When I look back I’m a little amazed at how my taste in sports has changed over my lifetime. Until the age of 25, football was the great love of my life. Though my lack of speed and superior arm strength probably made me a natural quarterback, I wanted to be a lineman or linebacker. Most of all, I loved to hit people almost as much as I loved being hit. Unfortunately, I was 6 foot tall but only weighed 155 pounds in high school, which probably explains why my father refused to sign to allow me to play football, even though he had earned All-City honors at the same high school.
By 25, I decided I didn’t really enjoy being in pain every Sunday and had moved on to another sport, basketball, probably better suited for my height and weight. Though that sport was interrupted for three years by torn ligaments in my ankle which required major surgery, I played basketball once or twice a week until I retired at 57 years of age.
Though I never realized it until recently, the one constant in my life has been walking. In high school a neighbor and I would walk seven to ten miles every day, all the while philosophizing about life. Later in life, the best days with my children were spent out hiking. Much later, after I retired, a friend and I would walk up to 100 miles a week in the Columbia Gorge and in the Cascades, talking about Nature and God whenever we stopped to rest or eat.
As I noted before, I also practiced Yoga for years when I couldn’t be outside walking or hiking. I became as addicted to the meditative aspects of yoga as to the physical effort. I still rely on Aum when I need to rock a baby to sleep.
I might have continued yoga if I hadn’t herniated a lower disc, which made some of the earlier poses downright painful. Instead, I turned to T’ai Chi which offered some of the advantages of yoga. Though I originally joined for the physical benefits, I soon found that, like yoga, I was equally drawn to the meditative aspects of the form.
Though the meditative aspect of T’ai Chi is seldom mentioned in the classes I’ve taken, it’s hard to miss it when you practice by yourself. Waysun Liao describes this meditative aspect thusly:
In T'ai Chi practice, meditation is the only way to become aware of one's ch'i. After assuming either a simple sitting posture or an upright stance, the beginner can easily achieve success in T'ai Chi meditation by following these procedures:
1. Relax the entire body, as if you were asleep, making sure that there is no physical tension at all.
2. Calm your mind and concentrate on the total body, listening to its breath, sensing its pulse, and so on, until you can feel the body's natural rhythm.
3. Bring up your spirit by pushing up your crown point. Imagine an invisible string pulling your crown point from above. Gradually apply deeper breathing and inhale directly into the tan t'ien (an area located approximately three inches below the navel and two and onehalf inches inward).
After weeks or months of practice, you may start to sense a feeling that flows with the rhythm of deep meditation breathing. This is ch'i, the internal energy. As you progress, this feeling grows stronger, and you can begin to sense and control the flow of this energy without the assistance of deep breathing. At this stage, you can use your mind to guide your chi's path of travel inside your body.
Honestly, I’m still not sure that I can feel the Chi, perhaps because intellectually I question if it is even there. Perhaps the closest I’ve come to feeling it came about because I was using Resp@rate to try to lower my blood pressure. The device measures your breathing rate and tries to slow it down to what they consider an “ideal” rate. Strangely, after I had finished my 20 minutes breathing session and went to practice T’ai Chi I found that the movements and the breathing synched perfectly. For thirty some minutes I found myself in a “zone” that I can only occasionally reach while hiking.