For the past three years, friends have been asking me to teach tai chi and I’ve finally decided to start a class at Lotus Path Yoga. I’m nervous. I’m not a movement teacher and am generally pretty klutzy on my feet. And I’m a loner when it comes to this sort of thing. Tai chi is something I’ve always done alone. I also practice yoga on my own, I like to walk alone. I go to the gym, but keep to myself and don’t socialize. The idea of actually teaching people how to do this has me more than a little freaked out.
Tai chi is part of my life, and has been ever since I learned it in China almost seven years ago. I do the simplified, 24 movement yang style, the kind that’s practiced throughout China. There are more complicated forms. More movements can be added, but I guess I’m a creature of habit. Although I’ve thought about it from time to time, I’ve been content to keep to this version of moving slowly through 24 movements. It is a kind of meditation, and the chi energy it connects you with is very real. It’s part of why it’s become a part of my life. There’s something magical about feeling that energy move through your hands and body.
I learned from Mr. Lin, a stocky Hainanese man, who taught me in the evenings in the upstairs hallway of the administration building at Haikou College on Hainan Island where I was teaching English. He was a patient man and he worked hard on developing my patience. We began during monsoon season and the upstairs hallway was often thick with heat and humidity. Sometimes raindrops the size of baseballs battered the windows. Mr. Lin seemed unfazed by it all as he stood serenely in his loose cotton pants and T-shirt.
It seemed like weeks, but it was probably only days that he made me practice the beginning posture. Breathe. Slowly raise my arms to waist level. Step to the left. Over and over. Sometimes he would make me just stand. “You need to get the rubbish out of your brain,” he told me. “You need to be open to the chi before I can take you further.”
I don’t think my American students would be open to the same slow pace Mr. Lin took me through, but I’ve always been grateful for the training.
Tai chi has seen me through many difficult times and it’s a piece of China that has stayed with me, become part of me. I used to love early mornings in China when the sidewalks were filled with people practicing tai chi. The looked like large, graceful birds, slowly moving through these 24 movements.
Hainan Island was a good place for me, if not an easy place. In some ways I see it as the island where my life began to turn and take another direction, a path that eventually led me away from my marriage, to India and back to Susanville. Anytime you live in a new country, it’s challenging. It can be doubly so when the language and culture are so vastly different from your own.
Hainan did that for me. It became a mirror for me to face both the good and bad parts of myself. It challenged me and made me more honest. It gave me tai chi.