Not long after I was certified as an Ai Chi Trainer, I was excited to share Ai Chi with my friend. As we ended our first session together, my friend asked me, “Am I supposed to feel something?”
Ai Chi is not magic. It is not a cure-all. And while it draws from ancient Asian roots, it is not even a time-honored tradition. It is a ritual, purposely designed to stretch our muscles, our thoughts and our mindfulness, to strengthen our core muscles, our stamina and our perseverance, to broaden breath, awareness and calm and to bring balance and stability to our bodies, our autonomic nervous system and our outlook on life.
Rituals require preparation. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo opens her book POET WARRIOR with a preface appropriately entitled “Prepare” that mirrors aspects of Ai Chi:
Copyright © 2022 by Joy Harjo, from POET WARRIOR by Joy Harjo. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
That first earth gift of breathing
Opened your body, these lungs, this heart
Gave birth to the ability to interact
You are a story fed by generations
You carry stories of grief, triumph
Thankfulness and joy
Feel their power as they ascend
As you walk, run swiftly, even fly
Into infinite possibility
Harjo ponders how different our perspective would be if we learned to listen to the world and the creatures around us with our whole being; listening not just with our ears, but also with our eyes, throat, abdomen, toes… Sometimes I think of seeing with eyes wide open- but it is in stretching all of our senses beyond their normal bounds that we become mindful of our world.
My preparation for Ai Chi has evolved to include giving attention to setting the scene for finding calm, as well as including a bit of personal mindfulness practice before participants arrive to put myself in the right mindset. When I share Ai Chi with others, I have grown to realize how important it is to set expectations by providing an explanation of what Ai Chi is and giving an overview of what is to come, while at the same time opening the door for serendipities that Ai Chi practice may bring. I review diaphragmatic breathing and core positioning, then begin time in the water with a mindful walking warm up.
Rituals require regular practice and dedicated attention. The paradox that exists with Ai Chi is that while practicing it in a precise manner over time enhances its benefits, however your Ai Chi practice turns out in the moment for you, is exactly how it was meant to be. We each come to Ai Chi practice with our own constantly updated life stories. You may go through the same motions you have done before, but each time you do Ai Chi is unique, unlike any time you have ever done it before or will ever do it again. And no two people share the same Ai Chi experience, even when doing Ai Chi together. Breathe, dream, listen with your whole being and be open to the infinite possibilities Ai Chi may bring.
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