I recently told a woman who’s scheduled for major back surgery that I’d guessed her back was in trouble because of the way she walked.
“What do you mean?” she said.
“Well, you list,” I replied, wishing I hadn’t brought it up.
“No I don’t,” she said.
She was not aware that the upper part of her body habitually tilted forward and to the right when she walked because, like many or perhaps most of us, she has little awareness of where the various parts of her body are in relationship to one another, or to gravity, at any given time. She—and we—cannot feel or otherwise notice what is obvious to others.
I see the same phenomenon as a student and teacher of taiji and qigong. The teacher may be saying “turn from the waist, leaving your hips facing forwards,” but the student’s belly button and hips nonetheless end up facing 45 degrees off center—and he or she has no idea there’s anything amiss.
I am no exception to this lack of body awareness.
Thanks to taiji and qigong, I think I’m becoming more aware of my body and even correcting some of the imbalances creeping up on me with age.
But, hey, I’m coming from a starting position of looking in my bathroom mirror one day and realizing that my right shoulder tipped inward and sat significantly lower than my left, and that—lightbulb moment!—that was why my right bra strap had been slipping down my shoulder so annoyingly for more than a year.
I had looked in the bathroom mirror plenty of times before that, but I was always looking at my hair, my face, my clothes or my fat, not at how I held my body or moved.
I continue to have little lightbulb moments around the fact that I don’t always know where various body parts are or what they’re doing.
This week my Chen-style taiji teacher told me, as I was doing a particular move, that my arms needed to go longer, to extend farther from my body. I don’t generally look in the classroom mirrors when he makes a correction because I’m more interested in feeling what he’s saying than looking at myself in profile, but this time I did.
Looking in the mirror I realized that the end stance of this Chen-style move was very much like the end stance of a move in the Yang-style form I’ve been doing for 15 years.
I think I connected the two only because looking at me in the mirror was like looking at the students in the Yang-style class I teach at my church. And I recognized the position of my arms as “chicken wings,” something I’ve been trying to get one of my students to correct.
Egads! She’s been doing it because I do it! I don’t know if I’ve always done chicken wings or if I’ve simply drifted into it over several years of practicing Yang style while no longer having a Yang-style teacher to keep me in line.
And now I have one more need to apologize.
But what also strikes me, as I think about this, is that it’s no wonder qigong sometimes seems to take more patience than I’ve got.
If I and others have so little awareness of the body we can see, we’re bound to have even less awareness of the body we can’t see—our energy body, our body of qi.