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Yesterday I went to my first full-fledged T’ai Chi class, after several months of training, learning the 108 moves of the set. Not that I remember all of the movements or their sequence: I don’t. But I do know how to do them, and if I stay with this new class, I will probably, over time, remember them all simply because we do them every week during the class.
My new teacher placed great emphasis on the warm-up parts of the T’ai Chi discipline. We spent more than an hour of our two-hour class working with two very tiring (for this beginner) movements: toyu and donyu. In retrospect, toyu is a very nice exercise to do for an extended period of time, a slow and graceful stretching and twisting movement. Donyu is a horse of another colour. It is a slow squat movement which, when done properly (as adjusted and directed by the instructor) surprised me with its ability to create a cardiovascular effect, as well as appall me in terms of my demonstrated lack of stamina. After a short while, I was breathing heavily and sweating enough to remove my top shirt, and feeling the stretch in my back and legs. After doing the exercise a fair number of times and stopping to rest, I was aware that my thighs and lower back were responding to their new treatment by generating warmth in those areas. There was also a sense of improved circulation throughout my entire body from head to toe. Just what this old body really needs, and most interesting.
The school of T’ai Chi in which I have been taking classes is called the Taoist Tai Chi Society. It was founded by a Chinese monk who came to Toronto and began teaching people his approach to T’ai Chi with an emphasis on health benefits as opposed to the obvious martial arts application. As a result, many people arrive for class in wheelchairs or using a cane or walker to get there, and are warmly welcomed by their instructors who support their attempts to regain their health through this highly beneficial exercise. Of course, if most of us are lucky, we will find T’ai Chi before we need external methods of transporting our bodies, and minimize the need for using these various appliances.
After my class yesterday, I wobbled out onto the street and loosely “walked” home, a twenty minute journey when my legs are not “rubberized”. Somehow I managed to get home all right. I soaked in a hot bath in the afternoon, feeling that was a wise decision. It was. In the late afternoon my hips and lower back were making themselves very known to me, with a bit of stiffness if I stayed in the same position for very long. However, I slept more deeply than I have in a very long time, and woke this morning with a minimum of stiffness, to my surprise. It is obvious that my adventures in T’ai Chi have just begun. I look forward to the many surprises awaiting me as the weeks roll by.