Tai chi on the Ocracoke beach.

August 2013
By TL Grace West

You may be familiar with one of my favorite stories about a conversation between a Grandfather and his Grandson that goes something like this:

Grandfather: “everyone has a good wolf and a bad wolf living inside of them”

Grandson: “I think it was the bad wolf that influenced me to misbehave”

Grandfather: “Yep, I’d say so”

Grandson: “ what do I need to do to strengthen the good wolf?”

Grandfather: “That’s easy, the wolf that is fed is the strongest”.

Exploring and becoming a teacher of Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Ai Chi are ways I have found to feed the good wolf in me. A quote from Barbara Kingsolver’s new book “Flight Behavior” helped shape my intention for this article. She says “words are just words, describing things a person can see; maybe a person has to know a thing first, to see it.”

I would like to paint a picture of what goes on in classes: Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and Ai Chi, so that you might both see and know more about these words and experiences.

Let’s start with Ai Chi. Imagine entering a warm water therapy pool (about 94 degrees), moving and being moved gently by the water, starting first with a series of arm movements, then moving the whole body. Feel the water support your balance and breathe as your ability to move smoothly and naturally increases. The simplicity of only 16 movements in all helps you remember that the sequence can be done in 10 to 15 minutes and repeated as much as you want.

This is just a snap shot of what you would see in a class but it hints at some of the things that I have learned and know.  I know that I like warm water and as I relax, my range of motion and the tight places in my body let go. I know the buoyancy of water supports my sometimes achy joints and that I feel little or no pain.

I like to learn what others have found helpful, especially when it can be done in a reasonable amount of time. I first saw a video of Ai Chi and later learned it was developed in Japan by a swim coach who adapted what he knew about tai chi and applied it to water. He believed and found it was true that as his swimmers learned better how to relax in the water their efficiency increased. As a teacher of Tai Chi, I also knew I wanted to bring the benefits of tai chi to people whose knees were not up to standing on a floor.

I was drawn to study Tai Chi back in the early 1970’s. I had seen people on TV from China doing these slow graceful movements and I was simply intrigued. I knew I liked meditation (quieting my mind, a kind of prayer) and I learned that Tai Chi is sometimes called ‘moving meditation’. I loved my first Chinese teacher who at 80 years old was as flexible and healthy as a young person! I knew I wanted to grow old like this. I liked how I felt doing the Tai Chi movements and how the feeling of peace, strength and balance lingered after I ended my practice.

While I visited Ocracoke during the 80’s I enjoyed doing Tai Chi by the ocean side and wanting to share my experience, I made the commitment to become a teacher 10 years later when I moved to Ocracoke full time. Since I combine Qi Gong into my Tai Chi classes, let’s turn to what Qi Gong is before I paint a picture of what class is like.

Tai Chi dates back to the 12th Century, while Qi Gong is often said to be its “Grandmother”. Ancient. The focus of Qi Gong on healing as well as harmony attracted me to its multi-faceted movements and sounds that weave together Chinese practices meant to enhance health. Although I’ve learned a lot about Chinese philosophy while studying Qi Gong, it is in the doing of it that resonated with what I know about the benefits of stilling my mind, being present and moving gently and feeds the ‘good wolf’ within.

Imagine walking up the steps at Angie’s Gym and hearing soft Chinese music welcoming you into Tai Chi/Qi Gong class. As you enter into the hour class, you follow me through warm ups noticing your increased ability to relax. Your mind may be interested in the information I slip in about the benefits of specific ways of moving, or you may simply enjoy “monkey see, monkey do,” following along.

As the warm ups and Qi Gong movements flow into doing the sequence of the ‘Park Form’ of Tai Chi I begin telling the story behind this form. The story begins before you are born, continues through your birth, into life’s lessons and ends with the moral of the story: to be grateful for how we are all connected. You may be surprised that only 10 minutes goes by for all three parts of this Tai Chi form.

At the end of class I observe students often smile softly with glowing eyes looking refreshed. I wonder if the “good wolf” is resting happily after such nourishment.

TL Grace West loves to both exercise and relax. After a good workout you can experience her warm water massage therapy. http://www.floatwithgrace.com  (919) 418-5472; (919) 418-5472


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