One of the best things about teaching Tai Chi is hearing stories from students about how Tai Chi enhances their daily living. Probably the most frequent comment I hear from new students, often after just two or three classes, is that they are sleeping better. Not that Tai Chi makes them sleepy, but rather that it helps them clear the chatter in their head and feel more relaxed.
Sometimes the stories are profound, like a recent story from a woman who has been a loyal student of mine for six or seven years. After trying to avoid surgery for a bad hip, the pain and nuisance became too great, so she had a hip replacement in October of this year. Just one week after a successful surgery, she said in an email to me, “it will be slow but I cannot tell you how much of a benefit Tai Chi has been in the recovery process, which is all about deconstructing walking to it components and putting it back together safely and and slowly — and then of course, balance. All remark how well I am doing and I know who to thank.” I would say it is not a person to thank but an ancient, wonderful practice called Tai Chi.
In each of my classes, regardless of level, we practice walking, in proper alignment, focusing on the standing leg. In our daily lives if we think at all about our walking while we are doing it, we think of the forward leg, taking a step ahead, moving closer to our destination. We do the opposite in Tai Chi, focusing on rooting our standing leg like the trunk of a tree and then picking up our other foot and knee, taking a small step forward, placing the heel down, then pressing the center of the foot into the floor. It is only when we are fully present on the standing that we pick up the opposite foot.
Right now we deliberately focus our walking inside to be able to navigate the snow and icy sidewalks of winter. We focus on the moment, where we are right now, on our rooted, stable leg and not on where we are going. Regardless of where our starting point is, this Tai Chi walking practice can enhance our balance, help prevent falls and promote proper alignment.
This is a good thing, for all of us to focus on our walking while we are walking. It takes focus and concentration. And sometimes the stories about its positive effects are profound, as in recovery from hip replacement surgery.