Thursday, November 17, 2016

Tai Chi, et cetera

First was hatha yoga -- I discovered it at age 29, when fewer than half a dozen yoga teachers existed in the USA. I learned from books and taught it (completely uncredentialed) for a dozen years. Little did I know that in 40 years there would be "yoga studios" in every strip mall in the USA and so many variations on the original even the multi-armed Hindu gods couldn't have done all the positions.

I did yoga very seriously many years and less seriously about the same number of years and then I went to China and, in Shangri-la, (that was its recently acquired name --for touristic purposes) I broke my hip. When it was replaced I recovered quickly, being in good physical shape, but had acquired a fear of straining the new connections in my hip and stopped doing yoga. A mistake!

 A couple of years ago I took six weeks of tai chi at a senior center. Short form, long form -- it just didn't work for me although the teacher was a nice young woman. My feet wouldn't coordinate with arm and hand movements. Then I found Tai Chi Easy, a trade marked system being taught at the community college by a psychologist. It is perfectly named: EASY. Feet are planted firmly, upper body moves, weight shifts, breathing is coordinated. It's mediative and can be done in ten minutes or stretched out longer.  It feels good and is both relaxing and invigorating. I found, in the summer, when there are no classes, that I can find a quiet place on a somewhat secluded beach and practice this routine enjoying the sun and breeze and sparkle on the water and breathing the fresh ocean-scented air 

Last Saturday I went to a tai chi "demonstration" by a 70+ year old man who has begun teaching tai chi chih. (It seems tai chi, like yoga, is morphing into a variety of systems. I seems Americans can't ever take up something Asian without putting their stamp on it.) He will be teaching at the gym I belong to and also doing free hours at the local senior center. It's somewhat different from the "Easy" version but without the complex foot movements of the other one I tried. After the beginning of next month I'm going to go to his classes and learn his form.

I joined that gym, to which my daughter has belonged for years, to take yoga. I find myself weekly in a class that is labeled yoga but which has more Feldenkraist movements than yoga, plus a routine created by the teacher, a woman over 80 - she includes lots of free movement, dancing, some ki gong and a long relaxation period. She's a character, small, wiry, kind and has done just about every kind of exercise invented, I think. She is an example of "use it so you won't lose it."  And I couldn't agree more. Feldenkraist was a Jewish/Austrian man who developed a set of gentle movements that are to be repeated "to break down old holding patterns" and open joints.  Most of them are comfortable and subtle.  The spine and shoulders are special targets.  My shoulders are tight although my spine has always been strong.  My back rarely aches.

I've never enjoyed sports or any of the "equipment" exercises. I walked miles most days the thirty years I lived in NYC and love hiking (and trekking) and now am delighted to have a beautiful beach on which to walk and other paths nearby. I don't like the yoga that is being offered so many places -- I'll admit that's partly because in several years of not doing it, I've lost flexibility and strength. So I turn to the gentler Chinese/Asian systems.  They're ideal for an older body.  I'll be learning more in the next several months.  Happily, I need no equipment and they can be done in the living room when it's cold and snowy outside.

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