Saturday, March 12, 2011

don't take yourself so seriously

posted by Melissa

It was rainy this morning on our walk up to 15th Ave for the advanced tai chi class we sat in on.  Amy met me at my apartment as I was busily sweeping up and gathering dirty dishes from the latest Star Wars viewing of the night before, we are on episode IV. 

We enjoyed some dark ‘n stormys (yum, 2oz rum, 1/2oz fresh lime juice, and 3 oz ginger beer.  I added a mint sprig) last night and I was kinda feeling the after effects, so getting up at 6:30 for tai chi was not exactly what I wanted to do when my alarm rang.  But as Amy says, I did it for the blog. 

a sculpture at Cafe Vita, capitol hill
We arrived early and got to chat a bit with Saul. He told us a little about himself…he grew up in a violent neighborhood in the Bronx, joined the military at age 18 and was stationed in Taiwan.  It was there that he first saw tai chi, and he saw it everywhere.  He said he was drawn to it because of the people, the kind of people it collected in the practice…people that had respect.

Saul talked to us for most of the first half hour of the class while the students practiced “pushing hands.”  As I tried to make eye contact with Saul, I was drawn back to the students again and again.  The practice was so intimate, so close and sensual.   In pairs, they stood with their feet almost touching, facing each other and each one taking turns listening and moving with their hands and arms.  I got to try this at last week’s class, but it was more sterile of an experience for me.  Even though, at the time, I thought it was quite a stretch of the human interaction kind for myself. 

The formal class commenced with a sword lesson, using wooden swords.  So, a little less exciting than the martial arts movies I have been watching every night, but with a little imagination and soft eyes, I could see the foundation of those choreographed moves.  And as Saul said, “Respect the full postures, and they will blend together with the whole melody before long.”   He was referring to how he explained each step in the movements, where the weight was to be held, each hand, the level of the sword.  All of it needs to be precise, and yet within that a looseness of the mind.

“Don’t take yourself so seriously.”  

Follow the form, but don't be an over-achiever.  Saul mentioned how new students are always exaggerating the form and it's movements.  I thought maybe that it simply a part of the process of being a beginner and learning.  

Next we had a break and met some of the students.  I was surprised at how well received we were.  I mean, we were two women just sitting there right in front of the class watching, taking notes…I know I felt a little awkward at times.  But the students we talked to were welcoming, and interested in our blog and why we were there this morning. 

I got to ask Saul why it is so confusing when I am looking up all this information in the books on tai chi.  When I am trying to find a common thread in the different forms.  In the animated and captivating way he spoke, he told me about times he would hear people on the streets of China arguing over whose village practiced the “authentic” form of tai chi.  So, it does seem that finding a good teacher and trusting their authority on the subject is the way to go.  And if I do choose to learn tai chi, I will seriously consider joining in Saul’s beginner class that he said would be starting sometime after Labor day.  

After the break Saul invited us to join in the class in some basic exercises.  Timidly, I stood up and walked up on to the big wooden dance floor.  We stood with our feet apart, bent knees, space between our arms and sides, and we shifted our weight from foot to foot while moving our hands through the air like we were swimming.  Saul told us to think of the air as thick.

We also did an exercise called "slow walking" where we walked slowly, I know shocking, around the room in a big circle.  And finally we ended our brief stint in the advanced class with "white crane."  We went from left to right, placing one foot in front and the back foot at a 45 degree angle.  The opposite hand would be up in the air and the other hand softly down to the front.  Saul pointed out how if you do the form correctly, it releases obstructions (of the chi, I assume, but apparently also blood flow) and the hand that is down turns a darker color, and the hand above a paler shade.  

And as much as I want to share is time to get to day 12 of yoga.  And if I don't get there on time, the door is locked, and I run the risk of missing one of my 30 days.  No can do!

More on tai chi later...


Anonymous said...

Sometimes I love where your blog takes you in your mind...China, Taiwan...villages of people doing what you are trying to learn. It has to make you want to learn more and more about your subjects. Reminds me of how books take me places, you read one and learn of another area and I'm off finding about that place...mostly all in Asia. You are so fortunate to be on this journey and I am for following you two.

Love you MOM

Melissa said...

I love where the blog takes me, in my mind and in person! I invite you to do it along with us, perhaps. But in Geneva!