by Glenda Hesseltine

Life Out of Balance

In the Native American tradition, there is a special word for a world gone out of balance.  The word, koyaanisquatsi means “crazy life”.

Sometimes it would seem that just being alive in modern, western civilization, especially as we move into the 21st century, is a guarantee of a “crazy life”.  Rare is the person who does not feel the stress of our speeded-up life on a daily basis.  When too many stresses hit in a row, particularly if there is no recovery or “down” time in-between, any one of us is likely to experience koyaanisquatsi, at  least temporarily.   Due to the heavy and constant bombardment of stimuli in our lives, even an “average” day can be stressful enough to throw us off balance or “out-of-sync”  with ourselves and the natural rhythms of the earth.  Sometimes we don’t even know we are out of balance until stress tips the scales into fatigue, dis-ease, or ultimately, death.

Definition of Stress

The dictionary definition of stress is a “great pressure or force” or “a great effort”.  That “pressure” may appear to be from without, but ultimately, it is always from within, frequently connected to the tremendous expectations we unconsciously put upon ourselves and others.

Stress can be work-related, or in connection to relationships, family, or friends.  It can be seen as physical, mental, or emotional, and it can be environmental, cultural, social, biological, or circumstantial. 

Stress can be described as chronic and long-term, or sudden and acute.     According to some sources, there is “good” stress, and “bad” stress.  Stress can move from good to bad when there is no recovery or “down” time in which the body and mind can rest and repair itself.  Ironically, we often make a “great effort” to respond to the “great pressure”, thereby compounding our stress rather than relieving it.

Few westerners know the fine art of “effortless effort” as taught in the practice of  Tai Chi, one of the few forms of exercise that generates more energy than it consumes.   For those of us indoctrinated in the all-American school of  “try harder”, the intriguingly gentle Tai Chi concept of  “try softly” seems paradoxical, mystifying, and borderline heresy.  Perhaps, however, it is time to welcome this “gentle heresy” into our lives as a natural antidote to koyaanisquatsi.

T’ai Chi Balances the Life Force Energy (chi)

It takes great courage to slow down and grant oneself permission for recovery time.  Obsolete translations from both Latin and French define “courage” as “with heart”.  To slow down and “try softly”, to establish a sane and humane pace in a frantic, fast-moving society takes living “with heart” or courage.  

In a “work harder, faster, longer” world, there is not a lot of agreement or encouragement to get off the treadmill or out of the rat race.  People who have turned to the ancient art of T’ai Chi to learn to slow down, restore internal balance, and reduce the pressure of daily life, claim that T’ai Chi promotes spiritual harmony because it works from the inside out.     Sometimes it is called a “moving meditation” or a “body prayer”.

Some  practitioners feel that T’ai Chi is a superior form of health care because it teaches information which allows the individual to make the right choice to avoid future disease, heal present discomfort, and experience “being at one with oneself”.   This recognition of oneness extends also to the balancing of opposites.  Based on the Taoist observation of  nature and the universal principles of Yin and Yang, T’ai Chi holds opposites as complementary and co-operative rather than exclusive and competitive, offering a release from the conflict and anxiety that usually accompany the recognition of opposites.  In a world of growing polarization and strife, this training to see opposites as complementary could be increasingly valuable, if not life-saving, in reducing stress.  With our current world population of 6 billion expected to expand within 30 years to 7 billion, it behooves us to learn to live in peace and cooperation as we pack the planet more densely.

Well, What Exactly is T’ai Chi?

Perhaps one of the few times that “going in circles” contributes to mental health, this discipline combines meditation, exercise, and martial arts in a graceful set of  simple curved movements designed to promote and maintain good health.  It only takes 6 to 7 minutes to complete the 24 movements of the Yang Style, during which time every muscle and joint in the body will be gently moved and stretched, providing tone and flexibility for the whole body, while simultaneously improving memory, focus, and concentration for the mind

Practiced regularly, T’ai Chi is believed to promote longevity by bringing circulation and relaxation to all parts of the body and mind, including inner organs.  Because it is a gentle, non-strenuous form of body movement, people of all ages and in various conditions of  fitness can practice T’ai Chi easily, once the breathing and basic movements are learned.

Referred to as a “moving meditation” or a “body prayer”, this exercise is a good way to quiet the mind, rejuvenate the body, and refresh the spirit, invoking calm and “stillness within the motion”, much like the ripples from a pebble tossed in the pond.  Once you master the many graceful, powerful, circular  movements, you are likely to loose yourself in them.  As the saying goes:  “First you do T’ai Chi, and then T’ai Chi does you.

By being able to “loose themselves” and tune out the stress-filled world, many students who practice T’ai Chi regularly report great success with lowering high blood pressure, sometimes as much as 40 points in five minutes, with out medication…just with the breathing and movement of  T’ai Chi.   T’ai Chi is one of the most effective antidotes to the insidious effects of stress on human health and well-being.  As a natural stress-reduction “medicine” it is especially beneficial in that there is no chance of over-dose of this medicine, nor are there any harmful side-effects, as is the case with so many of our modern pharmaceuticals.

T’ai Chi is a natural tranquilizer and stress-buster that can be used by all ages and types of people in all situations and conditions.   It activates the “healer within”.