Tai Chi has many benefits, and for me a valuable one is that it helps me to feel that I ‘own’ every part of my body. Seems an odd thing to say but not all of us are aware of how we move. Some of us will swear our right arm is in a perfect curve out to the side, just below shoulder height and fingers in the peripheral vision, exactly as the instructor is demonstrating. In fact, the elbow is rib-hugging, the wrist is sagging and the fingers are out of sight.
There’s a name for it: Proprioception, from Latin, proprius meaning "one's own", the unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation. There is plenty of information on Google if you want to know more.
Years ago I learnt an important emotional and psychological lesson. I was encouraged to… “Reclaim the unpalatable parts of yourself, the mean ones, the weak ones, the ones you prefer not to see. Don’t leave them dangling and uncared-for. They are yours. Take them back and be a more authentic person.”
Tai Chi is the physical equivalent, and a recommended activity to improve proprioception. Tai Chi teaches me awareness of toe and heel, elbow and hip, knee and top-of-the-head. I don’t want my hands dangling somewhere off the end of my arms; they are as essential to me as breathing. When I move into brush-knee or cloud-hands I like to be conscious of every movement I make. It feels as though I am parting the air, moving through the space around me. In those moments I am at one with myself.
As we age we seem to lose track of what our bodies are up to; we knock over a glass, stumble into furniture and trip over our feet, so there’s a lot to be said for reclaiming our wayward limbs.
Judith Michael – Camberwell Centre