When I ask that question about why someone practices Tai Chi, people enthusiastically volunteer their reasons:
"Boosts Energy levels, relieves asthma, soothes arthritis, improves balance, co-ordination, helps fight dah dah dah, helps relax my spleen and Urinal Meridian, helps send me to sleep, helps keep me asleep, its good for my constitution, its good for my white blood cell count, its good for me myself and I….
As World Tai Chi and Qigong Day has recently passed, I'm reminded that there is another side to the practice that is less self-orientated - and that is the communal side; the collective side; the side that entangles and engages us; the side that encourages us to learn together, mutually understanding and mutually supportive.
In the Havard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi Peter Wayne writes that Interactions with each other help create a broad sense of belonging to a community - and this in turn has hugely positive benefits for health, disease prevention, recovery rates and simply makes you healthier and happier.
Don't get me wrong - learning solo forms and emphasising personal development is fine, but in these times of individual goal-setting, it would be interesting to see how Tai Chi can enable us to work closer together and counter some of its more isolationist tendencies.
So Why Do You Practice Tai Chi?
For me, Tai Chi is not just a martial art, a form of inner health, nor just a meditative practice. Tai Chi give us an exceptional opportunity to engage with one another in a non-competitive, mutually supportive, healthy and yet still challenging way. It shows us another way of being together. In a world in which we are ever more persuaded to inhabit only our own echo chambers, the old texts of the the tao te ching can show us how to break out of the padded-cell and forge links, search for what connects us and dissolve the superficiality of difference.
Play, discovery and interactive learning together in class are profound tools that offer their riches to those prepared to let go of their individual goals. All the partner work is subtly directed towards this end - Push hands to 7 Stars, 4 Corners etc: Learn through loss, gain only by giving. For what else could richness mean if not the realisation that what you have cannot be bought by money.
World Tai Chi Day 2017
Which brings me back to the 29th April this year, when I had the great fortune to meet up with 140 Tai Chi millionaires in the beautiful botanical gardens of Birmingham in the UK. This was indeed a gathering of the super rich for unlike the material millionaires of the world, these people had come not to to flaunt their wealth, but to GIVE IT AWAY. And share they did, workshops for beginners, for intermediate students, for students of different forms and styles, for practitioners of fan and staff.
140 separate spirits arrived. But it was one-unified spirit that left. I arrived as an outsider to the event and the locality, but I left feeling an honorary member of the community. A community of different styles that came together to practice and share their skills. People came to look, to watch, to try of all ages, races, genders and skill levels. They gathered together and in their gathering found their common identity.
Then, as clouds gathered and the morning slid unobserved into the afternoon, when we all drifted away and returned to the great source from which we had emerged, we took with us the gifts that had been offered: a lighter footprint, a deeper root, a tendency to laugh at complexity and a deep bond with all those that had travelled to experience something greater than themselves. Even if it were just as single move, a new posture, a weight-shift, a thought-shift or a lightness of being upon contact with others, we came as 140 people by car, bike or on foot - but left together on a single breath.
So What Next?
But it shouldn’t stop there. We learnt that day of the importance of sharing once more. Now we have an opportunity to take that further. All of us, wherever we went that day. please mention something of your weekend: describe it, write about it, phone someone and tell them, show something from it to someone who never made it.
In this way Tai chi can spread beyond it's own inwardly spiralling circle, it can move out and into new pastures where the curious and the observers graze: those that still see the world as divided, those that breathe by themselves, as separate detached individuals. Touching another person with a tale, a story or by showing the simplicity of a breathing exercises can often be all it takes to breach the divide.
Who knows what might happen if we were to talk less to ourselves, and more to strangers, to share our wealth amongst the many and to give away that which - lets not forget - can never be possessed. For the more we let go of, the more we shall have to give.
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