2019 has been a monumental year for me in several different ways. In both my personal and professional lives I have grown and developed a better sense of my individual identity. I now have more definitive plans for my future and the means to achieve what I’ve set out to do. But 2019 has also been monumental when it comes to my health, particularly my mental health. In both good and bad ways I have come to a better understanding of my mental health and what I have to do in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. And one way to do this is through an ancient Chinese art that has been practiced for centuries and by millions of people: tai chi.
I have always had an interest in martial arts, and began studying them around the age of 10. I first started with Taekwondo at a local studio not far from my house. I had never been of who enjoyed fighting, but even at a young age I wanted to be a badass, so I took up classes and tried to become the ultimate warrior. I did alright, though I always dreaded the times we had to fight one-on-one, and for some reason was terrible at breaking boards with my feet. I stayed there for several months, but the owner eventually had to move, and it became too tiresome trying to keep up with the rotating locations. So eventually I stopped altogether, and my time as a warrior was put on hold.
A few years later I came back to the world of martial arts, this time in the form of karate. This go around was a little more special because I got to do it with my mom and older sister. During the summer we would go three times a week, and I fell in love with the art. Fighting one-on-one was still not my forte, but I did gain more confidence in my abilities. I connected with my sensei more than I had my previous teacher, and felt more in tune with the practice. I stayed there for three years, achieving the level of red belt and believing that I could make it all the way to black belt. However, external factors came into play once again, and I had to leave. It seemed like my time in martial arts had come to its final end, but I was very much mistaken.
I knew very little about tai chi when I was younger, except for the misconceptions that I had heard in various contexts. I was told that it was only for seniors looking to better their balance, and not an activity that would interest people of my generation. My grandma talked about wanting to do it, only furthering that misconception. But an interest had took hold of me, so I decided to do a little investigating for myself and find out more about tai chi and what it meant.
I began my search using the best resource I had access to: the world wide web. I checked Wikipedia pages and other blogs to see what new information they could provide me, and it did help a great deal on my quest. I next went to a bookstore and bought a tai chi for dummies book that I began to read. The benefits of tai chi were what fascinated me the most. It was not just an exercise regimen that could only benefit those of the older generation. In reality, it was an all encompassing art that could help anyone physically, mentally and spiritually. I did not understand why more people my age–many of whom were going through some of the most turbulent times of their lives–were not taking part in something that could benefit them in so many ways. Tai chi seemed to hold all the answers, and I wanted to know all of them. I began training on my own using books and DVD’s, hoping to become a tai chi master.
Life as a teenager and young adult is ever-changing, and with those changes come times where you fall in and out of activities and hobbies. This happened with me and tai chi. As I grew older and became busier with life, I started to do tai chi less and less. It was always on my mind but I never made time to practice the movements or do the breathing exercises. At a time in my life where tai chi would have benefited me the most, I was not doing it nearly as much as I should. Sadly, the desire to do tai chi had gone away, and I was stuck navigating my life without its help.
Flash forward to this year. 2019 has been turbulent to say the least. So much has happened that it is hard to sometimes process everything. My biggest concern has been the state of my mental health and how to best practice mental fitness. I no longer want to be a slave to the ups and downs of my ever-changing mood and mental state. Instead, I want to be in control and feel like I have a better handle on things than before. I have taken part in an intensive outpatient program, scheduled more therapy sessions, got a gym membership, and increased medication. But I knew that I needed something more if I was going to have a healthier life, so I went back to the martial art of my youth for help. And boy has it helped a lot.
I started taking a formal tai chi class at the local rec center this past fall and began training with an actual instructor and other students. I was nervous at first to say the least, but excited all the same to start learning again and to actually gorw in the art. Things got off to a slow and rocky start. My muscles were not used to this kind of exercise, and I had some difficulty getting the breathing techniques down. I felt like I was not achieving the qi (energy flow) that was so crucial in tai chi, and I started to doubt if this past love was really for me or not. But I never gave up and kept going to class week after week. And then I decided to do something that would make tai chi a bigger part of my life than I ever expected it to be: I was going to become a certified tai chi instructor.
Becoming a certified instructor was something that I never expected myself to do, but in many ways I had been toying with the idea for some time. On my quest for achieving a healthy state of mental being, I realized that I wanted others to come on this journey with me for themselves. And for part of that journey I wanted to include mastering tai chi and using its benefits to better my mental health, as well as the mental health of others. This led me to seeking out a certification program that would teach me how to be effective and purposeful in my teaching of others so that everyone could get the most out of it. Even though I am still very much in the beginning states of my teacher certification, I am confident that over time I will grow in my skills and have the ability to teach others.
Tai chi is no longer just an “old people’s sport” in my mind. It is a martial art that can do great wonders for the body on so many different levels. Even though I have only been studying it intensively for the past few months, it has already taught me so much about myself and the world around me. I know that becoming an instructor won’t be easy, but will definitely be worth it. I hope that through my teachings I can inspire others to a better standard of mental wellness. If tai chi can do it for me, I am confident that it can do it for others too.