Mrs. Jia Tsu Thompson is from China. She is the founder of the Mu Lan Chinese Cultural Centre in Halifax. Later in life, she told, me, she returned to her roots and began adopting traditional Chinese practices. One is Tai Chi, the ancient practice that can be used as a form of exercise for the body and mind, or as a martial art. She invited me to attend a class at Pier 21.
Our group stood in a circle in front of the window looking over the harbour. We spent a long time warming up, rotating our joints: wrists, elbows, shoulders, ankles, knees, hips. Doing balance exercises.
Then we began learning a few forms, the ritualized motions that make up Tai Chi, or components of forms. Some were straightforward, though I had to stand behind Jia Tsu to see them properly. A couple were elaborate and I got lost quickly. For instance, in one where you twist around and hold an imaginary teacup in your hand, trying not to spill a drop.
In one we held our hands in front as if holding an imaginary basketball. “Do you feel the chi?” asked Jia Tsu.
Chi is the Chinese concept of energy. It is present in our bodies and even present in empty space. I could feel something.
In the class we learned to focus our bodies and minds. Moving in the large space, looking out the window at the harbour, I felt my senses open up. We spend so much time in enclosed spaces, often staring at computer screens. We close down.
“I wish I had done these practices when I was younger,” Jia Tsu told me once. “Our lives are so stressful. I am far less stressed now–and healthier.”
I have also been taking some yoga. It is similar to Tai Chi in that both require a focus on movements that are precise but which are intended to flow. They have a mindfulness component. Many ancient pratices from China and India are coming to the west. We need them. So do modern China and India. As they become westernized they are taking on our hyper energy. As we struggle for more, more, more, our lives become cluttered and we lose sight of the basics. Depression is rampant everywhere. These old practices bring us down to earth.
Feel the chi.