I never had tai chi on my life bingo card. I’ve always been a workout guy focused on heavy metal in the gym, mixed in with cardio on the stairstep or the treadmill.
Crank up the ear buds, the Stones or Springsteen, and I was good to go.
But then I started listening to my body. The wear and tear started piling up. Sometimes it was a “good hurt,” as they say; but more often, I was just achy. And bored, too, quite frankly. Three sets of an exercise. Rinse and repeat.
Then, nearly five years ago, my path toward a healthy, physical lifestyle took a fortuitous turn. I ran into James Taggart, a buddy who used to bartend, at a group lunch. He was now an instructor at the Martial Arts Center for Health in Altamonte Springs. He talked glowingly of his transformational flip-of-the-switch.
He had dealt with severe back issues after falling off a horse as an adolescent. Now he was fit, strong and flexible.
The flexibility thing was an “aha” moment for me. I remember once doing a media event with former NASCAR driver Danica Patrick in 2016. We met at a studio for a yoga class in Daytona Beach.
“In terms of flexibility, Danica Patrick is a pretzel. I am a frozen popsicle,” I wrote in a column for the “Orlando Sentinel.”
Mr. Frozen Popsicle signed up for classes at the center. Five years later, I am still there and on the precipice of getting my first-degree black belt. I am no Kung Fu Ninja, and that’s part of the philosophical push at the center. It’s more about lifting people up than beating them up.
I have the center’s T-shirt to prove it: “Oneness. Clarity. Happiness. Peace of Mind.”
Now I’m somewhere in between a popsicle and a pretzel. Progress.
Tai chi is an important part of the training. I love it because it teaches me discipline and pushes my memory buttons. Remembering eight steps evolved into remembering 16 steps. Eventually, I moved to 32. That number will increase to more than 80 steps as I progress in my training at the center and more keys are unlocked. That said, there are many different forms of tai chi. It’s a proven method dating back to around 1670 in China — the ultimate old school moves.
Tai chi is often described as “meditation in motion.” Slower is better. At one class in 2020, we spent an entire hour practicing the first movement, under the guidance of owner Tom Curtin. Breathing properly, attention to detail and focus — all come into play.
As we all navigated our respective COVID-19 bubbles, I found tai chi to be a soothing balm in in my new world order.
Wellness experts report: “Many practitioners of tai chi use this technique to enhance physical and mental health, as well as to improve posture, balance, flexibility, and strength. In addition, tai chi is said to boost mood, alleviate pain, strengthen the immune system, and improve heart health.”
Life. Health. Bingo.