I kept on with that attitude, I would have been in for a miserable weekend.

At some point, I moved from annoyance to acceptance.  The workshop would be what it would be, I decided, and told myself to get what I could from it when I could.  I turned off my internal bitching and opened myself up to whatever teaching was offered.

I’m so glad that I did.  When I got out of my own head and stayed in the moment, I found wisdom and insight all around.  As Saturday progressed, I saw that while we weren’t overall as actively engaged in doing moves from the set, we did plenty and what we did advanced our understanding and improved how we physically performed the moves.  Maybe we focused mostly on two foundation moves but the instructor showed us again how those two moves are part of almost every move in the entire set.  If we didn’t see it for ourselves right off, we sure did when we did an entire set with the instructor constantly pointing it out to us as we did our moves.

One thing we talked a lot about was expansion and contraction.  While the instructor wanted us to remember to expand and contract physically, I realized that my understanding had also expanded.  The awareness was so strong that it infused every movement.  When we did the set for a second time, with the focus on expanding and contracting and finishing each move before flowing into the next, time wise we slowed down, but the benefits were ever present.  I felt the good cardio effects as if I’d been taking a very brisk walk.  My entire body felt oxygenated in a way that I’d not experienced before with Tai Chi.  This was simply amazing.

From that point on, after experiencing that and the realization, all of my annoyance and impatience evaporated.  I truly was open to whatever happened.  I stopped gnawing on things mentally and just opened myself to it all.

In so doing, I kept learning.  We must have done a few hundred Wave Hands Like Clouds, but I was never bored.  I remained intently focused on the elliptical up and down, the weight shifts, and the timing of the steps.  It was great, just working it all into that one move.

At the end of the first long day when I got back to my hotel room, I was mentally and physically exhausted, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what I learned.  I took so much away from the process, realizing that I need to be willing to give up the upset when something isn’t what I expected or plans don’t unfold the way that I wanted.  There are whole other ways that life events can occur, ways over which I have no control, but they aren’t bad.  They just are — and when I open to them, great personal growth can occur.  Living in that kind of acceptance doesn’t mean lying down while someone flattens you with a heaving roller.  It means expanding from within to make room for whatever experience life offers.

It also reduces stress, discontent, annoyance, impatience and, did I mention, s-t-r-e-s-s?

I know that acceptance is often the answer, but knowing and putting it into practice are often at two equal and opposite ends.  It’s really good when the knowing and praticing come together.

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Whew! What an Active Week!

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m seriously considering taking a nap.  It’s been a super physically active week for me, friends.

You already know about the manatee rescue attempts and the hours of kayaking.   Then there was the Wednesday  night Tai Chi class that I barely made it through.  But it didn’t stop there.

Remember a few months ago I signed up for a FoamGlow 5K event?  I’d almost forgotten about it, but remembered early in the week, that it was last night!  So, for Thursday and Friday, in lieu of the regularly scheduled 21DayFix routines, I walked more to keep in the fitness groove and prepare more for the 5K.

Yesterday morning, we had a three hour Tai Chi class.  Not so much cardio, but lots of stretching, turning, and weight shifts.  After class I grabbed my overnight bag and headed up to the mainland.  I don’t like driving back through the Keys by myself too late at night, so I decided to stay over in a hotel.  I’m so glad that I did because I was dog tired by the end of the night.

The FoamGlow event was fun, but not without its challenges.  Since it was held at the Homestead Speedway, I assumed we would walk and run on the track.  Wrong.  Everything took place outside the track on a route that veered from even pavement to uneven ground or gravelly road.   Whenever we left pavement, the course became sort of risky.  Not only was it uneven, but there were some holes, rocks, minor bumps, etc.  My friend twisted her ankle twice.  I stepped in a lower indentation and jammed my knee at one point.  Not fun.  It would have been okay had the lighting been just a bit better, but for most of the course, we were illuminated only by the glow sticks worn by most of the participants.

The race drew thousands of people.  Seriously.  We got there when the registration first opened at 5 p.m.  The race was late starting – close to 8 p.m.  People were still arriving in the parking lot and walking up to start their walk after 9 p.m.!

Okay, challenges aside, I was determined to beat my time from the 5 K I did earlier in the year, so I needed to complete in a faster time than :58.  I was running my stopwatch on my phone.  When I checked about two miles in, I was at 30 minutes, so I know I was ahead of my time and going at a good pace – despite having to slow down during rocky or uneven stretches.  I resolved to finish strong and kept pumping.  Unfortunately, at some point not only did my phone begin randomly pocket-dialing people, but my stopwatch turned off, so I don’t have my exact time.  However, I know I beat that :58 minute goal.  I decided to celebrate the accomplishment, even if I don’t know the exact time.  So, Booyah me!

Here’s a picture of me with my preliminary foaming as well as glow sticks and flashing eyeglasses accessories.

FGlow

 

My friends and I went out for a late dinner after the race.  Then it was back to the hotel to wash up, down some Motrin, and go to sleep.  I will admit that I woke up a little stiff and sore today, but I downed another dose of Motrin and got moving.

The Miami Branch of the Taoist Tai Chi Society holds classes very close to where I was staying, in a beautiful Koi Garden/Nursery.  Once you belong to the Society, you can take classes anywhere in the world, so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and go to the two hour continuing class.  Not only did it help me continue to loosen up and stretch sore muscles and joints, but the location created a wonderful, peaceful feeling.  How could it not, when it was so lovely?   See for yourself:

Koi Gardens

From kayaking to koi gardens, I’ve done a lot.  My body is tired in that “wow-it-really-worked” kind of way.  My mind is oh-so-happy that I actually have the physical ability to have accomplished all of these things.  I never, ever, ever, want to take this fitness level for granted.  Hence, I don’t bitch too much about a little soreness or stiffness.  Instead, I celebrate and express my gratitude.

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