Vacation: Day Four


Today brought a talk by Master Yang Yang, a tai chi practitioner and teacher from New York City; and a thirty-minute “Chi Energy” workout by a ‘kid’ who didn’t look older than most of my students, though he was probably in his twenties.  Between the two teachings, one by an experienced master and one by someone who looks like he’s been practicing a trio of times a week for a few months, I think I have another qi gong routine to add to my practice, bringing my total to three: Five Golden Coins, Eight Pieces of Silk, and this new one.

I also spent some time today in yoga classes.  I was determined that I was going to find an exercise program that helped dad. We took one of these qi gong classes together, and a yoga class, just the two of us, together.  That was great for me, but hard on him, I think.  Too much work on his knees.

It’s kind of like this discovery about bodies, that John Michael Greer says about civilizations. If you want your body to be strong and flexible and enduring in your seventies, you have to start in your fifties.  If you want your body to be strong and flexible through your eighties, you have to start in your forties.  If you want to live healthily past the century mark, you probably have to start in your thirties.  The closer you get to old age (and “old age” here really means something like a major systems failure in your body, your immune system, your skeleton, your ligaments, and so on), the fewer options for exercise you have, and the longer and harder you have to work to maintain what you have got left of your health.  Doctors and nurses and medicine can only do so much, relative to your own willingness to care for the flesh and bones you’ve gained or received from the universe.

As I watched him struggle through an intensive-but-beginner lesson on the Sun Salutation — Mountain Pose, Swan Dive, Plank, Chittaranga (spelling?), Cobra, Upward-facing Dog, Downward Dog, Warrior 2, Warrior 1, and so on — and experienced my own discomforts but growing ease with these forms, I considered the thirty year difference in our ages. He’s 75 (76 this autumn), and me 44 (45 this summer).  He’s at an age where he’s not going to withdraw from life’s pleasures, for sure. OR in his words, “I’m seventy-five; I’m not going to live forever; I’m going to eat bacon four times a month for as long as I want to.”  It’s hard to argue with that.

But it makes me consider my own mortality.  I’m not married, though I’m in a long term relationship that I don’t see ending. I have a pseudo-step-daughter, but no children of my own.  And while I could be six hours or twenty years away from being fatherless, the truth is that I’d like to hold on to him as long, as hale, and as happily as possible… And this goes for myself, as well.  I haven’t come to any conclusions about Dad — I think that qi gong or yoga would be good for him, but I think qi gong is a better choice than yoga. But it’s also not my choice to make for him; I’ve made my choice for me, and I’ve found something that works, and I’ve offered it to him through this lesson we received together.  But I can’t make him practice; only he can do that. For me, I’ve found some things that work for me.  Tai chi and qi gong have made me strong; yoga and cardio will, I think, make me stronger and healthier.

They certainly have this week. The other day, I bailed out of a cycling class only 25 minutes in, shaking and trembling from the high heart rate and the intensity of the workout. Today, I was able to do seven miles of variable resistance on an exercise bike.  Not the same as riding outdoors, by a long shot.  But I was able to keep my heart rate between 130 and 140 for half an hour, with some short bursts higher than that, in good interval training.

One of the women in this morning’s Qi gong lecture by Master Yang said of the form he was teaching, “So it’s the process of getting there, not the getting there, that matters.” And he laughed, a beautiful and fair laugh, and said that this was exactly correct. “You have a saying here in America, No Pain No Gain, but in qi gong it is exactly the opposite: No pain is the greater gain.”

He also said something along the lines of, you are moving, you are shifting your weight, that’s 80% of the work, and then maybe 20% or a little less is the turn or the twist.  But you are cultivating energy here, life force — and pain is a diminishing of that life force.  Getting there means the energy is gone.  And none of us here are ready to be gone yet. Are we?  There was laughter.  I wish I remembered his words more exactly, but that was the gist of it.

I consider the goal of  yoga, though, in light of the private teaching my father and I had this afternoon. There, the goal is getting there — assuming the right posture, having the head and neck and spine and legs and feet all in the right place, and having the body connect muscles and ligaments and bones all in the right position so that the body is fully empowered to stand in the chosen posture for as long as is needed or wanted. The getting there matters.

But this is yin and yang, in a sense, more or less, exactly or approximately.  Sometimes it’s the getting there, and sometimes it’s the being there, in these kinds of exercises.  Sometimes you’re after exactly the right posture, and sometimes the best guess as to the appropriate movement. The kid who conducted the noonday Chi Energy Workshop said, even while doing a move called “brush the horse’s tail” too quickly, “Sometimes you’re going to do this move too fast, and sometimes you’re going to do it slow, or even stand steadily in just the basic posture.  It’s good to be both static and dynamic at the right times.”

And that seems to be the gist of it.  Static Dynamism. Dynamic Stasis.  The process of getting there, and getting there, both matter each in their own specific and contextual way.

Vacation: Day Three


Phew.  Busy, busy day.  Some relaxation, some challenges, a lot of good workouts. Some bad news, some good news, a grand feeling of health.

Last part of the day first: I saw a great performance by members of a Shakespeare company, who performed some of the most stirring language from the most popular plays, in the context of ‘how did this guy Bill Shaksberd make a bunch of plays that made the world sit up and take notice. That was pretty awesome.  Before that was dinner, when I had a tenderloin steak on a bed of roasted brussels sprouts.  Before that, I had a Bindi Shirodhara treatment. I had time and space and cash for one genuinely luxurious spa treatment, and I wound up getting an Ayurvedic treatment that involved a combination of herbs, essential oils, and hot sesame oil all over my body. That was really nice, but it was also a long time on the treatment table.  Before that, I went to a session of restorative yoga, which turned out to be a lot of reclining on pillows in such a way that various parts of my body were stretched and supported at the same time.  Nice, too.

I think the four real gems of the day, though, were a new Qi Gong form that I was taught just after lunch.  It’s just five movements, but it’s been good.  For future reference, the postures are called Grand Opening, followed by Movement in Water, followed by Cloud Hands, followed by Paint the Sky, followed by the Wu Chi posture, what I would call Stand Like Tree.  Each of these poses has a cognate position in my existing tai chi form.

I also had a one-on-one meeting with a Chinese Traditional Medicine practitioner and acupuncturist.  HE had me run through my form with him, and said that my poses looked good.  He recommended a few shifts — first, that I tend to keep my stance within a relatively narrow band from side to side, but that widening my posture would give me a more effective stance.  I implemented that with good effect at a qi gong workshop later in the day. The second recommendation he made was to point out that each posture has at least two of the five possible energies of directionality going on: there’s the upward force, usually used as a block but not always; there’s downward force, usually for putting an opponent off balance; there’s an inwardly-directed force, usually for an attack; an outwardly directed force, also for attack but sometimes for pushing-away; and finally a splitting force, for dividing and re-directing opponents’ energies.  And that the form can be practiced in such a way that these four forces are at play all time time.

I had a shocking moment of realization; I’ve forgotten if I mentioned it here earlier.  But someone had cause to go back into the records, and found that I and my parents came here in February of 1997. Among the events of that visit was a “tai chi walk” where I was asked to connect to the energy of all life around me. I began practicing tai chi with my teacher in the fall of 1997, or maybe it was early 1998.  In other words, being at this place was the thing that got me started in tai chi.  I’ve come back to my source.

InsightThe third gem of the day was a workout in the water.  If you’d seen me at 3pm this afternoon, you’d have seen me running and jumping in the pool beside a group of women, and to all appearances you’d have thought we were playing around and goofing off while an instructor on the pool deck shouted instructions at us to no avail.  But in truth, it was a surprisingly difficult and interesting workout — those pool noodles have buoyancy, and resist being shoved underwater quite well.  I got a very good workout from shoving pool noodles around the pool, and from trying to wrangle a workout from them.

I went to two yoga classes, and I also did a burst of cardio workout in the gym on an exercise bike.  In the second yoga class, the instructor helped me complete my first inversion — raising my legs into the air.  That turned out to feel wonderful, even though it looked scary and impossible.  I’d like to find a way to make a yoga practice part of my routine sometime.  But again, it’s more strength and flexibility workout, and that’s not really the problem for me.

My torturous class in the cycling fitness studio did not turn me off of cycling. Someday soon, I’d like to start biking to work actually.  But I think back to my insight from earlier in the week:  tai chi, and now yoga, though they appeal to me greatly, don’t actually build the endurance.  Sure: strength and flexibility, balance… yoga and tai chi and qi gong are great ways of improving those. But they don’t work on endurance, which only comes from raising the heart rate, and doing something like interval training or a serious cardio workout.  running, or climbing stairs, or biking, or a lot of swimming.  I don’t like these sorts of exercise, and probably you don’t either.  They also carry a greater risk of injury, because usually you’re working harder and heavier than you would normally, and sometimes you’re using relatively dangerous equipment — they have treadmills here, but the physical therapists and posture experts and medical personnel appear to be more than a little leery of these torture devices, which have a undesirably-high rate of accident and injury, and which don’t appear to do much to help an ordinary runner become a better or more efficient runner.

There will be a poem for Mars in Cazimi soon; there’s an upcoming window of opportunity, and I’ve been thinking about how Mars is an appropriate patron of weight loss, physical fitness, and exercise; and also for the improvement of willpower — especially when in conjunction with the Sun.  There was a lecture today on astrology, though, and I decided not to go.  One can only do so much in a day.

Tai Chi Y3D335: Short form… longer to follow

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If yesterday is any indication, and the day before is a sampling, today is going to be a hard day of working out and sitting there wrung out from working out.  I woke up sore, and more than a little cranky with the state of my body. I felt drastically changed, and not necessarily for the better.

Then I did tai chi. I want you to understand that I didn’t do an elaborate working-through of the form. This was not a deliberate, twenty-minute practice. This was a fast-and-dirty seven-minute tai chi form, no qi gong to start, no deep breath exercises, no formal preparation.  Hmph.  I shouldn’t have gotten any benefit from it at all.

Shows you what I know.  I’m no longer stiff and sore.  I’m no longer tired. I’m no longer cranky. Rather, I feel rejuvenated and refreshed. Energized. Ready to go.  At the end of the day yesterday I was wrung out, strung out and done. This morning, I woke up only a third of the way back from that. And post-tai chi, I’m 7/8s of the way back from that.

Insight A lot of it, for me, comes down to this diagram I made this morning, that comes out of yesterday’s discussions and insight.  Your body is the thing that makes you work in the world: you have flesh that unites you with the energies of the world, and means that sooner or later you’re going to die and rot; you also have a spirit which longs for spiritual connection, and which is eternal and immortal, and which will never die.

But at that intersection point between spirit and matter is this amazing, interesting, capable body.  And it has four powers: flexibility, balance, strength and endurance. If you don’t train those skills, if you let them diminish… then they will diminish you.  

In one of the tai chi classes I took yesterday, they talked about rubbing your kidneys and lower back at the end of a practice. One instructor called it “closing the back doors of the temple,” the counter to rubbing the belly at the end which is closing the front doors of the temple. These movements are about sealing off the energy work that you’ve done from those who are hungry for your energy, and hungry for your good will and power and suchlike.

But one form of exercise, be it tai chi or yoga, will not do all four of those training exercises.  Flexibility comes from stretching.  Strength comes from lifting heavy weights, or yourself.  Balance comes from standing on one leg, or learning more advanced yoga or tai chi postures. Endurance comes from walking, running, bicycling, or running stairs.  I’ve aligned them with fire, air, water, and earth, but I think you could make a case that just because the wind blows all the time, doesn’t make it strong exactly.  Just because the Earth is always there, doesn’t make it enduring.  Fire is flexible, but only because you put fuel there to feed it.  Water doesn’t balance exactly, it just seeks the lowest point possible, and fills the containers it’s put in.

But I hope my readers take my meaning plainly, which is that one kind of exercise — which I’ve been doing until now — is probably not enough for whole-body fitness.

And on that note, up and at ’em. Back to work.

Vacation ends

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Vacation is at an end. Tomorrow I go back to work. It will be day 50 of my tai chi routine, and seven weeks or so until school’s end.

It was a good vacation. I saw the VanGogh exhibit in Philadelphia, climbed a small mountain in Massachusetts, contradanced, marked an astronomical event with cheer, celebrated a friend’s fiftieth birthday, reconciled with another old friend, wrote a poem, got my computer fixed, ate a lot of good food, and hung out with my dad. It was a lot to pack into a week.

Back to work.


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    Lovelips and I are staying with my parents in Sarasota,Florida right now. We’re having a good time. Today we’re going to the Sarasota County Fair, having gone out for breakfast this morning. Last night we went to the house of some friends of my mom, and the night before we went to see Euripides’ Bacchae. I’ve also gotten in a good walk every day, usually for a couple of miles or so every day.

    Mostly we’ve been hanging out by the pool, and swimming, getting some sun and doing creative stuff. I’ve been working on making maps, and lj user=Lovelips> has been beading. Mom is making a quilt, while Dad is off playing tennis. Tonight we may go to a poetry reading at a Thai restaurant.

    Does anyone know of any other poetry readings in Sarasota? I’m here until Thursday, even though lovelips goes home Sunday.