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The Rewards of Tai Chi - Seven Years Along the Path
interviewed by Instructor Lis

The Aranda Refinement class has, at its core, a group of about eight or nine students who have been enrolled with the Academy for over five years. One of these stalwarts is Stephen. Stephen started in January 1994 and has only missed about three terms in those seven years. Why does he keep coming along? "I can feel the benefits. I feel physically stronger." Stephen thought a bit and then added, "I enjoy it. I ride my bike to work and sometimes, I don't enjoy that, but I always enjoy Tai Chi."

Stephen suffers from diabetes and this was one of his main reasons for taking up Tai Chi. Some research suggests that diabetes and stress are linked, that is, people with a predisposition to diabetes may develop this illness when under stress. Stephen had read that Tai Chi was helpful in dealing with stress and hypertension. He realises it is impossible to determine the specific effects of Tai Chi in relation to his condition. However, he suspects that his health problems would be less manageable without the exercise.

Beginners forget that those seeming adepts in the advanced class were beginners once too. Stephen told me he and his wife came along together for the introductory lesson. When the instructor demonstrated the first section of the form, they looked at each other in disbelief and said, "They ex
pect us to learn that in a term? Yeah, right!" They didn't know much about Tai Chi before they started, and Stephen was surprised to find there was a predetermined set of movements. He had an idea that it was going to be freer. "Daunting" was the word Stephen used, but he set about learning the movements and likened it to building a wall, brick by brick. Eventually, the basic structure is there and you then work on improving it. Although his wife completed only one term, she encouraged Stephen to continue.
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Was co-ordination a problem? Definitely - particularly the Knee Brush sequenc
e when one side felt really wobbly. This led to a kind of fear. "I can't learn this. It's beyond me." Also, "What do other people think?" Sound familiar?

Like most people, he found it difficult to remember the sequence. He decided the only way to deal with that was to go home and practise the new movement immediately after class. Next day is too late. Today's beginners are fortunate to have their video to guide them during the early stages.

Stephen recommends that beginners attend a workshop as soon as possible. He went to one in his first term and found it really helped him get the feel of what Tai Chi was about, as well as consolidating various things like the walking.

As an advanced student, Stephen faces different challenges, a common one being the feeling of slowing progress or plateauing. The only way through this is to keep practising. Every now and then, a light flashes or something clicks into place and with that comes fresh understanding. The best realizations are those which the student arrives at through his/her own practice.

Having studied Western philosophy as part of his Arts degree, Stephen was attracted to the Eastern philosophy aspect of Tai Chi. He had done some yoga sitting meditation at a stress management class where he works. After experiencing this static meditation, he found he liked the idea of moving meditation - meditation and physical exercise combined. Even though the mind is being exercised in moving meditation, it is being calmed at the same time, which he thinks a funny contradiction.

Stephen manages to do some practice every day - warm-ups, walking, the Yin Yang Fish or Yin Yang Ball exercise, parts of the form and the Sword form. Space is a bit of a problem. Potplants have begun to encroach on his paved practice area so he can only do the full form at class which he attends twice a week. The front lawn is a bit too public! He admits he doesn't practise Chi Kung as much as he should, but said that early on, he felt some interesting sensations. His whole body seemed to be sinking down into his ankles as he relaxed. He doesn't get this feeling anymore, probably because he has adjusted to the practice. Stephen also thinks his body is stronger as a result of the Chi Kung. He is sure of this because he is now able to stand for up to fifteen minutes where initially, he could only stand three or four minutes.

Although not an aggressive person, Stephen told me he knows he is calmer now than before he began Tai Chi. He gave me some examples, including something that happened during a recent visit to the tip. "I arrived two minutes after closing time at the recycling section and the man had just closed the gate. He wouldn't re-open it. I thought 'oh well, I'll go home', but the driver in front of me waved his fist at the man and roared off, obviously furious." It's incidents like these that point out the difference Tai Chi can make to your daily life. Stephen called it being able to manage your emotions. He also made the very good point that Tai Chi teaches patience. The slowness of the movements makes you slow down. Instead of the world rushing by at breakneck speed, Tai Chi enables you, in a small but effective way, to slow things to a controllable and enjoyable pace.

- proof that practice and perseverance will certainly bring you the rewards that make Tai Chi famous

(This is an actual interview, but the name has been changed for reasons of privacy.)