Several years ago I bought a tai chi DVD. Aerobic exercise makes me feel like I have a heart problem, and I know I’d hurt myself on exercise contraptions. (Friends no more clumsy than me have broken their feet dropping weights and injured joints falling off the treadmill. The threat is real.) Walking always seemed like enough exercise to me, so I don’t remember why I bought the video, but I ended up loving it. Not aerobic, no bone-crushing items.
One thing I loved about tai chi was that you always keep your spine straight. Your hips, shoulders, and head stay in alignment. You never twist or bend. Knees stay slightly (or more) bent, and you breathe deeply and slowly at all times. Some of the warm-up exercises involve staying in a bent-knee position and staring straight ahead for as long as your legs can do it. Perfect for me! I can stare at a wall for hours and not get bored. It’s one of my strengths. Unfortunately my legs can only handle it for a couple minutes.
Another thing I love about tai chi is that when I do it before leaving the house, for the rest of the day I breathe more deeply and do everything with better posture than usual. I’m one of those people who will melt into your couch when you invite me over. I might lie down. Sitting up is exhausting. But if I’ve done tai chi, I’m a model guest. Not nearly as embarrassing unless one of your other guests voted for He Who Must Not Be Named.
The video has six or seven warm-up exercises and then the “form,” which is what you see people doing in the park and think “Hey there’s someone doing tai chi,” but if you think about doing it in the park yourself you imagine everyone thinking “Hey, there’s a crazy person.”
So I stayed in my living room, blinds closed, and did “play guitar” and “snake creeps down” and got better and better at crouching lower and staring at the wall longer. The prep exercises were going great, so I moved on to the form. The guy in the video did a move and then pivoted. I pivoted, too, and here’s where the problem with tai chi videos becomes evident. At this point you have to turn your head to see the TV. I thought, “I’ll just turn it for a second and then get right back in position.” I turned my head and everything felt out of alignment. My body said “THIS is not tai chi, you idiot!” It didn’t matter anyway. Looking for a second didn’t help. I couldn’t figure out what he was doing by looking for a second.
Next I tried watching the video for a few seconds, pausing the video, and doing that portion of the form. It was no use. I had to watch each three second clip dozens of times and still wasn’t sure I was moving the right way. Short of having a TV on each wall, I’m not going to be able to learn the form from that video. A class would be nice, but there are none near me during the day, I’m busy evenings, and I’m cheap anyway.
So years later I’m quite the tai chi prep expert. Coming to a park near you.