What a wonderful opportunity to spend time last week with 10 college friends in Palm Springs! These special women are sorority sisters and the bond of friendship spans over five decades. For me, going to a setting with consistent sunny skies, low 80s temperatures and an easy pace was just the calm energy that nourished my body and spirit.
My friends wanted to experience Tai Chi, which was music to my ears as I love to lead others in the graceful moves, calming, yet energizing practice of Tai Chi and QiGong. I could feel our energy soften, turn to the moment and there we connected through our breath and through visualizing our roots like a tree reaching deep into the earth. My friends loved the walk backward practice, keeping feet parallel, hip-width apart. I mentioned a talk I recently viewed on YouTube saying that walking backwards is an excellent practice from improving balance. Plus, I find it very relaxing and enjoyable.
Along with Tai Chi we had lots of good conversation and wonderful food. On Halloween night we went to Sammy G’s and most of us wore pink to honor Barbie.
View of Palm trees from terrace at Bongo Johnny’s
The deep blue sky, palm trees, mountains and sandy-colored ground and buildings were a great backdrop for surrounding us with beauty and happiness to be right where we were. We commented how wonderful it was to not be scheduled, to share fun stories and also life challenges. Friends are so important to our well-being and the best part — we laughed a lot. A LOT. That was the best of all.
A consistent mantra I have with my students is to encourage them to do Tai Chi by or near a tree. Not only do trees represent important principles of Tai Chi — balance, rootedness, flexibility — they also give us energy. They are at work bringing up moisture and nutrients from the earth, helping to cleanse our air, giving us shade, central to the rhythms of nature.
I spent a few days last month in the north woods of Minnesota. I had been to Sandstone for a Tai Chi retreat a few years ago, but this time I was farther north, up in the Duluth area. I knew I was in for something special when flying in because all I could see were trees blanketing the landscape. These trees are breathtaking, making me want to be near them, with their pole-shaped trunks, green leaves and height so tall I could barely see the tops.
My body was drawn to be with the trees and to play my Tai Chi amongst them. The leaves shimmed in the sunlight, the stillness seeped into my mind. The silence was awesome. There was only the moment. I felt graceful, and flowing and was right where I wanted to be.
Little wildflowers were at my feet. I felt surrounded by peace, light and nourishment. Time stopped. it was magical.
Where I live in live in the midwest part of the United States, the trees and bushes continue to show us spring and new life, with small buds, leaves and blossoms. The tulips are up, standing erect with their tall with their slender green stems and some of the pansies are still smiling back at us.
In Tai Chi class we bring intention and attention to the present moment, to how we are standing and moving, to our alignment and our breathing. The Tai Chi Classics say that our internal energy, Qi, roots in the feet, transfers through the legs, is commanded by the waist, moves up the back, then through arms and flowers in the hands and fingers.
That’s like the trees. Think about all the work they do to bring up nutrients and energy from the earth, through their trunk and branches and flower at the tips, with leaves and blossoms. I start every class asking students to stand with legs and feet parallel, hip-width apart. We shift our weight slightly forward, then to the center, to the outside, inside of the feet, returning to center. We move in a small circular motion, visualizing our feet connected to the earth, feeling the energy and bringing it up through the entire body, flowering in the hands and fingers.
I love that image because we become like the trees, particularly at this time of year, when the leaves are new. The new leaves are a light green and have a shimmering quality. New life and a new season, nourishment and renewed energy.
Walking outside after class in downtown Chicago this week, right in front of me were city trees, with new leaves shimmering in the sunlight. Take a minute to really look at these trees. What a message they are giving us with new life, a new chapter and season. Let us pay attention and start a new season for ourselves, thinking about possibilities, a new way to move forward and nourish ourselves
Exciting signs that spring is near — more sunlight in our days, little buds and leaves on the trees, a touch of warmer weather and lighter jackets on our backs. Yes, those of us who live in climates where winter seems to linger, anticipate and talk about the promise of spring. It is close at hand and we anticipate what is coming by paying attention when we’re outside by trees, near the soil with seedlings, listening to the joy of birds singing their springtime songs.
In Tai Chi class we often visualize rooting our legs and feet like a tree, feeling the rich soil filled with nutrients and energy. Like the trees and plants, we bring that earth energy up through our bodies to nourish and refresh us. We let go of tension, relax. We connect with the natural flow of nature and the universe.
Taking time to watch the growth and blossoming of the trees, bushes and flowers start to show their colors is a good antidote to all the negative news and turmoil that keep trying to monopolize our attention. Put the phone away the minute before you walk out the door and while you’re outside, notice. . . every living thing around you. Smile and say hello as you pass someone on the sidewalk. Stop to look at the trees in your neighborhood. Maybe you can say hello to them, too. They will answer soon with a glorious display of bright green leaves, beautiful blossoms, and when we pay attention, bring a smile to our face.
Photos from Chicago, West Des Moines, and Wilmette
This year the day of Spring Equinox was extra special. At the very hour when that point of equinox occurred, we were moving our energy in a Tai Chi class, focusing on balancing our Yin and Yang. We noted that bringing intention and attention to our balance at the moment of balance between of dark and light, felt so relaxing, put us so in the moment. A moment of letting go, a moment of lightness of being.
Without the dark, we can’t see the light. We honored that and also felt joy that it was evening and still light outside, admitted we were looking forward to longer minutes and hours of sunlight in our days.
This is a great time to focus on our balance, physical and emotional. Are our days filled with doing and achieving, and then wondering where the time went? Are we taking some time to stop, reflect and just be? Are we paying attention to the trees, the birds, noticing what’s around us in nature? And, are we breathing, taking time to intentionally breathe?
Tai Chi gives us the opportunity to balance, to move our energy together and feel our Yin and Yang as equal energy forces. We are very grateful.