by Elizabeth Mastropierro
T’ai Chi and Chi Kung have truly been blessings to my life. I began practicing both while going to school for acupuncture and Chinese medicine over 10 years ago. They were both required courses, and I looked forward to learning them. We started with T’ai Chi the first semester. The class was at 7:30 a.m. 3 days a week, before a full day of intense classes. Many of my classmates grumbled at having to start class so early in the morning, but I always looked forward to it. I felt it helped oil the works of my brain and the rest of my body to get ready for the information-packed day ahead. From the start of my practice, the combination of peacefulness and focus has always been powerful and precious to me.
American/Western philosophy teaches us that in order to achieve and to get ahead, we must go-go-go. Striving forward relentlessly is the way to success (the best grades, best job, greater financial gain, etc.) according to the American paradigm. T’ai Chi and Qigong, however, are based on Taoist philosophy. This Eastern paradigm teaches us that in order to wield great force, you must first yield. Both inner and outer strength and inner peace come from being in harmony with the natural world. You move forward like water flowing in a river, flowing around and over rocks within the river. The water dances around the rocks while continuing to flow forward. The rocks are not obstacles to be pushed out of the way or avoided at all cost; to the contrary, they make the river sing!
Practicing T’ai Chi and Qigong taught me these things first hand. These are concepts that need to be embodied rather than just pondered intellectually. When I’m in the flow of T’ai Chi or Qigong, I feel the flow of the river, the movement of the air around me, the steady cadence of the breath, the support of the earth below and the vastness of the universe. It’s a time to get centered and grounded while becoming receptive to the world around me. It’s an especially wonderful way to start the day.
So, aside from these perhaps lofty philosophical insights, what good is T’ai Chi practice really, you might ask? Well, I have experienced some excellent, practical benefits from my steady practice. Definitely, the increased ability to be both focused and relaxed at the same time – which was very helpful during things like exams, and now while treating my patients. It is also a very helpful way to be while dealing with any difficult situation. Another plus is that it has greatly improved my physical coordination. I used to be a very clumsy person, but after a while of practicing tai chi in particular, I noticed that I was able to catch things before they fell to the floor. And I have been much less prone to stumbling, tripping, and knocking into things. How wonderful is that? Friends and family have even commented on my “catlike reflexes” – yes, with a wry smile perhaps, but to my satisfaction nonetheless. Many years ago I wouldn’t have thought it possible to quickly catch something that was on course to shatter upon impact with the floor. Thanks to T’ai Chi practice, I have gained a greater sense of presence and flow in each moment.
I have come to touch upon the meaning of grace!