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Mindful : February 2014
February 2014 mindful 25 Off the Couch I’m outside in the park, dressed in tennis shoes, a loose T-shirt, and sweat- pants. I can feel the solid ground beneath me. As I begin the first motion, I become aware of my center of gravity. Soon I feel my shoulders letting go of their extra tension. As I move into the first turn, I feel the pleasure of being in control of each part of my body. Everything is very stable. My mind settles, focused on what is happening now. Tai chi is a martial art that starts slowly a nd gently builds to the level of a vigorous workout. It’s not all intensity, like jogging or boxing. The intensity sneaks up on you. Everything is working together—your muscles, your bones a nd joints, your lymphatic system, your neu- rological system, a nd so on—all gearing up at once in coordinated motion. When I was 21, my daily routine was sitting in front of the TV for seven or eight hours. My comfy chair was slowly break- ing under the strain of my 400 pounds. Eventually, I realized that if I didn’t do something to cha nge, I’d be in real trouble. I’d had a lifelong interest in ma rtial arts and had picked up several books on tai chi. I made a vow to myself to do tai chi every day for a thousand days. All or nothing—that’s my style. I dropped about 50 pounds in six months without really trying. I remem- ber thinking how much easier it was to breathe. When I was at my maximum weight, I’d had an infection in my right big toe that persisted for seven years, despite five operations. But within six months of starting tai chi, it was healed. It turns out I’d had circulatory problems I didn’t know about. Because I was a shy homebody, I appreciated the fact that it was easy to practice tai chi without leaving the house. But as it became a deeper part of my life, it did get me outside. After a while, I moved my practice to the backyard, and then I started going to the park, where I invited friends to join me. Eventually, I began practicing with a tai chi master. We did tai chi together every weekend for 10 years, and by that point I was fully engaged with a g roup of fellow practitioners. My shyness about doing it in front of other people had completely evaporated. At this point in my life, tai chi feels like coming home. It’s comforting fa mil- ia r territory, and yet I regularly discover something new in it. I’m always finding subtle ways to cha nge how I shift my feet or my stance in the middle of a set of movements. I appreciate the rewards of having a steady long-term commitment. Getting started with tai chi is not hard. Within a few months, anyone who’s working with a teacher once a week can learn an entire set of movements. It takes patience, though. You have to go through the practice at its own pace and give it time to become your routine. But from the very first minute of moving with steady focused attention, you are more aware of your own body and of every- thing around you. ● A chair and a television were the daily reality for Travis Eneix. Then along came tai chi. It changed everything. As told to Carsten Knox Photograph by Christine Alicino