Today I did tai chi in the room that was my bedroom when I was a teenager. I’d forgotten how low the ceiling in my bedroom is, though. During the exercises when my hands are way above my head, like white crane spreads wings, for example, or carry milk to heaven, I found myself having to spread my hands flat and rest them on the ceiling.
The stretch in my arms and legs as a result was great. Some long-term tensions, like the serious clamp in my left hip that’s been there so long I’d forgotten I was carrying it, were popping and coming loose like badly-clamped bolts on a jackhammer. One of the sounds was loud enough that I could have sworn it echoed off the window. And the relief I felt was good, and immediate.
The other thing that low ceilings provoked is the correct bend of the knees. It’s easy to forget, in my own office or outside on the lawn, that the legs aren’t supposed to be straight. “Bent legs! Bent legs!” I can almost hear my old teacher shouting in frustration. But when you want to get the full extension of the body in a room with no height, you have to start from bent knees and good posture to get that stretch. And as a result my legs are a little sore this morning.
It’s all good, though —as in design, constraints make the work more difficult, but also more beautiful. It is in the practice of accepting constraints as part of the process that we invent more sustainable solutions.