It’s almost a rite of passage. You reach a certain age, and your doctor or the doctor in the AARP magazine tells you that you should be doing taiji, whether for high blood pressure, poor balance or one of the myriad other consequences of stress and the passage of time.
You’ve seen people doing taiji on TV or in a park, and it looks so relaxing and easy that you decide you’ll sign up for a class and give it a try—whereupon you discover that what looked so relaxing and easy is going to take consistent effort to yield much benefit.
You’re going to have to learn a sequence of movements called a form, which will take many months, maybe even a year, even if the form is called a “short form.” You’ll have to go to class pretty much every week, not just when it works with your schedule, as people seem to do with yoga, because you’ll be forever craning your neck trying to see what the teacher is doing if you haven’t learned the sequence.
Plus, the teacher will keep harping on things you weren’t aware of and didn’t expect you’d have to deal with, like the fact that you lock your knees when you stand and scrunch your shoulders when you raise your arms.
Never mind that finding more body-friendly ways of standing and moving may reduce your pain and risk of falling, and never mind that becoming aware of your body may help you let go of the constant chatter in your mind. It’s still hard!
People come to a few taiji classes, become bored or annoyed or discouraged, and drop out. This rapid cycling in and out happens in the classes where I’m a student, and it has happened in the class I’ve been teaching at my church for four years—which pains me, because I love taiji! I would like everyone to love taiji and get as much out of it as I have!
I keep trying to find ways of teaching taiji that will make it more accessible to more people—and now I think I have a new tool: “The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart & Sharp Mind” by Peter Wayne, longtime taiji teacher and Harvard Medical School researcher, with writer Mark Fuerst.
I bought the book when it was published this spring and started reading it because I figured I ought to know what Harvard had to say about taiji (sorry, I’m sticking with the pinyin spelling for tai chi), but now I’m really excited about using it.
The bulk of “The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi” is about how taiji works to promote health, with a comprehensive review of scientific research. (If your doctor has recommended taiji, read the book and you’ll know why.)
However, there’s also a how-to section. Wayne presents, in words and pictures, a 12-week program embodying the fundamentals of taiji that he has used in his research and that he also teaches at his taiji school.
The movements are simple, in the very best sense of that word. I would call some of them qigong, but five of them are movements from Yang-style taiji done with repetition instead of being linked to other movements. This may sound pretty dry, as in “oh, no, not another exercise class,” but there’s something very nice about how Wayne and Fuerst describe the movements and suggest how you might think about what’s happening in your body. Add a little music and your body and mind could settle way down….
Indeed, Wayne says that some of his students like to take his research-protocol/taiji fundamentals class over and over again, whether or not they go on to learn one of the taiji forms.
I’m planning to teach the protocol to my taiji students at church this fall. I think we will all benefit from a relaxed experience of the fundamentals, and I’m hoping that church members who didn’t want to commit to learning the Yang 108 form will think, “Maybe this will work for me. After all, Harvard and my doctor did say taiji would be good for me….”
Of course, my secret hope is that, in the end, they, too, will fall in love with taiji.
NOTE: To go to amazon.com to read reviews of “The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi” or to purchase a copy through my website, click here.