On Balance … Or Not

For years, I’ve been confessing in these pages that my life is out of balance. But regular old garden variety balance? I figured it was OK.

After all, I can stand on one foot and brush my teeth till the timer goes off. I can stay upright on one of those little half-moon balls at the gym. I can slam a car door shut with my hip.

So it was with a nonchalant “Whatever….” that I agreed to accompany my fiancé, also known as Smooth Move, to an Introduction to Tai Chi class.

“You will love it,” he said. “It’s all about flow.” Indeed, the online description of the art, called “Taoist Tai Chi,” described it as a “sequence of movements that improve the health of body, mind and spirit.”

It went on to say that after three or four months, I would learn the sequence of (Gasp) 108 moves, which would somehow reach inside me to “restore the calmness and peace of mind often lost through the excessive desires and anxieties of daily life.”

I had to admit that tooth-brushing was not doing that for me. So I donned the most yoga-like clothes I could find and tried to forget that my last knee surgery had followed a non-flow yoga moment.

The first clue that Tai Chi might be more complicated than “flow” arrived in the form of the first student I met.

“I’m here to repeat Intro,” she said. Intro allots six weeks to learn 18 moves. It comes before Basic. She seemed like a coordinated, intelligent woman.

The second clue came with a handout called “108 Moves In The Right Direction.” Besides being overly optimistic about the direction my moves might take, it proceeded to list, with Chinese characters and descriptive phrases in English, all the moves we would be learning.

Some sounded easy and wonderfully flow-y. “Wave Hands Like Clouds,” for example. Others sounded helpfully descriptive (“Step Up to Grasp Bird’s Tail”). And others (“Step Up, Deflect, Parry, Punch”) did not sound like they would be restoring my calmness and peace of mind.

As we dutifully reported for the 90-minute class, Smooth Move reported that his biggest challenge was “unlearning” some moves from an earlier, non-Taoist class he had taken. His right arm was spread out a quarter inch too far. Or something.

My biggest challenge was remembering anything beyond the first three moves. I could, however, do the one I called the “pigeon-toed move” because it forced us to toe in – a step that has been natural to me since birth.

In class, I followed along from the back.

“It’s the monkey-see, monkey-do move,” I told the instructor, who did not seem amused.

“I must have bad muscle memory,” I theorized, to which she replied that it takes a great deal of time to gain muscle memory.

“It’s ridiculous,” I said to Smooth Move, who flowingly repeated his steps at home. “Who could remember 108 moves?”

“There’s a lot of repetition,” he said, only in different order, like ‘Brushed Knee’ and ‘Stork Spreads Wings’ and ‘Single Whip.’” All of which he swore we had learned in class.

“But not by those names, right?”

“Actually, yes,” he said.

So maybe a combination of bad muscle memory and bad regular memory.

I am determined to keep on trying, though, not repeating Intro but forging right into Beginners and adding a new move, Number 109.

“Standing On One Foot With Toothbrush,” it’s called. It’s my signature move. And I can even do it pigeon-toed.

After all, I can stand on one foot and brush my teeth till the timer goes off. I can stay upright on one of those little half-moon balls at the gym. I can slam a car door shut with my hip.

So it was with a nonchalant “Whatever….” that I agreed to accompany my fiancé, also known as Smooth Move, to an Introduction to Tai Chi class.

“You will love it,” he said. “It’s all about flow.” Indeed, the online description of the art, called “Taoist Tai Chi,” described it as a “sequence of movements that improve the health of body, mind and spirit.”

It went on to say that after three or four months, I would learn the sequence of (Gasp) 108 moves, which would somehow reach inside me to “restore the calmness and peace of mind often lost through the excessive desires and anxieties of daily life.”

I had to admit that tooth-brushing was not doing that for me. So I donned the most yoga-like clothes I could find and tried to forget that my last knee surgery had followed a non-flow yoga moment.

The first clue that Tai Chi might be more complicated than “flow” arrived in the form of the first student I met.

“I’m here to repeat Intro,” she said. Intro allots six weeks to learn 18 moves. It comes before Basic. She seemed like a coordinated, intelligent woman.

The second clue came with a handout called “108 Moves In The Right Direction.” Besides being overly optimistic about the direction my moves might take, it proceeded to list, with Chinese characters and descriptive phrases in English, all the moves we would be learning.

Some sounded easy and wonderfully flow-y. “Wave Hands Like Clouds,” for example. Others sounded helpfully descriptive (“Step Up to Grasp Bird’s Tail”). And others (“Step Up, Deflect, Parry, Punch”) did not sound like they would be restoring my calmness and peace of mind.

As we dutifully reported for the 90-minute class, Smooth Move reported that his biggest challenge was “unlearning” some moves from an earlier, non-Taoist class he had taken. His right arm was spread out a quarter inch too far. Or something.

My biggest challenge was remembering anything beyond the first three moves. I could, however, do the one I called the “pigeon-toed move” because it forced us to toe in – a step that has been natural to me since birth.

In class, I followed along from the back.

“It’s the monkey-see, monkey-do move,” I told the instructor, who did not seem amused.

“I must have bad muscle memory,” I theorized, to which she replied that it takes a great deal of time to gain muscle memory.

“It’s ridiculous,” I said to Smooth Move, who flowingly repeated his steps at home. “Who could remember 108 moves?”

“There’s a lot of repetition,” he said, only in different order, like ‘Brushed Knee’ and ‘Stork Spreads Wings’ and ‘Single Whip.’” All of which he swore we had learned in class.

“But not by those names, right?”

“Actually, yes,” he said.

So maybe a combination of bad muscle memory and bad regular memory.

I am determined to keep on trying, though, not repeating Intro but forging right into Beginners and adding a new move, Number 109.

“Standing On One Foot With Toothbrush,” it’s called. It’s my signature move. And I can even do it pigeon-toed.

Copyright 2014 Pat Snyder

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One Response to “On Balance … Or Not”

  1. Bill Says:

    Ah, 108, Grasshopper:

    http://humanityhealing.net/2011/08/the-mystic-meaning-of-the-number-108/

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