What is the connection between Bridgerton and my tai chi practice?

Like many millions of people over the last couple of months I’ve been enjoying a bit of escapism and romance, getting away from the dreary winter lockdown and into the colourful world of the netflix series Bridgerton.

If you’ve seen it, you will remember that the women wear an ever changing array of colourful dresses, waists pinched in with corsets. There is one scene of a mother exhorting a servant to lace her debutant daughter’s corset ever tighter, trussing her up ready for the marriage market. No wonder they are prone to fainting in front of handsome princes, it’s not so much about the attractiveness of the man as the fact that they can barely breathe!

Anyway, you might be wondering, what on earth does this have to do with tai chi?

A huge part of tai chi practice is about learning to relax, to let go of bodily tension. To focus awareness on the body, become aware of any tension, let it go.

Recently I’ve been focussing on my breathing as I do the tai chi form. I have realized that, although my belly is relaxed, rising on the in breath and falling on the out breath, I have a tendancy to hold my ribs and the area around my breastbone so they don’t move as much when I breathe.

If I focus for long enough on that area I feel tension, and if I let that tension go my ribs actually expand outward, creating more space inside my chest.

When I am locked in worry or anxiety or too much thinking, it’s like there are tight bands around my ribs, chest locked in place as surely as if I was wearing a corset. When this tight corset is removed with awareness and attention, there is a feeling of release, of worries and thoughts receeding, of returning to a comfortable body.

And it got me wondering. We don’t wear actual whalebone corsets any more (thankfully, both for us and for the whales!), but how many of us live within corsets of our own making? Luckily, with a bit of awareness, we can assign those corsets to the history books too.

Morning tai chi in the garden

It takes longer than usual

to reach the place

where there is just

movement,

birdsong,

and spring sunshine.

The calm beneath

the crisis

is here,

waiting.

Relax

The most important thing

is to relax.

Everything else is a distraction.

I write these words as a reminder to myself.

I had forgotten recently. Caught up in a whirl of ‘what ifs’. What if my contract at work is extended? Should I stay? Should I leave? How / when do I build up a coaching practice if I’m still working? But what if my contract is not extended? I’ll be out of work…blah…blah…blah. Well, I won’t bore you with all the details but I’m sure you know the kind of thing I mean! Repetitive circular thinking, as if running through the various options again and again is going to make a decision easier.

I’ve not written much here recently as I’ve been busy with work (we’ve just published formal proposals for a section of the England Coast Path and are publishing another section in March), and also coach training. My coaching course assessment is getting closer (also March).

This week, in an observed coaching class, I was nervous. I didn’t perform well. I am usually fairly relaxed when I’m working with clients one on one, but when I’m being observed it makes me self conscious and tense. I started to wonder if I’m actually ready for the final assessment.

Nerves and coaching don’t go together. Coaching reminds me so much of my tai chi partnerwork practice. To do both well you must be completely relaxed, completely connected to your partner / the client. Which is impossible to do if you are tense or nervous.

After a few days of thinking about it, I decided that my focus for the observed coaching sessions should be to relax and connect. To let the coaching competencies that I am supposed to be demonstrating sit lightly in the back of my mind. To give up the trying. To give up the idea that I should be doing it perfectly. To give up the habits of a lifetime. Well….I didn’t say it would be easy!

And then, as I did my evening tai chi practice the words came to me.

‘The most important thing is to relax. Everything else is a distraction.’

Thi is true for everything. The work stuff, the coaching, the future, everything.

Everything is easier if I relax. Life flows, unfolds. I follow. I know this. And I so easily forget.

Wishing you all the best for the new decade!

Fighting reality

The moment I accept
the reality of what is,
is the moment
I relax.

Saturday morning, 4.30am. Jet lag kicks in and I’m not sleeping. I should sleep. I need to be refreshed. I’ve crossed an ocean for the annual tai chi workshop and I want to be rested, relaxed. So I worry about not sleeping.

Every year that I attend this workshop I arrive with a suitcase of worries. Will it be too hot? Am I good enough at tai chi to be here? What if the travel plans go wrong? Did I do everything I needed to do before I left work, before I left home? What if I don’t feel well and miss some of the workshop? What if, what if.

And every year, I love it. I have the most amazing time. I learn, I reconnect with friends, I make new friends. I relax, deeply. I gain insights in my practice. Yes, sometimes it’s too hot, occasionally I’ve felt a bit unwell, but I still have a great time.

4.30 am, Saturday morning. I must go back to sleep. I am anxiously awake.

Then a thought pops into my head. Should I really be asleep? Really? Is that true? No. I am awake. That is the reality.

What would happen if I just accepted that I’m awake? That it’s OK to be awake at 4.30 in the morning and it won’t ruin my whole week?

So I did. And suddenly I’m just lying awake, relaxed, in a comfortable bed. I just enjoy lying there in the darkness, listening to the first tentative notes of the foreign dawn chorus.

And all the other things I am worrying about just dissolve in the dawn.

There is such ease to be found in living life this way, accepting what is instead of fighting reality.

This is my new practice.

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Seek stability where you are

I found this today in an old tai chi notebook, a quote by Wolfe Lowenthal from a workshop in Scotland 10 years ago. 10 years on and I’m still working on this, in tai chi and in life. Decided to share it, despite the spelling mistake, because it’s a great quote.

Twilight practice

I used to worry.

What will the neighbours think

if I do tai chi in the garden?

This summer I tried it.

What a gift,

being present outdoors

at the end of the day.

Robins, blackbirds,

the wind in the trees,

flowers, bats, hedgehogs, owls,

the moon, clouds, rain,

the setting sun,

a scattering of stars,

mars, even saturn

have been part of my practice this summer.

Who cares what the neighbours think!