This week the dragon required me to stretch in ways not before done by my aging body. Not only do I hope to achieve greater balance through Tai Chi, I hope to increase my flexibility as well. Even though I have only had three classes so far, I have already been able to put these techniques into practice.
My neurologist ordered a lumbar puncture to collect samples for further testing for Multiple Sclerosis. If you are unaware, lumbar puncture (LP) is a fancy name for spinal tap, a phrase that invokes barbaric images of pain and torture. They may have given it a more civilized name, but the procedure is still the same, involving long needles and improbable body positions.
As I waited for the neurologist to proceed, I hear his voice explaining the successful completion of an LP depends almost entirely upon the patient and the ability to curve the spine for easier access to the fluid. The position I am contorted into immediately reminds me of a warm-up move in Tai Chi, when we flex our knees and fold our bodies at Dan Tien toward the floor in a relaxed way, much like a flopping rag doll. Dan Tien is not the name of a classmate, but the Chinese term for the center point in our body, somewhere internal just a few inches below the navel. But now that I think about it, I kind of like the idea of Dan hanging out down there helping to keep me centered.
In class we hold this rag doll position for an extended time while focusing on breathing the in and out cadence. Rather than performing this move from a horizontal stance, I am now doing this stretch on the horizontal surface of the small exam table. This position in class no longer seems like it is held forever – it has now been replaced by holding this position for the test as the longest pose I will ever strike. I'll spare sharing the graphic details of the completion of the LP, but I will tell you I was grateful when I could finally relax from this pose. I will credit my new friend Dan Tien for assisting my breathing and focus through this twenty minutes. Thanks Dan!
One of the strengths of Tai Chi is the mind-body connection, and it is thought to slow aging and boost the immune system. If this dragon in my body really is MS, I can use all the boosts I can get.
As we enter the studio for class, Carmine again notes that we are to check our stress at the door. The dragon is wise and knows that as we breathe and focus on the moves, our energies flow in a different way than during our daily routines. That internal energy, our Chi, grows more positive as we move over the next hour.
Our missing classmates have returned this week, and eight of us were present to move with our Dragon. Warm-up includes Tai Chi walking, which my left leg makes nearly impossible, refusing to move any further than one inch off the floor. At least my right foot will make a legitimate attempt but even that is not pretty or graceful.
We assume the neutral position. Begin breathing with help from my good friend Dan. Shift into Dragon, then neutral. Extend to Rising Water, or is it hands up then Falling Water? We comb the rooster, than grasp the sparrow's tail. They go together like birds of … oh, never mind you know the point. Cloud hands. The names flow quickly from Carmine's mouth as he leads us through the opening movements. If only that flow would transfer to my body's jerking attempts. It appears not only did I check my stress at the door, I left a bit of my confidence and coordination behind as well. The mind-body connection is not working as I had envisioned, so much for the think method.
I have to remind myself that this course has just begun and it is early in my path on tackling the dragons. Tai Chi is recognized as an alternative medicine practice for MS patients; it focuses on the interaction of the brain and the body. For now I have to let go of the stress and be content that I am able to get up and move with my classmates.
The balance of my Chi will come.
*This selection is taken from "Stretching Myself - Part 3" originally published in Something on Our Minds. (2012)