Remember your first yoga class? How did it make you feel? Maybe you loved it right from the start. I didn’t. Mine sucked. But my first sucky yoga class led me on a journey to loving yoga–and discovering tai chi.
My first yoga class was in a loft studio in downtown Minneapolis. Sunshine streamed through the windows onto me and the dust motes, the friend who’d dragged me there, and the worn wooden floor. All the poses, from down dog to pigeon, were totally new. They struck me as just plain WEIRD. Worse, I felt awkward. What limb goes where? I struggled, limbs folding and flailing, to keep up. And pigeon pose? OMG! It frickin’ hurt! I was sure my body was not meant to bend that way. I kept thinking, People do this? They do this… ON PURPOSE? I didn’t go back.
But I kept hearing about yoga. It’s yoga this and yoga that. A bazillion people do yoga. Yoga does a katrillion good things for you. I knew I was missing out on what yoga was really about. So I took another yoga class. Just like before, I felt awkward. I was clueless about the poses. And that pigeon-pose thing–OMG! It still hurt like the frickin’ dickens. Afterward, though, I felt refreshed and healthy. I floated through the rest of my day. I started going to vinyasa yoga classes. Power-yoga. Heated yoga. Hot yoga, which seemed crazy, even INSANE, but which I came to love. (And, yes, there is a difference between “heated” and “hot” yoga.) A class that fused hot yoga and power yoga became a favorite–and that’s when I discovered what I love most about tai chi, though I didn’t know it at the time. The hot fusion class starts with a modified Sun Salutation A that flows without stopping or pausing.
Inhale mountain pose, exhale baby back bend, inhale mountain pose, exhale hands through heart center forward fold, inhale halfway lift, exhale crouch and curl. (Repeat four times.)
I was smitten by that flow even though it lasts just a minute or two. The class soon moves to the rest of its sequences. Each time I took that class, I experienced the beautiful flow. I did my best to make my transitions continuous, smooth and mindful. Time passed. I tried tai chi. BAM! There was that FLOW, that gorgeous beautiful flow that I loved so much from my hot fusion class. Sure, the postures were different. We weren’t doing yoga poses. We were doing tai chi postures. That’s the big thing to know: Tai chi is all about flow. Continuous flowing. You don’t just get a minute or two of flow like I did in my hot fusion yoga class. Nor is it just flowing while transitioning between poses as often is the case with yoga. You get a WHOLE CLASS of flow with tai chi.
Western-friendly approach to tai chi
David-Dorian Ross is one of my teachers. He’s an eight-time US National Tai Chi champion, author, host of a recent PBS special and a self-proclaimed “Chi-vangelist.” Ross holds such a torch for flow that he created the TaijiFit™ experience, which uses a Western-friendly approach to the ancient martial art and health practice of tai chi. We use the TaijiFit approach in our classes to get students reaping the benefits of flow from Day 1. Anyway, I love the flow of tai chi. I love the way tai chi leaves me with more energy than when I started, the tranquility and focus, and the balance and strength it builds. I love feeling the flow when I lead a tai chi class. Do I still love yoga? Absolutely. I can’t imagine a day without at least a pose or two. And now I love tai chi–doing it and teaching it–and life is all the richer for it. If you love yoga (or if you don’t), you might want to try tai chi, too. Consider it part of your journey!
What is your favorite fitness practice and why? Leave a comment below.