I have been learning and practicing Taiji and Qigong for 30 years on and off. Taiji has been a central metaphor in my life. I started at age 16 with a relaxation focus and trained about three hours each day for three years. I stopped when mental health challenges ran the show for several years and then returned hard at it (can you see any all-or-nothing tendencies showing through?).

Some key principles of Taiji are being balanced, harmonious, centred, and grounded, and to breathe. The present tense of ‘being’ is very important—it is an ongoing journey not a destination, just like ‘life’ and ‘recovery’. And breathing is so important! I found a great teacher eight months ago with a combined martial arts and energy focus. When the student is ready, the teacher appears,...and the metaphors continue.

I recently learned, to my dismay, through pressure testing (martial arts applications) that my posture has been slightly incorrect for 30 years. I thought my spine was erect but seems I have been leaning backwards—there goes balance, and being centred, and grounded. You may have seen my leaning backwards Taiji in my story about being a peer worker. Fixing it seems simple, right? Just lean forward more? However, I have 29 years of ingrained poor foundation and muscle memory to unlearn. It has impacted everything. I am now consciously thinking about things that were once autonomous. It goes something like this: breathe, relax….oops, just got tense again…relax, breathe…mind wandered…breathe, move, perpendicular, harmony….oops, tension… It’s like playing a sport or musical instrument for fun and then adjusting to a competition standard. Or it’s like following old mental patterns in the belief that they help us without really challenging them to know for sure.

It is said when practising Taiji, one should be like the willow tree or a clump of bamboo—very strong solid foundation with immoveable (legs), but have a supple trunk for yielding (waist) and very flexible branches (arms) that can flow in the wind without breaking. If I am relaxed, grounded and centred I can initiate, if I am tense and off balance I can only react. It is a metaphor for my sense of self…when I have a strong foundation or connection to who I am and my values, the psychological flexibility to yield when I have to, and the ability to accept and let stuff go, I have infinitely better mental health and a better quality of life.

By the way, I love practicing my Taiji again. I have a better balance now and average an hour training each day. I am revelling in the learning and all of the opportunities to let go of my old inadequacies and make way for the new. I can really feel the energy flowing, and that’s the best feedback. 

We’d love to hear your experiences of letting go of old habits and ideas to make way for new, more helpful, ones.

Charlie Anderson
Wellways Intentional Peer Worker