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Interview

A Young Musician's Perspective on Tai Chi
interviewed by Instructor Lis

Contrary to the experience of many of our students, Jessica, now completing her second year of Tai Chi, enjoys and gains most benefits from the practice of Chi Kung (Qigong). This wasn't always the case. At first, she found both the Tai Chi movements and the Chi Kung difficult. Her concentration was virtually non-existent and she hardly practised at all. Jessica had been sent along to Tai Chi classes by her violin teacher, who recommended it to her as a way of overcoming severe neck, shoulder and upper back pain. She had just commenced full time study at the ANU Institute of the Arts, School of Music, and was in the first year of her Bachelor of Music, majoring in performance.

The extra practice load exacerbated already existing posture problems. She had to do something about it, so she took her teacher's advice and went along to one of Brett's classes. She did not know much at all about Tai Chi, except that it was slow and involved arm-waving movements. It was much harder than she expected but Jessica stayed with it, believing that it would eventually help.

Her biggest problem, apart from the physical one, was concentration. "I was one of those people who would go to a concert and after about fifteen minutes, I'd start fidgeting. Even when I was practising violin, I'd get distracted really easily, start looking out the window and forget what I was supposed to be doing." That's where she has noticed the greatest improvement, and she attributes this to her daily ten minutes of Chi Kung. If she misses out, she can feel the difference immediately. "I feel edgy, a bit nervy. The concentration goes. But I can get back into it really well now when I practise again."NATFL184.jpg (28789 bytes)

During that initial term, Jessica didn't practise much and managed to scrape by with just the weekly class. She floundered in Level 2 and became extremely frustrated at not remembering the movements and the sequence. She decided to repeat the level. I asked her why she had wanted to continue at all. Was she someone who didn't like to give up something she'd started? Did she enjoy it, despite the frustration? "I think I felt it would be good for me. It was interesting rather than greatly enjoyable. I liked the things the instructors said, Brett's stories. I thought I might as well keep going."

The second time through Level 2, Jessica began to notice some real c
hanges. She was practising regularly and her concentration increased accordingly. She became more aware of her posture and the increased ability to relax which helped her playing. Still, at that stage, she found it easier to do the movements than to practise the Chi Kung. Now, two years later, it's the other way around.

Jessica attends one class per week and barely manages to find time to practise the form. She does the warm-ups and Chi Kung every day, does a stretching routine and goes to aerobics once a week. She knows if she doesn't keep enrolling each term, she won't have the self discipline to keep practising. She would love to have the time and the space to do more form practice. However, at the moment, and probably for the next two years of her degree, she doesn't. Going to class provides the motivation.

Jessica stated quite categorically that the Chi Kung and to a lesser extent the Tai Chi form (probably due to lack of practice), have had a tremendous effect on her concentration. She also knows she is more patient and less prone to debilitating performance nerves than previously. She is aware of tension when it occurs while she is playing her violin and can relax effectively. The physical problems with her shoulders and arms are being helped by physiotherapy as well as Tai Chi, but she admits more movement practice would probably speed up her recovery. I suggested she incorporate some of the Taoist Chi Kung exercises into her daily routine, because they take up less space and are very effective, for example, Yin Yang Fish, Rotating Ball, Spiralling Arms.

"But you must enjoy it to stay with it for two years," I commented. Not many students start as young as Jessica (she was 18) and continue. "Yes, I suppose so," Jessica said. "I wake up feeling good. It makes you feel happy." What better reason for continuing could there be?

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

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