At any age it is very healthy to breathe fresh air and to physically move daily. Viruses and other pathogens are less likely to survive in a well-oxygenated body. Movement is important to keep our muscles, joints, bones and circulatory systems functioning better. These seniors were excited to be able to do qigong movements in the fresh September air.
This small group of seniors is teaching me so much about resilience as we age. They are in wheel chairs, use walkers, have physical injuries and memory loss, but they keep showing up to do gentle qigong movements. I’m so honored to be in their presence.
In China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Asian communities in the U.S. you can see groups of people doing tai chi in the parks. It is said that as we age our energy diminishes. We are prone to more falls and mobility issues. Keeping our bodies moving and well-oxygenated is especially important as we age.
I have written often about quieting the mind to achieve mental or emotional balance.
One of the benefits of tai chi is also to improve physical balance so that people can prevent falls. There have been studies on the benefits of tai chi for improving physical balance, especially among the elderly.
Tai chi focuses on rooting, suspending and alignment of the body. When we have our head upright and our feet planted firmly on the ground with our weight sunk into our feet we are in a better position to work with, instead of against, the force of gravity. Paying attention to our posture, how we stand, or how we move with each step we take can all assist with better balance.
In tai chi we learn to be aware of our center of gravity. Are our limbs or our entire body over extended? Where is our weight? How do we move from our center? Are we moving with our entire body or just one part? Are we moving from our waist? Are we rooted, suspended and in a “tuck” position? Being mindful of all these aspects will improve how we stand or how we move, which all helps with balance too.
Learning how to stand or move in a balanced way will influence how you move through your day, or how you move when you are doing other activities besides tai chi. I hope you will get a chance to practice tai chi and learn a bit more about balance.
The early tai chi and qigong practitioners observed nature. Slowing down to observe the natural world can bring great peace and joy! For me, watching Momma duck and her ducklings was as rejuvenating and magical as doing my tai chi outdoor. Life doesn't have to be as complicated as my mind tricks me into believing. As I watched Momma and her ducklings float effortlessly, I realized that we all too can float effortlessly in the midst of life. It doesn't mean that there won't be poor air quality days, or other hardships to face, but rather if we can learn to be in the moment and float as these ducklings and Momma duck know instinctively how to do, then we will gain more trust in our own instincts too. We will know when the time is to be out in life's water and when to come to the shoreline and wait while conditions improve. This is what Momma duck and her ducklings taught me. See what you can learn from observing nature.
When practicing tai chi, as with all things we engage in, our mindset is the key. Sometimes my mindset regards my tai chi as a task to check off on my to-do-list for the day. Yes, it feels good to check it off. Yes, I do feel some relaxation and calmness, but it is just momentarily. When I truly focus my attention on my tai chi my day flows more sweetly and I am less reactive, or restless because my mind and body have had time to fully relax in the quietude of the moment. My tai chi practice becomes like a meditative practice. I become aware of how active my thought patterns are and where I hold tension in my body. Through the slow, gentle movements and breath work of tai chi I release most of my mental, emotional and physical tension, and practice relaxing. A meditation teacher said that relaxing is the key to meditation. When I keep in mind that tai chi is more than just a task to check off, I receive tai chi's true benefits.
Early tai chi practitioners observed nature to learn how to move through life and how to encounter change. Even as the spring floods cover over bridges and paths are washed away, vegetation and flowers emerge from beneath the earth. This is a reminder that everything cycles through, even our struggles and our joys. When we immerse ourselves in a practice such as tai chi, we learn to better root and calm ourselves as we face sorrows and joys. These photos were taken on my nature walk along Minnehaha Creek to the mighty Mississippi. My friend Terry McDaniel joined me on this walk and took the photos of me in the distance. Winter snow and spring rain has caused high waters and flooding.
How does Terry McDaniel’s magnificent igloo have anything to do with tai chi? This has been a tough winter filled with endless rounds of snow and ice. My mind, body and spirit have been in great need of experiencing more than just winter's intensity. I was fortunate to receive an invitation to visit Terry's igloo.
Like when I am doing tai chi, experiencing the beauty and illumination of Terry’s creation lifted my spirit and grounded me in the awe of the moment. I felt a sense of inner tranquility and joy. It’s rare to be able to create glowing enchantment in winter’s darkness, which Terry did. Hopefully sharing my photos of her igloo will help those who are experiencing the winter blues. Thanks Terry for creating beauty in the midst of winter's snow and ice.
Many years ago I attended a gathering focused on self-realization. I was sitting next to a stranger who said to me, “The internet is important, but more important is the “inner” net.”
Like many of you I find myself absorbed in the world. Technology has increased my engagement with the world. Like many of you, I find myself reaching for my cell phone first thing in the morning, checking messages all day long and checking my phone just before I go to bed. I have also been known to binge watch on Netflix, along with surfing the internet for an extended time. After too much exposure online as well as out in the world doing many activities, I often wish I would have given that same amount of time to my inner work.
Most of us might already know what our inner work is. For me inner work means learning to connect within to calm my busy “monkey” mind and experience clear awareness at whatever level I can. It is a process that brings inner peace and inner connection.
I realize what helps me to practice my inner work is to schedule it first thing in the morning before my mind has a chance to engage me in the world. My inner work often includes doing tai chi and qigong. After my inner work I have more clarity, energy and calmness for the rest of the day. Doing inner work can also help me if I am stressed out from the day and need to unwind before going to sleep. It takes practice to do my inner work. I wish you well with your inner work!
Celebrated Chinese Lunar New Year yesterday at Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis. Took these photos of the incredible dancers from CAAM Chinese Dance Theater. They moved with the graceful flow and power of tai chi. So good to see color in the midst of snowy winter. Also heard sweet guzheng music.
This rabbit was painted by local Chinese brush artist Bob Schmitt of Laughing Waters Studio. The rabbit is seen as a very peaceful creature. Wishing everyone a year of inner peace!
As we look forward to another new calendar year, I would like to share two quotes I found on calendars which were meaningful to me.
In 2020 my Zen calendar had this quote: “Obstacles don’t block the path. They are the path. This Christmas 2022 someone gave me a calendar which had a similar message from Robert H. Schuller: “Problems are not stop signs, they are guidelines.”
Shifting my mental perspective of what obstacles or problems are, helps me to not worry, resist or work so hard to prepare myself for all the possible “If” scenarios. I can relax more and know that my obstacles or problems are part of my journey and they can also be positive aspects of my life. Like a maze, the obstacles and problems can guide me in a better direction, help me learn a new life lesson and stimulate my mind to problem solve in a new way. The key is to relax while I wait to greet my next obstacle or problem.
Tai chi and qigong helps me to relax more mentally and physically. I can better handle obstacles and problems that come my way. Overtime learning to embrace obstacles and problems in a tai chi, flowing way can increase my sense of well-being. Wishing all of you new ways of seeing and being in the new year!
I am filled with wonder, gratitude and awe for the journeys we travel and for the teachers we meet along the way.