How it all began
I joined this group called ‘Fibro Active’ in March 2016, just after I’d been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. If you are a believer in fate, it certainly looked planned! The first thing is that I have known Julie and her family for ‘donkeys’ years’, but we’d lost touch a bit. I met Julie on the park a couple of weeks after being diagnosed and found out that not only did Julie have fibro and CFS, but she was launching a support group; I had to go along.
Within a few weeks some of our new members asked if we could learn Tai Chi, we’d all heard how it was beneficial to everyone’s health, but especially so for certain groups, like us for instance, and others with mobility, balance, memory and anxiety issues. I was fairly non – committal at this stage; I’d tried tai chi many years previously and hated it. Julie couldn’t find an instructor, so I put tai chi completely out of my thoughts.
Some months later, after seeing her physio, Chris Davenport, Julie announced that she had found an instructor, she’d told Chris that the group was wanting to try tai chi, but she couldn’t find anyone anywhere to teach us – and guess what? Chris was a tai chi instructor! Not only that, but he was starting a beginners class imminently.
When I joined Fibro Active, I made a pact with myself, it was to try anything that was offered, even if it was out of my comfort zone, so when Julie announced she’d found a class, much against my “better” judgement I agreed to give it a go. I’m so glad that I did, without being melodramatic; tai chi has changed my life!
Learning Tai Chi
My first experience of tai chi was with a very strict ‘Master’, there was no humour and no fun, it was all very serious and to a shy nervous person like me (yes, me) the experience was very daunting. I’d joined a class where everyone had been practicing for some-while and I was completely out of my depth and left to ‘just get on with it’. Chris’ class was completely different, he was welcoming, friendly and he had a sense of humour. I can’t say that I was completely relaxed at that first class, but I realised that in that hour I had thought of nothing other, than the move I was trying to learn; so, that was it, I was hooked!
Even though I knew I was going to keep learning tai chi, it didn’t stop me feeling that I was the stupidest person in the group, I wasn’t able to instantly recognise whether Chris was using his left or right arm or leg, so I got a bit panicky about this and of course people laughed, but it was all good natured and I wasn’t the only one! My breakthrough came when I realised I could recognise Chris’ left hand and my left hand if we were both wearing watches! Chris was in serious trouble with me if he forgot to wear his watch!!
I still have trouble with this, I do know my left from right, but not when I’m copying someone who has their left hand or foot twisted over their right. I think something in my brain is not correctly wired!
As I learned more of the tai chi and had more of the form to practice, I could see the improvements in myself, I could relax into ‘the zone’ and forget all of my whittles, I recognised this feeling of being at peace with myself and my body as the sort of meditative state that I had experienced for years when I was swimming, unfortunately I had been forced to give up my swimming as it was causing me quite serious sinus problems. Swimming had been a big part of my life since I was about 4 years old and when I had to give it up I was lost, I tried other forms of exercise like cycling and running but I didn’t find anything that could produce this feeling of just ‘being’ until I discovered tai chi.
There is a big heart felt thanks here, to Julie who persuaded me to give tai chi another go and to Chris who is such a kind, encouraging and patient instructor.
The Benefits of Tai Chi
- Pain relief and less stiffness
- Improved balance and less falls
- Uplifting of the spirit and greater relaxation
- Improved ability to do daily tasks
- Improved muscle strength and joints flexibility
Some things, like improved balance I haven’t been aware of. As far as I was concerned my balance was ok before I started, but I do know that my posture has improved. I have seen these improvements in others and been told by some that tai chi has helped relieve pain and low mood. In some people I saw amazing changes with balance, mobility and stamina. I have seen enough in the four short years that I have been learning tai chi to convince me of its immense value.
The sad thing, or is it? with tai chi is that it is not easy to learn, nor is it a quick fix. It seems in society today that we want everything now and science has persuaded us that modern medicine can cure everything with a pill. Those of us with fibromyalgia / CFS know particularly that this is not so. If we can be prepared to put in time and patience tai chi will reward us with improved physical and mental health.
Here comes the hard sell from the reformed tai chi practitioner!
It will take around 12 weeks to notice a difference in muscle strength, balance and stamina, although some notice changes along the way. It takes a lot longer, probably the rest of our lives to really start to understand tai chi and its principles. Tai Chi is a way of life; the many forms of ‘Tai Chi Chuan’ are a small part of this. Just ‘playing’ tai chi and devoting the time for this form of exercise will provide a workout for body and mind, it doesn’t matter how good or bad you are at it, it still works. It can be done pretty much anywhere, doesn’t need any specialist equipment, can be done by young and old, it can be practiced standing, sitting and some forms can be done lying in bed and for rehabilitation. It is especially good for keeping the mind active for those of us who are getting a bit older, remembering a longer form of tai chi like the Yang 24 or Sun 73 takes dedication, patience and practice, practice, practice, but it is worth every minute!
Every morning, I try to work through all the forms I know and spend a little time working on whatever I am presently learning, if I don’t get the chance to do this I don’t beat myself up about it, but I do miss it! My days flow better when I practice and somehow, life is more manageable. I know that if I had experienced this Covid 19 lockdown situation and all the stress and business worries that I’m now experiencing, before my tai chi, I would have been in a constant state of worry and panic. Ok, I’m not going to say that I don’t ever get stressed and irritated, but I really am amazed at how calm and accepting I have become.
With this in mind, it saddens me that so many give up tai chi because it is too slow, or too difficult or they cannot remember the moves, but I accept that it is not for everybody.
With this blog, so far, I have tried to explain a bit about Tai Chi Chuan and how much it has added to my life, but it is getting a bit long, so I will finish now. I will write part 2 soon and explain how Julie, Chris and I brought tai chi to our Fibro Active group meetings.