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Chi Chuan: A Pathway of Hope
By Janet Quillen
The Chinese have a saying that the longest journey begins with
step. To someone who has become afflicted with chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS)
or fibromyalgia, that first step may seem an overpowering effort.
The world drastically changes
for someone with a debilitating illness. Suddenly the physical body that one has trusted turns into an
unknown entity. The muscular pain, unbelievable exhaustion, loss of motor functions and other unusual
symptoms are often complicated by the mental anguish of depression and anxiety. Everything that was familiar
to the afflicted person begins to unravel. Sometimes quickly, sometimes methodically, but always leaving
in its wake a sense of desperation.
My discovery of tai chi chuan began when I watched a Public
Broadcasting series on the mind/body connection. As Bill Moyers explored the fascinating relationship
our minds have with our bodies, I began to think of my illness from a different perspective.
my mind could affect the natural healing processes of the body by nurturing it in ways I had never explored
before. Perhaps I could comfort my body for what it was having to endure by giving myself a sense of direction
that went beyond my loss of good health.
But how was my mind going to help my body when apparently
the brain itself might well be the source of the problem? The answer came when Bill Moyers traveled to
China and saw people practicing a form of physical and mental exercise called tai chi chuan.
who had never seen this exercise performed, it resembled a slow dance. My first impression was of a form
of line-dancing yoga. Arms moving slowly, bodies swaying as if to a soft breeze, hands capturing and stroking
the air about them. It was all very enchanting, but there was so much more going on.
All my life
I had ridden and trained horses. I knew a great deal about energy connecting with energy, as anyone who
has sat astride a thousand-pound horse can attest. I also understood something about mind and body communicating
on different levels. Any athlete knows how to use energy to transfer pain and how to use biofeedback to
increase endurance. So perhaps it was no accident that tai chi became my pathway to hope.
CFIDS sufferer, physical activity brought me an increase in pain, fatigue and neurological symptoms. As
my ability to train horses began to fade, I had no choice but to watch all my life's work slowly but steadily
diminish. I kept cutting back a bit more, believing I would reach a level where I could function and still
hang on to the bliss of my life, but I was wrong. Still, I remained as active as possible, despite the
toll that even walking took on my body.
I thought again of tai chi, a form of exercise in which
breathing was regulated, movements were slow and controlled, and mental concentration was required to
perform the proper steps and maintain balance. I found a book in the library, Tai Chi Chuan: The Chinese
Way, by Foen Tjoeng Lie. And I was hooked.
At first, it was difficult. Following the instructions
was painfully slow and remembering them even more troublesome. But slowly, bit by bit, the patterns began
to unfold. The movements started to flow and I learned how to be patient with my body. I learned to ignore
when I would lose my balance and interrupt the gentle drifting from one sequence to the next. I simply
would take a deep steadying breath, tell my body to relax, that I understood, and try again.
time moved on and practice began to train my body what to do next, I started experiencing some of the
mental benefits of tai chi. I would suddenly realize I was watching my body flow and bend in the gentle
breezes of my own energy as if I was no longer controlling the motion. And I was filled with a satisfying
sense of peace. Other times, my mind was so busy talking about so many different things that it would
take the rhythm of my body--focusing on how my body was breathing--to bring it all into balance. For that
is what tai chi is all about, bringing everything into balance.
I suppose I am not surprised that
I have gained so much out of tai chi, even though I am self-taught. It is not much different than riding
a horse. You start out struggling to learn the mechanisms of riding and finally as you master these, you
begin to master the horse. It doesn't happen all at once, sometimes it takes years, but it does happen.
The energy of the horse becomes your energy and vice-versa. It doesn't happen every time you ride that
horse, but it is the goal for which you strive.
Tai chi is the same way. Not every practice leaves
you feeling totally in balance with your physical self. Not every sequence flows flawlessly into the next.
You certainly don't always feel like maintaining the discipline of correct
form and daily practice. But every practice is taking one more step down the path to the gentle balance
between body and mind. And to someone struggling with a chronic illness, this can become a direction.
For me, tai chi chuan became a pathway of hope.
Janet Quillen is a
PWC in Lexington, Kty. After practicing tai chi chuan for about a year, she
was able to return to some riding and showing of horses last