Why I Do Taiji

Why I Do Taiji

“Now step forward, and lift your arms like a crane spreading its wings”. This movement got me hooked on taijiquan. Wayne Gorski introduced me to this internal martial art in 1986. As a Buddhist he explained how to use taiji in conflict resolution without causing harm. Redirection of incoming energy was more effective than trying to stop it with countering moves. I thought that was cool so I stuck with his teaching. Over the years I also learned from other teachers with similar thoughts. None of them ever said that taiji would be good for my back. But it was.

There was a period of my life that was very physically demanding. As a farrier I shod the hooves of fifteen hundred pound horses. As a cowboy I spent long days in the saddle over rough country. I loved it, but it took its toll. Once a horse broke loose the fastened end of a ten foot chain, swung around and hit me in the face nearly tearing out my left eye. Another time a rogue appaloosa reared up just as I bent over to pick up its foot and came pawing down onto my bent over body breaking two vertebrae in my neck and upper back. This was in 1978. After time, the wear and tear of shoeing horses eventually herniated discs in my lower back causing relentless pain and neurologic deficits, like not being able to pick up my foot. I was only thirty years old.

A person never fully recovers from this much trauma. There is always some degree of pain. Chiropractic care was the only thing that really helped with the neck pain, numbness of hands and legs, and constant low back spasms. But once the spine is broken the body goes into maintenance mode. Degeneration leads to arthritis, muscle spasm leads to asymmetry of movement, and it feels like you are always clenching your teeth. To this day I can expect a troubling headache several times a week from the aftermath of a fractured neck.

In those early years chiropractic care was the only thing that really helped me keep going. But I kept going too much. One day Dr. Marvin Harris of Great Falls, told me that if I didn’t change my ways in two years I would be crippled. Hard work and hard play had caught up to me. I did an about face, went back to school, became a Doctor of Chiropractic and opened the Bozeman Chiropractic and Acupuncture Clinic in 1985. I met Wayne the next year.

I’ve tried out a lot of exercise programs and rehabilitation systems over the years to manage my condition and enable me to work. Strength training helps hold my body together but I have to be careful of form and not over doing it. I can’t ride a bike or jog because they cause neck pain. Cross country skiing is great but it doesn’t snow year round. Stretching and yoga are good up to a point but seem to lack something essential. I found what was missing in taiji.

I’ve been doing taiji for more than thirty years. I can truly say it is the only type of exercise that seems to bring it all together for me. Taiji practice is multifaceted. It’s more than just a series of slow movements. There are also conditioning exercises, qigong exercises, and partner exercises. Taiji is similar to xc skiing in that they are based on symmetrical coordinated movements that are low impact. They use most of the muscles and joints without pounding on them.

Taiji is unique in that there is a practical purpose to the movements beyond the physical benefits. I know the martial intent of each posture can be transferred to nonphysical interaction with people. Sounds mysterious but it’s very applicable. My taiji practice helps me engage all facets of my life with a calm, kind, and open-minded attitude. The idea of maintaining alert relaxation in every activity carries enormous benefits for a healthy body and mind.

After I do the taiji form for ten minutes I get the feeling my body has lightened up and my mind has settled down. There’s no heavy breathing but breathing is much deeper. My muscles aren’t gorged with blood but they feel stronger. My neck and lower back are open, loose and happy. I feel rooted to the ground yet ready to get stuff done. It’s really hard to explain, but it might be how a crane feels when spreading it’s wings in the morning sun.