Moving my body is often the easiest route to lifting my spirits, so it’s good when I remember to turn to my second longest-standing spiritual practice of Tai Chi. (For a wee bit of my history with this practice, you can skip to the second part of this blog post, titled My History with Tai Chi .)Today, it helped me clear and heal some pain that was lodged in my emotional body.
I was doing Tai Chi as sunset was approaching. With a slightly stiff left shoulder from some bursitis or something that set in about 8 years ago, I felt grateful for this gentle physical movement that can be done even with a measure of physical limitation. A mild twinge in my shoulder reminded me of when pain arrived in that joint. It was shortly after the sudden, early death of my brother when he was 61 and I was 58.
Not to oversimplify things to causation or anything, that shoulder pain was so intense during the weeks after my brother’s death that it frequently brought me to tears. Those tears in turn brought me several times to feeling and releasing my grief over the loss of him – my sweet, smart, funny bro. I had complacently assumed we’d have some twilight years with less busy-ness in our far apart daily lives, and more reunions.
Sometimes physical pain can connect us to the emotional variety, and therefore a chance to care for ourselves in more ways than one.
Sometimes it’s a spiritual practice that opens the floodgates. Like today.
I had a big cry while doing the part of the Tai Chi form called ‘white crane cooling it’s wings’. It was a release of pent up emotion, mostly grief, that had been sitting in my chest. I tend to have (and hold) strong empathic responses to an overload of the news about so much pain and fear in the world. Closer to home, a beloved friend is suffering unbearably from a degenerative illness.
A good cry is a good thing, for me and for many.
It’s rare for Tai Chi to open me to tears. Usually, it quietly returns me to the simple healing of deeper breathing. Today it was the catalyst for my cry that took the edge off my anxious, irritable demeanor that had been driving my day.
My History with Tai Chi
I have a passion for radical spirituality that welcomes the mixing and sharing of more than one tradition. Tai Chi is the second practice that became meaningful to me, back in my early twenties.
The form I know is from the ‘Huang’ school as my teacher, Al Huang, jokingly called it. He was trained from childhood in more than one classical Chinese school of Tai Chi Chuan. As a visiting teacher in dance and choreography in York University’s Fine Arts program in the early ‘70’s, he taught classes in Tai Chi for my cohort of performing art students, distilling the essence of the movements into beautiful dance. I loved it. Some of the form I learned those many decades ago has remained with me, flowing in and out of my life as meditation, dance, and exercise.
Years before the resolution of enough fear of, reluctance toward, and aversion for ‘religion’ had been achieved to allow me to directly turn toward the spiritual, especially in community, I could always do some Tai Chi on my own. It never failed to deepen my breathing and quickly reduce anxiety. I could practice non-religiously – the only way I would practice then. No institution demanding that I show up and do it on anyone else’s schedule. Just me in my body.
Sometimes years would pass with no practice. Every return was a joyful new beginning with a friendly old body-memory. Here in the 7th. decade of my life it is movement I can usually do with ease and with consciousness of where my body needs attention.
Thank you to Al Huang, to his protégé Jay Goldfarb, and to the centuries of Taoist teachers and practitioners who stand behind them!