International Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan Association

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A Personal Odyssey

Guest Commentary by Carol Ann (Chidlaw) Bauer

The practice of Tai Chi has been for me a personal odyssey. Through the last six years of serious practice, it has become a metaphor for all the elements of my life -- physical, emotional, spiritual, and the inevitable blending of all those things.

To say that practicing this art is good for health is a gross understatement. We must consider the fact that there are lots of good exercise systems out there, some of them producing bigger muscles faster, quicker aerobic results, and closer-to-instant weight loss, these concepts being the American dream called Fitness. So why would one embark on the monumental task of memorizing a sequence of 108 movements heretofore foreign to our bodies -- not to mention weapons forms! -- (I mean, who uses a turn-around technique that requires one to turn the foot in from the hip joint while balancing primarily on the other foot, while reaching behind with one arm and pushing with the other, and in the end not toppling over, in everyday life? What on earth is Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain, anyway?), when one could drop into a quick kick-boxing class and never have to engage a brain cell while sweating almost instantaneously?

And the aforementioned are the very people who drop into tai chi class and quickly drop back out, missing the very essence of what they probably need in their over-stressed, preoccupied, anxiety-riddled lives. "It makes me crazy," said one departing Type A. "Why in heaven's name would I ever, EVER want to move that slowly?" Perhaps a glance in the medicine cabinet would hold a clue.

But learning to slow one's internal pace to counterbalance a frenetic lifestyle is only one benefit of Tai Chi practice. Never mind lowered blood pressure, greater stamina, improved joint flexibility, and an almost miraculous recovery of ability to focus mentally. There is something beyond all that. It is an intangible, indefinable something that ... how shall I say it? Perhaps the best way is to call it a changed perspective.

My life view, my perspective of the events that come to me unbidden, has changed dramatically. From a woman who had to MAKE things happen, I have become a woman who gracefully (well, at least sometimes) allows life to flow through me and monitors the reaction that before would have immobilized me. Just thirty minutes of Tai Chi practice feels like a small instant in my life, and leaves me both full and hungry for more.

When young, the most flattering descriptive used about me was, "You have such high energy that it's just exhausting to be around you." These days, a young friend who sometimes comes to me for mentoring recently said, "Well, you're just so very, very calming, just so CALM." (No, it is not old age. I am not THAT old.)

Of course I am in better shape than most of the population my age (okay, okay, I'm 55). Practice does have decided physical benefits. But T'ai Chi wasn't a quick fix; it was a long, slow process that settled into my very bone marrow and has become a daily part of me. It's the changed perspective that holds me true to this path. Without the martial arts morality, focus and discipline, I would be just another shooting star long since blipped out in its lightening-fast descent to earth. Now, rooted and grounded on the earth through long hours of T'ai Chi practice, it is only my spirit that soars to the heavens, while the body that Nature gave me continues to work smoothly from posture to posture ... yes, in "real life", too.

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