For context, I begin with my pre-pandemic history with tai chi. For fifteen years, I have been doing tai chi daily. There was a short break for recovery from bunion surgery, but apart from that, skipping tai chi in the morning would feel like going through the day without brushing my teeth. After all this time, I know that I will never be proficient at tai chi. Some days I think that I am making the reverse of progress.
My ineptitude would not surprise anyone who knows me. In grade school, I was picked last for any team formed in physical education class. In middle school, I hung out in the library during lunch and recess. As an adult, I have been an intellectual laborer. I have pursued life as a mind gazing out of the window of my visual field. I piloted my body as if it were a container ship.
No mystery why, after years of practice, tai chi proficiency eludes me. Why do I still do it? Tai chi asks me to attend to your body, from the top of my head to the soles of my feet, as a dynamic, articulated whole. Over time, I have experienced my mind and heart permeating my body, radiating out from my center, or dantian. That does not happen every time I do tai chi, but over the years it has happened more consistently. And I have had many "ah hah" moments where my body finally internalizes something that my teachers have been repeating and which I was under the illusion I understood.
Then came 2020. The in-person classes I had been taking adjourned. The Tai Chi Foundation did something amazing. It went to the hard work of discerning how best to teach tai chi in a Zoom environment, first offering qigong, but over time developing ways to teach tai chi form online. This was a special gift to me for several reasons.
First, in the middle of 2020, I relocated from Spokane, Washington to Fort Mill, South Carolina. In Spokane, there had been teachers trained by the Tai Chi Foundation. There are no Foundation teachers closer than two and a half hours from where I now live. The resources that are available online have helped me continue to do tai chi in community. I know from having spent an earlier four-year period doing tai chi completely on my own that isolation makes it easy to develop habits that undermine embodiment of tai chi principles. So, staying in community through Zoom tai chi is a very large gift.
Second, as an adult who still often feels like a clumsy child when I participate in group physical activity, tai chi in Zoom gives me the gift of being self-aware without being hampered by self-consciousness. In in-person group instruction, I often was distracted by worrying about how I looked compared to others in the class. That affects me much less in an online environment.
Finally, the on-line classes I have participated in have had students and teachers from all over the world. Before the pandemic, I had attended some week-long residential tai chi programs that had international participation, but now I can experience the international tai chi community weekly.
My six-year-old granddaughter had a school assignment with the prompt for drawing a picture of where they felt a sense of community during the pandemic. The prompt was: "When the world stayed apart, I stayed together….," Certainly, one of the pictures I would draw for that prompt would be of the far-flung tai chi community that the Tai Chi Foundation enables. It enhanced that community by its creative use of technology to teach the ancient art of tai chi. Online tai chi has kept me together during the pandemic.
Caroline J. Simon is a philosopher, author and retired academic administrator living in the Carolinas. She is grateful for the teaching of Foundation-trained teachers in Holland, Michigan; Spokane, Washington, past summer trainings at Bennington College, Vermont; Whidbey Island, Washington, and online. Caroline is currently taking Margaret Olmsted’s online Fundamentals class.
Photo by Shane Rounce