I realized that for me, the words “full set” now mean two qi gong forms —Five Golden Coins and Eight Pieces of Silk — and four tai chi forms. Not only is that the full set because that’s the tai chi that I know… it’s also the full set because that is the workout.
I know that because after doing that today, I’m sweating. Not the light sweat that suggests I’ve gotten a little exercise. The heavy sweat that says I’ve done some serious cardio. And it took me almost an hour. Maybe 2-5 minutes less. I can’t be sure. But it was a good workout.
I think I sometimes forget how important breathwork is to the whole process. My first tai chi form was… ok, I guess. I was mostly concentrating on footwork, and getting the foot placement right. Somewhere about Stand Like Tree, I thought to myself, “You should really do footwork and breathwork together. They go together. Every time you move, check your stance when you’re done. Every time you check your stance, do the inverse breath: pull in your abdomen on the inhale, and relax on the exhale.” So, I did that.
Even now, a few minutes later, I’m a little woooooo. I can feel my blood… no longer pounding, but present. I think that I can hear a tinny, high-pitched whine, but part of me thinks this is imagination, and reading and seeing accounts of John Cage’s visit to the anechoic room at MIT (link to the video in case the embed code ever fails).
That was the first, or Air movement, of my tai chi practice this morning. And I call it the Air movement, because I started out facing east. I must admit, following those two directives, to check foot and breath work on every movement, threw me off. Somewhere in the middle of that, I got muddled, and I wound up having to insert an extra half-spin to get me facing the right direction by the end.
That muddle carried over into the first part of the Fire movement (facing south), but I stopped my form, and started again, before I got to the first Single Whip. WordPress has eliminated the search function within the link set-up menu box, so I’m seeing my drawings from a year ago for the first time, and I’m kind of embarrassed. No matter. The fire form turned out to be very fiery, and I started sweating heavily half-way through. My abs in particular got an unexpected workout. There’s an entire curriculum of tai chi hidden in the breathwork and movement. For example, on the first Snake Creeps Down, I was pulling my belly in on an inward breath; but on the second, much closer to the end of the form, I was relaxing on an outward breath. YES, they’re both supposed to be the same kind of breath, I think. But being out of sync with the ‘scheduled’ breath, I was able to observe my balance much more clearly. The inward breath as one sinks to the ground feels more stable; or maybe it’s that I’ve practiced it much more deliberately. But the outward breath is important too! It’s less balanced, but in that challenged balance, there’s an immediate need for settling and setting the posture into the new form.
By the Water movement (facing west), I was tiring a bit. My breathwork was a bit more sloppy, but there were moments I’d characterize as delicious. The Golden Pheasants, and the kicks, were beautiful with long pauses in the knee-up position, and in the foot-out position. When I can hold those without falling over or slipping or shaking, it’s a great day.
The Earth movement (facing north) was as it should be, grounding. And despite this morning’s early snows, it looks like I’m going to have to get ready for school.