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Year two of my taichi journey

Updated: May 26

Just like everything else in the United States, our Saturday morning park taichi classes came to a screeching halt in March 2020. Our teacher offered Zoom lessons to circumvent the COVID-19 pandemic, but because I was doubtful a beginner like me could learn that way, I opted not to sign up. I decided to focus on old hobbies instead.

 

I spent weeks at home reading, indulging in Korean dramas, and getting in touch with friends I hadn’t talked to in years. But soon, I found that I couldn’t fill all of my empty time with these activities. I began to crave the challenge of learning something new—movement, dance, the feeling of accomplishment when you’ve improved in some way. I was missing taichi.

 

One day, while browsing the internet, I started Googling some of the terms I’d learned in taichi class. This brought up articles, of course, but also videos. A new world suddenly opened up to me.

 

There were videos of people doing taichi from the front, from the back, from a 45-degree angle. A couple of instructional series that I discovered broke down the Yang style 24 Form into its individual movements, devoting one video to each movement. And then I discovered videos taken by my teacher’s husband. There were dozens of them, showing practices and performances, including the Yang style 24 Form and a variety of other taichi forms I’d never seen before. 

 

Something changed in me while watching these videos of my classmates. I was concentrating on the first-row students, the most skilled among us, and I decided: I want to get good at this. I don’t want to just go to class and learn by osmosis. I want to know that I’m doing it right.

 

It was then that I started practicing in earnest.

 

At first, I didn’t feel self-assured enough to do taichi outside for fear someone would see me making mistakes (silly me), so I set up my iPad on the breakfast table and claimed the small space between it and our kitchen bar as my practice place. I identified my favorite 24 videos, especially one of our class in which our teacher called out the movements we were supposed to do for each part of the music. And I learned how to slow down YouTube videos. Then I set to work studying the movements. Meticulously.

 

Moving in slow motion, I tried to make my body look the way the front row people’s did. In this movement, angle the right foot to the corner and point the left one forward. In this one, left arm up, right one down. Here, we turn our torsos to the right; here, to the left. It was difficult to think about which side was which when the people on the screen were facing forward—everything appeared backward. I would stop the video, figure it out, back it up, practice it, and then repeat this sequence over and over until the movement felt natural. Some things were too difficult to learn on video. And my balance remained an issue due to the multiple sclerosis. I stumbled every time I stood on one leg, even though, unlike the park, the floor was flat. But I kept at it.

 

After about a month, I finally felt confident enough to practice outside on our deck. There was something magical about doing taichi with the warm sun on my skin, the blue sky above me, and the occasional squirrel scurrying by as a spectator. As summer dawned, it got too hot to practice outside in the afternoon, so I would go out in the early morning. The quiet of the world at that time soothed me.

 

Relapsing-remitting MS is a cyclical disease, with waxing and waning symptoms. As summer progressed, I noticed a marked improvement in my balance. I still remember the day I could do the kicks without setting my foot down early or wobbling. It was thrilling. I began to practice them all the time, and they soon became my favorite movement.

 

Then one day it happened. I decided to try 24 Form while listening to the music by itself without watching the video, and I was able to remember everything. Though I wasn’t perfect, I didn’t make any big mistakes. What a sense of accomplishment I felt!

 

When we finally resumed in-person classes many months later, I finally felt like I could keep up with the group. There was something powerful about doing 24 together. When we were all in sync, I felt a bond with these people, some of whom I had never even met. We were united in our love of this art form: its beauty, its balance, its calming nature. For me, taichi was becoming an obsession, not just something that I did for the MS. It was becoming something that was a fundamental part of who I am.

 

I could hardly wait for year three.

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