Every time you see someone practicing T’ai Chi in a book, magazine, or website (even this one!), you’ll likely see someone standing outside on a beach or in a lush garden, striking a perfect pose. Usually they’re practicing on a clear day with the sun rising behind them. It’s no wonder those people in the photographs always look so happy.
But it’s that picture perfect image of T’ai Chi training at all realistic?
Let’s face it, picture perfect T’ai Chi is kind of like the way we imagine going on a picnic with a loved one. We’d like to think it will be all sun, fun, and even a bit romantic; But, when you get to the park, you realize that the ground is hard and uncomfortable, there’ are bugs everywhere, and if you don’t wither from the heat, there’s sure to be a raincloud heading your way. Meanwhile, the food gets cold, the drinks get warm, and you start to feel lucky to survive the whole ordeal without catching salmonella. Picnics just aren’t as much fun in real life as they may seem in a magazine -All in all, it’s much easier to drive to the nearest Hot Dog stand and grab a bite!
But, how does this relate to the training experience of T’ai Chi? I mean, shouldn’t we be outside, ‘becoming one with nature’ as we find our our ‘Center’? Doesn’t the fresh air and sounds of nature help us relax and to become rooted into the Earth around us?
The answer is “YES,” outside training, close to nature and fresh air is best for the T’ai Chi experience. But there are a few things to consider before you head out to that sunrise beach…
Running your form at a local park seems like a fantastic idea until you consider how many people might be around to see you outside, ‘slow dancing’ in your T’ai Chi pajamas. If you’ve got the room, practicing indoors at home or in a studio will give you a lot more privacy. There will be fewer distractions and it’s easier to be less self-conscious about your performance. It can be difficult enough to settle the self criticism inside your head, it’s even harder when you’re worried about the judgement of some random guy sitting on a park bench across from you. (HINT: He probably couldn’t care less about what you’re doing as long as you’re not bothering him.)
There’s certainly an advantage to the solitude of indoor training where you can free yourself from all the outside distractions, but where’s the fun in that? It’s definitely worth it to break out of your safe-zone and take on the challenge of maintaining focus out in the open. As the saying goes, “Dance like no one is watching!”
(Still, unless you really want to get everyone’s attention, it might be best to leave your T’ai Chi ‘pajama’s at home when you practice in public!)
Picture perfect T’ai Chi always takes place on a beautiful summer day. But let’s face it, most of the time you’ll have to deal with less than ideal conditions. The weather might be hot and muggy, cold and windy, or wet and icky. Nature has a nasty habit of refusing to comply with our expectations.
On top of that, you have to consider how level the ground is where you practice. There are hills, rocks roots, and plenty of obstacles to avoid while outside. Although beach T’ai Chi looks pretty, all that sand can be a real challenge when it comes to establishing a strong stance throughout your form.
It’s easy to just ditch unpleasant weather conditions and just head indoors, but that might be a mistake. Humans are built to live in Nature and T’ai Chi can help us to redevelop that aspect of ourselves. Practice in all types of weather helps us receive and recycle the natural enrgy around us. The variety of conditions helps to strengthen the immune system and build our constitution.
There’s simply no substitute for fresh air and sunshine when it comes to restoring and maintaining our physical, mental, and emotional well being.
Still, it’s tempting to stay indoors where you can completely control the mood and environment of your practice. You can light candles and incense, play soft music, and fill the room with pictures or figurines to motivate and inspire you.
The mood becomes soft and relaxing; a perfect place to explore the depths of your T’ai Chi form. Yet, over time, you might discover that there’s something missing, something wrong, something just out of tune in this stale, artificial environment that you’ve created.
Humans have a bad habit of constantly trying to improve Nature’s gifts. We create pills and powders to improve our nutrition, genetically modify our fruits and vegetables, or invent antibiotics and pesticides to eliminate unwanted organisms. We develop unique sources of energy to match our consumption, and while all these changes bring undeniable benefit, they also present serious consequences.
It’s easy and convenient to practice indoors, in your own special space, but consider what you’re also missing.
There’s no sound of leaves rustling along the ground, no natural beauty of birds singing, you don’t feel the wind blowing through your hair, or the sun glowing down upon your skin. You can’t feel the earth beneath your feet or look out ot see the brilliance of the sky above you. The natural sights, sounds, smells, and textures are all lost when we choose an artificial training environment.
T’ai Chi isn’t as pretty as the common media might lead you to believe. Practice isn’t a gorgeous day at the beach; it’s harsh weather, strangers gawking at you, and threatening rocks underfoot.
It might be appealing to stay sheltered inside during your training, where you’ll be safe and protected far from the elements, but that’s a choice we all have to make; Do we want to stay safe and protected or are we willing to allow ourselves to become vulnerable?
Can we shed the artificial shell that we hide behind during our day to day lives, and open ourselves up to the truth of an authentic T’ai Chi experience? Can we face nature, not the nature that we look at in magazine photos, but real, honest Nature in all its glory, and in all its complications as well?
These are the questions we must consider in order to keep our practice authentic. The answers will be different for everyone. Just know that it’s just as important to not only know why you practice Tai Chi as it is to know where you practice T’ai Chi.
Cover Photo –The Obligatory Sunset in this T’ai Chi Photo