Doctor Yang said, “when you move [in qi gong], move as if you were moving through water. Whole body, move as if you were moving in water.” What he was getting at, was that you should feel some resistance. Since you’re not actually moving through water, though — you have to provide that resistance.
So I did Five Golden Coins this morning, part of my new-refounded devotion to qi gong, and a short spine-twisting exercise to get the spine limbered up. Remember, flexibility, endurance, balance, and strength are the goals. So stretching and flexing the spine is one of the ways to get there. And that’s critical: I was having this conversation with a friend last night, in fact, and he agreed. He shared a number of videos of strength and movement masters — I’ve forgotten all of them but Ido Portal, and MoveNat, but for those who are interested, here’s links to those teachers/programs — but I look at Ido Portal’s movements, and I think, “I can’t do that. One, I don’t have time in my schedule. I could drop everything and study his materials intensively for a whole summer… but then I couldn’t keep up with the program. It would suffer with the first classes of September, and evaporate under the pressures of the first November snows.”
What I really need, though, is movement. My friend is right about that. And so it was an easy decision yesterday to walk to the hardware store when I realized that I needed wood glue. Forty-five minutes outside in 45°F degree weather over urban but interesting terrain, moving over snowbanks and up and down hills, over the river and through the town, to TruValue and back? Easy choice. I went. And I need to do more of that… and maybe get my bike onto the roads to travel to and from school. Nine miles of bicycling a day, five days a week? Perfect.
With all of that in mind, moving through water was the last thing on my mind this morning; I should have been concentrating on something like fast movement or running through the jungle or carrying logs around or something (with my shirt off, apparently. Haven’t these people heard of mosquitos? deer ticks? Hmph.)
But it was on my mind, and that’s what I did today: I made the effort to move deliberately through water on each movement. I averaged about four breaths to each movement in the tai chi form, but I wasn’t doing the reverse-breath… so I haven’t integrated that teaching yet. I did pretty well on footwork: the effort last week to walk through the lower-body half of the form has paid off handsomely and I’m starting to make those adjustments instinctually.
But the movement through water, while challenging, was incredible. First, the form took me twenty-one minutes. When I add in the eight minutes of qi gong with which I started, this is a very good day. Second, by the end I was trembling and slightly sweaty. I didn’t get an aerobic workout… but I was edging into that territory. When I combine movement through water with the deep breathing of yesterday’s slow-moving meditation. it’s clear that I’m moving into some very interesting places, and I’m starting to be able to generate some force and power from my tai chi practice that can actually lead me to some very healthy places and performances.
I’ll never be an Ido Portal, I don’t think. But I can certainly raise my overall fitness level, possibly to places it’s never been. Deb Castellano recently pointed out that the magician rarely uses techniques that are more advanced than the beginner’s techniques, and that’s certainly true with my tai chi practice. I’m not doing any movements that are substantially different from what I practiced three years ago. What I’m doing, though, is learning how to apply those movements in new ways, at new speeds, and with new intentionality. And the result is a radically-different and stronger and more effective workout.