Headway ( www.headway.org.uk ) is a charity which provides support for anyone affected by brain injury. The dedicated volunteers work with a variety of methods which help the attendees to re-orientate and empower themselves as they confront daily battles.
For several years I was given the opportunity to introduce T’ai Chi and Chi Kung at Headway in Oxford. It was a challenge to explore how T’ai Chi might be able to stimulate wounded minds and bodies. The attendees sat on chairs or wheelchairs. Some of them were severely impaired, needing carers to help them move heavy limbs. I soon realised that the T’ai Chi exercises needed to be adapted carefully and presented in an imaginative way so that the diverse range of people coping with many different conditions felt encouraged to engage with the movements.
T’ai Chi gives us a way of connecting to the deep source of energy that sustains all of life. From the ancient Chinese perspective Qi is understood as the life-force that we and all of Nature depend upon for our survival. Everything is dependent on the force of Qi. It is working at every level – pushing the grass up beneath our feet and sustaining whole forests.
Qi is the unseen energy that holds the form of our bodies together. Without Qi our bodies would fall apart. This collapse of form is the disintegrating phase of the life cycle.
When Things go Wrong
To be in a state of harmony is the ideal we strive toward. But life sometimes delivers a blow that strips and disables us of everything that we usually take for granted. How can T’ai Chi help us deal with calamity? If we can keep the possibility of ‘change’ alive in our minds, while being encouraged by the dynamic changes that constantly occur all around us in Nature, we are more likely to discover that we can flex and re-generate movement and change even at deeply resistant levels.
No matter what the difficulties or inner struggles, there is always the opportunity of finding incremental moments of change. This can happen through allowing the rhythm of the breath to guide the smallest of movements, or to move the (yang) functioning side of the body in order to encourage the (yin) wounded side of the body to respond.
The T’ai Chi movements, if approached in a sensitive way, can help us disentangle the grip of depression, anger, frustration, restlessness, even existential fear. Furthermore, T’ai Chi and Chi Kung have a way of transforming and re-generating our energy and therefore our ability to function. Initially the work is at the physical level, but once one starts to feel the reality of Qi one may begin to feel a more subtle inner softening and expansion.
I was frequently amazed by the tenacity and humour with which the Headway attendees were able to engage with the enduring benefits of T’ai Chi.
“ the secret of tao in this world of the mutable, the world of light – the realm of yang – is to keep the changes in motion in such a manner that no stasis occurs and an unbroken coherence is maintained. He who succeeds in endowing his work with this regenerative power creates something organic, and the thing so created is enduring.” (I Ching trans. R. Wilhelm & C.F. Baynes)