Taiji day 329: phoning it in

Sometimes there are days like yesterday when you feel like the power is yours to command, and some days there are days when you just phone in your performance. There’s nothing much you can do about it — brain chemistry is off, not much sleep… Whatever it is, you’re not up to the task of performing well.

I’ve been up since 2:30 this morning, listening to the wind howl outside. I heard a tree branch crash down, and a couple of neighbors’ car alarms go off. It’s been an uneasy night as a result. Getting up and getting started was a real challenge.

Increasingly, though, I find the tai chi forms soothing and calming. I’m always in a better mood when I end than when I begin, even if I do a half-hearted run through, as I did this morning. It’s part of the point, I think — I’ve conditioned myself to be calm and relaxed when I finish tai chi, so most times where I’m done, I’m more calm and relaxed at the end than I am at the beginning.

My friend Cole sent me a piece of writing recently which talked about how the mechanisms of physical activity to change mental states sometimes work because they’re physiologically potent, and sometimes because they’re conditioned responses. Tai chi and qi gong contain a little of both, I think: some of the movements are soothing because it would be hard not to be soothed by them. And some didn’t really start to work until I’d done them a hundred times.

In both cases the key is practice. The same piece included the old Vladimir Horowitz quotation, “when I skip a day of practice, I notice. When I skip two days of practice, the orchestra notices. When I skip three days, the audience notices.” I doubt tomorrow’s day will be as hard as today, but I also doubt I could run roughshod through the form as I did today, too many days in a row, before deciding tai chi was not for me. One day is enough.

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