In the middle of my tai chi form today, I suddenly realized, “wait, I have an appointment this morning!”
I rushed to get dressed, got out of the house in time, and raced off to my morning appointment — a fasting blood sample. Got that done, and immediately got caught up in the rush of the day. Now I’m home, and I have to put together a plan of how to do today’s tai chi.
I started this morning at maybe 6:00 am. It’s now 1:10pm. I’d only done part of one qi gong form, and I think I really should just start over from scratch.
Twenty push-ups. Both qi gong forms, out of order: first Eight Pieces of Silk, and then Five Golden Coins. And then the form, six times: footwork, breathwork, upward, downward, inward, outward. I was exhausted by the time I got to splitting, and move through water. I wasn’t delivering my best performance.
So I stopped. And that took about 40 minutes, which means that—once I get to the point of being able to do the other two forms, I’ll be pretty close to 45 minutes of daily practice.
Concentrating on each type of activity is interesting. Each is a very different kind of workout. The breathwork program is actually not the easiest. The footwork is. It’s amazing how much of tai chi is simply standing in one place in a balanced posture. When you drop your arms out of the game, a great deal of the work consists of standing your ground in a way that prevents attacks from the front, left or right. This is elegant, I think, but not particularly challenging. The hardest part are the squats—snake creeps down is its official name—because without the moderating power of the arms to provide balance, it’s difficult to maintain balance.
Then breathwork. Here, you’re concentrating on the reverse or inverse breathwork; squeezing the abdomen tight on the inhale, and expanding the belly on the exhale. I’m much better at the expansion than the abdominal squeeze, but this is improvin.g. Today was a marked improvement over my last effort.
Then comes upward. This is actually as much a mental exercise as a physical one. And this slows one down considerably: which hand is rising? That’s the one that carries the force and pressure and tension, no matter which hand is ‘supposed’ to carry it. That rising hand or arm or knee is what carries the heft and the work. Once I get to “Moving Through Water” this is supposed to get evened out, but for now we concentrate on weighting the rising hand.
This forces me to think. It slowed me down a lot, because frequently it’s the downward-moving hand that’s supposed to be empowered, or the outward moving hand, or the outward-kicking heel. But no, here we focus on the upward stroke. And I think this form took the longest, maybe 10 minutes all by itself. And just imagine if I knew the tai chi poem by heart, and had to think it through as I moved (maybe that’s what I should do for “moving through water“).
Then came the Downward movement. There aren’t as many of these in tai chi, or at least not in the form that I know. But try staying upright on Snake Creeps Down when you’re also adding force to the descent. I was sweating by the end.
Inward, and Outward. Coins have two sides, don’t they? None these, these behave like two different exercises, again. One is about adopting a defensive posture; the other is about forcing an opponent back. The outward form thus feels quite alien, because I’m used to thinking of myself as being in a posture of self-defense while doing tai chi. The inward form feels more natural, but there are parts of it which are surprisingly aggressive: during Roll Back, for example, it feels like I’m trying to jerk my opponent off his feet toward me and to my right. This is in fact one of the attested traditional uses of this particular movement, but I’ve never understood how that could be done until now. Now I know.
Had I gotten to the Splitting movement, and the Move through Water movement, I think I would be dripping with sweat. As it is, I’m still pretty damp all over. It was a good session today. Now I just need a good long walk, and I’m ready to go.
Several people have commented on this new photo of me, taken by my friend Topher in the Design Lab, saying that I’ve lost weight. Sure, maybe a few pounds, not much. Mostly I seem to be changing what it’s made of: shifting it into bone density, ligament density and muscle through this change in regime.