T’ai Chi for Beginners

I have recently started attending a mid-morning t’ai chi class.

140123_1The studio sits on the end of a short breezeway. It’s a small, octagonal building with large windows on the compass points. Bamboo and gray stone outside, soft white walls and warm wood floors inside. Two-story ceiling with skylights.

My arrival was late. Through the wood and rough-glass door I could hear the class in motion. Hesitant to disrupt them, I pondered for a moment of not going in but felt encouraged. I entered quietly and waited at the threshold for the teacher to recognize me. With a smile she waved me into the circle in a way where I felt immediately welcomed.

This teacher, Marilyn, was recommended to me when I was here two years ago. Both people spoke highly of her technique and, in general, on what t’ai chi had done for their overall wellbeing. I’d practiced Wing Chun and Kali on and off since high school, however I wanted something a little slower than that but faster than yoga. This, they said, would be exactly what I was looking for.

Bingo. Only one class and I think I’ve found it.

When instructing action, Marilyn speaks in terms of energy over structure. The movement, balance, and transfer of Chi. This energy she describes has weight, texture, and purpose. Exactly where our feet land, how our hands move, is important but secondary to where in our bodies the chi is resting or moving. In this beginning level class it’s all about finding and getting to know our energy.

Feet shoulder-width apart, but don’t look down. Feel it with forgiving confidence. Concentrate on softening the knees and lengthening the spine. Feel the sand-chi as it flows from one side to the other. Left foot forward, toe first, and feel the grains pour softly from the right hip to the left knee. Then rock back, pouring grains from left hip to right knee. Pivot left foot out and rock forward to step. Let the grains settle in the left foot. Bring the right foot forward to repeat in mirror. Joints loose and open.

Hands hold a glass-taffy ball of chi to the right side. Left hand supporting from the bottom and right resting on the top. The ball stretches as the upper body moves left for that first rock and step. Casting the left hand palm up and out, reaching beyond it’s domain, continue left torso movement. The right hand sweeps down, turns up and follows left to support the ball as the left hand now rests palm down upon it. Upper body moves right…

The class ends with the seven of us in a small circle facing in. A traditional-like, fist-to-palm salute and making eye contact with each person before bowing out.

Yeah, already looking forward to next Thursday.

Book on the bedside table:
Cry to Heaven, Anne Rice