Last week a semester of Tai Chi ended for my sophomore and senior high school students. We started in September, meeting on Tuesday and Thursday mornings as part of the school’s innovative PE/Wellness program, in their regular curriculum and schedule of classes.
I love their young energy and love the opportunity to expose them to a wonderful practice that can help them relax, help them have better posture, particularly when carrying their heavy backpacks. I include hand and finger stretches, which I tell them are important in counteracting the repetitive finger movements used on a computer or in texting. They like those exercises; they tell me they help a lot.
As part of the last class, I introduced a type of ‘pop quiz’ on Tai Chi principles and applications. This exercise was designed to see what they learned and more importantly, to reinforce the important principles of Tai Chi that they can use in their daily lives.
Everybody got this question right:
Tai Chi is a moving art because: (Check one)
__it has dance-like moves __it’s visually appealing
__it’s not based on science __it’s similar to a tree
Although I often hear the comment that Tai Chi is beautiful to watch because it looks like a flowing dance, that’s not it. It’s a moving art and beautiful because ‘it’s similar to a tree.’ We start each class by standing with our legs/feet hip-width apart and parallel, knees slightly bent, weight equally distributed on each leg. We shift our weight to the balls of our feet, back to center, on the outside of the feet, then inside of the feet, then back to center. Pressing our feet into the floor we start to move slowly around, to the left, the center, the right.
“Visualize your legs and feet like the trunk of a tree, sprouting roots deep into the earth. We can move around, sway in the wind but not be thrown off our center (unless our weight goes back on our heels),” I say to the students.
A sturdy, tall tree is a common image in Tai Chi, because we want the connection with the earth that a tree has. We want to be rooted and connected deep into the earth, because it helps us stand straight and tall on the earth. We are rooted and also lifted by our center of gravity and a little string, gently pulling us up from the top, center part of our head.
The kids got that this semester and I see them now with much better posture, when standing and walking than when they started in September. The best thing is that they see and feel it, too. Their view of a tree has forever changed – they know they are connected to it.