Author Archives: wballen@taichisantacruz.com

Why I Love Tai Chi. Because It’s S-L-O-W

I’m a slug! It’s not that I’m lazy. I’ve actually been pretty productive in my life. I just love to move slowly. It’s my nature. I come from a lackadaisical lineage. As a child I remember my mother spending afternoons lying on the couch, sun streaming in through golden curtains, arm draped over her forehead, listening to the slow sultry sounds of Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis. (Cue up ”Chances Are”). Those long afternoons always made me feel so good.

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I played sports as a child; soccer, softball and countless neighborhood games. By young adulthood I was no longer interested in aerobic exercise. In college I practiced yoga, which woke me up in a way that I had never experienced before. I felt alive and electric, but the way it was taught, there was still too much effort in the extreme stretching, always pushing the edge. In my late 20’s, I walked into a Tai Chi class. We began by standing quietly for 10 minutes, feet planted in the earth, knees softly bent, belly relaxed, spine dangling from the sky like a string of pearls, shoulders melting downward, heartbeat, breath and mind simultaneously slowing and quieting. That moment I realized I was home. From that instant I was transformed into another dimension . . . the land of S L O W.

Slow feels so good. It’s luscious, pleasurable, and feels like honey flowing through my veins. Moving slowly and deliberately is profoundly relaxing. One movement melts into the next, a silk reeling, cloud floating, Hawaiian wave-bobbing comfort.

There is a scientific reason for that comfortable feeling. According to Peter Wayne, a PhD. and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, who wrote The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, millions of years ago, when we came out of the ocean and walked on the land, we took the ocean inside us. Humans are made up of 70% water. That includes juices both thick and thin, including tears, saliva, blood, synovial fluids, spinal and reproductive fluids. All those juices are slowly sloshing around inside us. The slower you move, the more you relax. When your muscles and joints are loose and supple, you can actually feel your fluid nature sloshing back and forth, and it feels sensational.

Moving slowly changes your perception of time. If you watched our Tai Chi class practicing in the park, it would appear from the outside that we’re moving very slowly. But from the inside, every single moment of our attention is filled up, and a field of awareness spreads  thoroughly throughout our being that we don’t feel like we’re moving slow at all. We just have much more time to put our attention into movement.

Many Olympians and professional athletes now use the technology of slow-motion replays to improve their performances. Golfers, gymnasts, swimmers, everybody’s doing it. Looking at the frame-by-frame images, they’re able to detect when their form or technique is off, and make corrections to improve their game.

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To actually move in slow motion takes more strength and balance than moving quickly. It gives us the ability to check our form second by second with deliberation and care. Practicing slowly makes it easier to move quickly, and move with clarity.

Slowness enables awareness. Moving slowly gives me the opportunity to let my mind relax and expand. I have time. I can gently move between focus of attention and field of awareness. For example, I can use my attention to finesse a detail of a move, feeling the connection of my feet on the ground, or softening the tension in my shoulders. Then there’s field…… aaaahhh, I love the field, when my awareness is spread out more evenly, like peripheral vision, the barriers melt, the mind relaxes and I’m melting into the natural surroundings.

Moving slow isn’t everyones bag, but it’s changed my life. As we age we tend to get creaky and brittle, stiff and rigid. Finding something simple that helps to keep our mind and body supple and elastic, is pleasurable to do, never get’s boring, and encourages personal growth is a very good thing. I invite all of you to take a moment or two, or ten, of your time and slow down your actions, your movements and thoughts and reap the pleasurable benefits that slow has to offer.

 

On the Occasion of My 60th Year

My goal is to inspire you to live a life aimed toward fulfillment so that when you let go of that last breath of life, it will be one of deep satisfaction.

From your first cry at birth the clock starts ticking. How many days, how many breaths, how many heartbeats we each get is an unknown. Your life begins, your story unfolds.

As a newborn, you’re a clean slate. Plump, juicy and exploding with life. Your needs are met, courtesy of your parents….. a home, love, food, water, a warm bed. Nature is nurtured and your journey begins.

As a teenager you seek acceptance and belonging, from your peers, teachers and parents. Hormones rage, stirring new feelings both exciting and confusing.

In your 20s you’re indestructible, fearless, overconfident and adventurous.You’ve claimed your own identity, separated from your parents. Self discovery is rich and promising.

In your 30s you’ve learned to support yourself, got a career, maybe had a family, maybe not. You are at a peak of energy and drive.

During your 40s, you start to feel that the body’s warranty has run out. You are mortal. You’re considered middle-aged and watch the younger generation emerge.

In your 50s that darn AARP card comes in the mail. You start to lose people you love, your parents, and friends. You begin to contemplate retirement…. can I? Some of us probably can’t. You start to lose some of your steam, your drive for success.

And on the occasion of turning 60, the shit hits the fan! You officially become a senior citizen. You realize you might have only 15-20 years left.

At this point you might feel fears creeping in, not enough money, failing health, no retirement funds. Maybe you have children who will take care of you, or maybe they won’t. Maybe you never had children.

You have regrets. You didn’t keep up with the piano, or singing, photography or quilting. You feel left behind as far as technology goes. You’re worried about the world. Maybe you feel invisible, or old and in the way.

These are all very real fears, and I believe we all experience some of these as we move from middle age to senior status.

I’m going to offer you an alternate vision, another possibility, a brighter ending to the final chapter of your story. I’m going to give you a simple technique to aim yourself toward fulfillment.

What’s the upside of this stage of life. You’ve gained a lot! You’ve had 6 decades of gaining insight, wisdom, skills, maturity, intuition. All of your experiences, whether they came easy or came hard have accumulated. You have cultivated a wealth of of expertise being yourself. You may not have that youthful fire, but you do have the goods.

So, what are you going to do for the rest of your life? You’re going to take all those fabulous attributes that are stashed inside you, dust them off, polish them up and put them to work.

Doing what?

Here’s the key. Aim yourself toward doing things you love. What are they? Sometimes it’s hard to see what is obvious. For example, it’s obvious that my friend Kathy loves art. She loves to see it, own it, share it, loan it out, give it away, and I know one of her fantasies is to have a gallery space in Santa Cruz devoted to local artists. Another friend, Terry, loves taking pictures of bugs. She doesn’t have to force herself to get out there with her camera. She can’t not do it. These are the things that feel natural. The ones you have true curiosity about. The things you can’t wait to get back to. They are the activities and interests that choose you! It doesn’t matter if they’re simple, sitting quietly in your garden or taking a delicious afternoon nap, or challenging, like playing an instrument, learning a language, traveling to distant shores. Aim yourself on a daily basis toward the activities, people, places and feelings that feed your soul.

For example, I’ll tell you my story and how I’ve attempted to follow this path myself. In my 30s, I noticed that there were a handful of interests that kept cycling through my life.

  1. Food (buying, cooking, baking, studying about, feeding people and enjoying!)
  2. Movement (practicing Tai Chi, going to the gym, walking daily, dancing)
  3. Making art
  4. Healthy living (becoming an acupuncturist, studying nutrition, living a balanced lifestyle)
  5. Family and friends
  6. Studying and teaching about any of the theses subjects.

Each interest cycles around every year and has a life of it’s own. I can’t force them to happen. There are months I can’t stay out of the kitchen, then there are months that I eat apples, almonds, avocados and toast (not really, but you get the point). I’ve learned to roll with these cycles and trust that they will keep coming around again. Allowing this natural flow to happen has enabled my creative interests to overlap and merge. At this point, I feel as if I have a golden thread that is quilting them all together. It’s satisfying and enriching.

The number of breaths and heartbeats we each have is truly a mystery. Our lives are all unique, and each one of us is the center of an amazing universe. Through each decade we are challenged, inspired, and changed. I implore you to aim yourself toward fulfillment. To feel for what ignites you. To notice and nourish what your gifts are and live them with gusto, so that when the time comes for you to release you last breath, to give up that last heart beat, it will be given with ultimate satisfaction.

Come on in!

Hello there, and welcome to the new website of the Tai Chi Natural Health Club. Make yourself at home, look around and see what we have to offer you. I’ve just changed the site’s format to WordPress, and will be working on fleshing the site out in the next few weeks. All the important information is here. Let me know what you think!

Wendy Ballen, L Ac