How long have you been practising T‚’ai-Chi?
23 years, I have continued to study and deepen my practice over the years and have a particular interest in Chinese Medical Qigong.
Who or what stimulated your interest?
In 1986 I injured myself in performance, I was a professional dancer for many years. I needed something slow to keep me moving. T‚’ai-Chi intrigued me and as it was slow, just what I needed after the injury. It was difficult then to find a T‚’ai-Chi teacher but I finally found John Kells in London.
What does T‚’ai-Chi mean to you?
T‚’ai-Chi and Qigong are practices that liberate our natural wisdom and compassion. Through the cultivation of inner and outer poise: a clear, calm mind, a relaxed, flowing posture and ease in breathing, the practitioner gradually discovers their confidence, stability, strength, flexibility and softness. This enables the dissolving of neurotic tendencies and the engagement of the power of our innate wisdom. Our stability allows us to connect with the kindness and compassion of our vulnerable hearts.
What is the most important aspect for you?
Awareness, a consciousness of self, leading to empathy for others. In my classes and retreats I am inspired by the ah-ha moments of realisation as participants link the internal aspects of the forms to their every day life. Taking the essence of these movement philosophies into life brings wholeness to the practice so it does not exist solely in the studio, but everywhere. Ultimately T‚’ai- Chi and Qigong are preparations for loss and death. This awareness releases the practitioner to live life joyfully, creatively and outrageously.
Who or what inspired you?
My first classes were confusing: the class was extremely crowded, there were mirrors covering two walls of the studio and there was none of the discipline and generosity that I had become accustomed to in my professional dancing life. It was shocking. The class had more men than women and the martial art aspect dominated. It wasn‚’t a comfortable environment for me, after my dance world. John launched us directly into pushing hands, most of the time this manifested as pushing anger, very uncomfortable. At one class I pushed hands with one of his long-term students and it was like dancing with sparkling water. That inspired me and I yearned for that quality. I knew from years of working physically and philosophically with movement through my dance that this quality was not going to arise overnight. I then committed to the long-term uncovering of this quality within myself. And learnt to be flexible within the class and give up expectations of the sociability of my dance world.
Do you have any personal goals in T‚’ai-Chi?
I wish to continue adapting my practice to a body that sometimes fails: I already have one new NHS knee. I wish to continue learning and teaching as I grow older. My changing and aging physicality has its advantages – when I am working with elders and differently-abled people I can empathise with their conditions, uncovering ways to mould the techniques to their capabilities.
What do you make of T‚’ai-Chi‚’s current popularity?
Marvellous! My heart swells with gratitude to Gerda Geddes and her inspiring life‚’s work that gave T‚’ai-Chi to the West in a way that makes it available to every church hall in the land and not a minor martial art practiced by the few.
As a teacher how do you feel about the martial art aspect of the art?
I did not know that T‚’ai-Chi was a martial art when I started learning it. A few classes later I realised that I had been setting myself up as a target, being a ‚’visible‚’ sort of person. My curiosity aroused I began to see that this could be something I might practice, and would be available to someone like myself (woman, not so young etc.). The internal aspects of self-defence interests me more than the external physically of uprooting another. For me the martial art aspect, the protection, is contained in awareness of the mind, the breath and the posture, three simple and yet almost impossible qualities to balance within ourselves.
What are your views on competition?
I was and still am more interested in the inner meaning, the psychology, of our moving physical beings. Competition implies some are right, others wrong, instead of each doing their best with what they have at that moment.
What direction would you like to see T‚’ai-Chi go in the future?
I love watching the way that different directions are opening up for T‚’ai-Chi and Qigong: as a full-on martial art, as a gentle practice for physical and mental health, in schools, refuges, prisons and hospitals, on retreat, in the spa, the gym, the art centre… My own T‚’ai-Chi practice and teaching focuses on empowering and healing through meditation (which I have been practising long before T‚’ai-Chi came into my life) and Chinese Medical Qigong. It continues to be a daily resource; a treasure trove of philosophy and insight.