Archive for October, 2012

Why Thai Chi

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

The martial art of Tai Chi offers many well-documented benefits. Now that I’ve been practicing the Guang P’ing form for a year, I can point out those I find specific to inline skaters:

  • Balance – slow and constant motion, many one-foot stances
  • Coordination – complex transitions involving every body part
  • Strength – the knees are always bent, loading leg muscles
  • Flexibility – everything from wide lunges to high kicks
  • Mind-body – moving meditation, mindful breathing
Group Tai Chi lesson

Master David Bernhardt is at far right

What attracted me to Tai Chi? Mostly the last bullet above, along with the coincidence that just as I’d begun to recognize Tai Chi would be a timely addition to my active lifestyle, I met Sifu David at my day job.

I reached a milestone age last December. While I am (probably overly) proud of my fitness level, I will admit to some creaky body parts that demand extra TLC.  As for brain fitness, those closest to me suggest my enthusiasm borders on the obsessive. While the ability to get things done can be great (and lucrative), those spinning wheels in my head become habit-forming and make it hard to relax and just be.

Poetry in Motion

With Tai Chi, I find that spending the necessary time to add each new move of the 64 that make up the Guang Ping form of Tai Chi is fun and relaxing, even though I am in constant (slow) motion.

But Master David has taught me that memorizing the choreographed sequence is just the beginning. Opportunities abound to achieve the precise kinetic, timing, and directional requirements of Tai Chi. Someday I hope to attend the Guang Ping Yang Conference and see what it’s like to join a large group of fellow practitioners.

For now, though, I am grateful to be learning each move at my own speed through private lessons and by watching David’s DVD — over and over!  I love that the names of some moves are quite poetic. For example, here are the ones I have been working on in the past month:

  • Golden Cock Stands on One Leg
  • Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain
  • Part Wild Horse’s Mane
  • Beautiful Maiden Weaves with Shuttle

Health and Longevity

Learning Tai Chi is not a short-term thing, nor is it like other fitness activities where you leave it behind after a session. My goals go beyond the skating and physical benefits: I am in it for the long haul, knowing its value to my ongoing process of aging gracefully.

Regular tai chi practice enhances health by activating the mind, by calming the nervous system, and by keeping the joints flexible, the muscles toned and the internal organs invigorated.”

— Excerpted from Chi and Tea, David Bernhardt’s web site

Pretend You’re Relaxed!

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

I’ll be giving a lesson, working closely with a student who is making good progress. I’m beaming with pride, thinking to myself, “She’s almost got it!” But I can’t leave well enough alone: I love to watch what happens after I call out, “Now pretend you’re relaxed!” In an instant and without much thought, her spine and arms soften and she looks like she just added on a year’s worth of skating experience. What just happened? It’s not my powers of suggestion (don’t I wish!).

Invariably when I throw this at them, my students instinctively reshape their bodies into a personal memory of what “relaxed” feels like. We both witness an immediate ease and improvement in the way they’re skating. Without realizing quite how, they quit fighting their skates and become more coordinated, if only for the moment. It may be a temporary effect, but I make sure to point out the change so they’ll get a taste of how skating will feel in their future and get a real understanding of the benefits of letting go rather than holding on.

Meditating in skatesTo me, this represents a dramatic demonstration of the inline mind-body connection. By focusing on a more relaxed and familiar body memory, my students have reduced their physical tension and made it possible for the skates to behave.

Relax and Allow

New skaters start out with jerky movements because they are holding tight to a large number of muscles in the attempt to maintain control. Fear and bodily tension hinder the mobility and balanced postures that will one day bring fluid movement. It takes time and experience (and instruction) to eventually grow the right muscle memories that result in 1) better balance and 2) greater confidence so they are 3) able to relax and 4) skate more efficiently.

Of course, you want to look good on skates as soon as possible, right? Your first priority is to start practicing a wide variety of skating moves to build up your mobility and agility. You also need to know what “relaxed” feels like in your own body, so you can deliberately call it up at will. Sound hard? Visit my Mind-Body Connection section of for lessons that will help you learn to breathe properly, reduce stress through meditation, and gain kinetic and emotional self-awareness that can lead to optimal fitness and performance.

Quality time on skates will eventually lead to letting the skates do their job rather than trying to make them perform.

Grace and Speed

Sustained aerobic-level skating typically results in a natural high from endorphins, a delightful chemical manufactured in the human body. Besides enjoying the optimism and happiness it brings, if you also focus on harnessing the creativity of this mental state, you stand to gain significant technique breakthroughs.

Pay attention to the rhythm of your movements as you repeatedly stride and glide. Visualize a center line in the path ahead and find new ways to smooth out anything that wastes energy or deflects you from a straight-ahead flow along that line. Play around with your favorite stride improvement drills. Breathe.

As you begin to feel tired, employ your creative endorphin high to devise ways to “work smarter, not harder.” Check your posture to make sure your weight remains stacked over your heels, the power-generating part of your skates.

Pretend you’re relaxed! Let your skates do their job.

The Endorphins, Yes

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

I am so intensely affected by the exercise high that I have to avoid talking to people afterwards until my unleashed animal side returns to napping in its cage–usually about an hour. What happens to you? I’d love to see your comments below.

Energy. (Life) “Ok, it’s time to take off my sweatshirt.”

Endurance. (Action) “Focus! If I can make it up Kilimanjaro, I can get through this 4-minute spin class hill.”

Escape. (Distraction) “The Zanzibar beach hotel, now that was a romantic spot!”

Existence. (Survival) “All I have to do is get through the next 20 minutes and I’m home free!” (pant, pant)

Emergence. (Solutions) “Wow! I have the answer! I am dying to tackle this right now!”

Excitement. (Plans) “I must order a Carl Sandburg book the moment I get out of this spin class!!

Enthusiasm. (I love everybody! I can’t wait to get to work today!)


A hilarious post from Stephanie White, another spinner here.