Move That Chi! Confessions of a Couch Potato
by Marion Kleinschmidt
I like to sit down. Who doesn't? I also like to forget my body while moving my mind. I happen to be a writer and translator. You might be a programmer or accountant. We suffer. Why? Because the amazing privilege of our modern lifestyle robs us of the most important source of mental and physical health: movement.
Before leaving Germany for Singapore, I practiced tai chi as a form of "light exercise", close enough to not moving to feel comfortable. "Don't break a sweat" was the motto. A weekend on the sofa catching up on work was commonplace. After a painful bicycle accident, even that bit of exercise (and the bicycle) went out the window. I suffered from rheumatism, low blood pressure, a lazy thyroid, tingling, under-exercised legs, bouts of mental instability.
Eventually, on a sultry June day in 2013, I carried my hopes to a first training session with Rennie Chong in Toa Payoh, Singapore. I was buoyed by the hope that I'd return to my wonderful Asian sport in Asia itself. There was this vision of slow-motion-dancing myself into better health. Master Chong greeted us kindly and got us started on a whopping set of knee-bends and squats, punches and kicks straight away. I left crushed and devastated. For the next couple of weeks, I dragged my shivering "tofu legs" to the Toa Payoh MRT every Monday night close to tears. I felt like the ultimate Karate Kid.
Then something magical happened. Thanks to my husband who asked me every single day "Did you do your Master Chong today?" and thanks to the great classmates I eventually got to know (and eat with), I broke through my inertia and started to enjoy the daily energy rush of throwing those kicks. After the 20 minute warm up, running the form became much more smooth and focused than I'd ever known it. Since that fateful June day, I've been turning tai chi into a daily habit, in installments as short as 5-10 minutes or as long as an hour. I've been able to climb volcanoes and my first 4,000 m mountain as well as recently trekking through the Himalayas. Desk work becomes surprisingly focused and efficient after running the 37 step form.
But even more magically, I discovered that my decision for more movement did not mean the sacrifice of another discipline I'd always hoped to learn: meditation. Master Chong's standing meditation has probably been my most powerful and direct encounter with the phenomenon of chi to date. After a high energy warm-up that gets my heart thumping and my blood pumping, I find immediate access to the still, inner form of chi work, a highlight moment every single time I get to it, one that seems to tilt my mental state into perfect kilter, no matter what state I was in before.
Do I still suffer? Yes. There are still plenty of "tofu leg" moments and days where it's hard to get started. But better than a mere jogging buddy or a gym membership, I've found a holistic form of tai chi practice that integrates my deep enjoyment of the tai chi form itself with cardiac stimulus, building muscles and harmonizing the mind.
Finally my chi is moving – I look forward to all the discoveries that are yet to be made. And I would like to urge you on, dear reader, in case you are frustrated with your own tofu leg situation. Trust me. First it gets better and then it gets really good. Enjoy it all!