I didn’t think I could do it. I’m not athletic, not a dancer, not very adept at anything that requires physical skill. I’m an artist, a writer, end of story. Besides, I was too old -60-and not limber, out of shape. There’s no way I could do tai chi.
Seven years later having taken classes almost weekly with Arlene Faulk through the Fourth Presbyterian Church, I now know how to do the Sun style, including advanced moves, and the shorter, very relaxing Wudang style. I do tai chi almost every day now, no longer amazed that I can remember the long sequence of steps that feel like a form of body language to me. Thanks to Arlene, I “speak” tai chi ch’uan! Always learning, always improving, but fluent enough to be comfortable.
Arlene is my kind of teacher — patient, even-tempered, methodical. She leads us in one or two new moves at a time, repeats till it feels familiar, then adds a couple more. She also explains the Eastern “why” of what we are doing, and is always open to questions. Arlene is concerned with our proper alignment, but she never corrects a particular individual who is off. She tells us as a group the right way to do a move, so no one person every feels negatively singled out. Also, it doesn’t matter what level of skill you develop, because each person gets encouragement within the group. We hear important phrases from her over and over: “Don’t forget to breathe” and “keep your feet hip-width apart” and “move from the waist, not the arms.”
After awhile, with practice and focus, for as long as it takes — and all students have their own pace–the movements come more naturally. The two best side effects of tai chi are balance and deep breathing. One day, after leaving class and crossing Michigan Avenue, I had a slight accident. My right foot went into a pothole in the middle of the street. I heard Arlene telling us to “ground our feet like the roots of a tree”, so I planted my left foot firmly, lifted my right one out of the hole, and walked on — no damage! I could have ended up on my face. Does tai chi make you fool-proof? Certainly no, but doing it for a long time may make you more sure-footed. And the deep-breathing that is a part of the exercises Arlene leads us in will oxygenate every cell in your body, the way nature intended. Arlene often notes the “good energy” in the room as we work our way through the various moves. I feel it, along with a degree of self-confidence in my physicality that has been a total surprise.