When you are away for campervan trips that can last two or three months, having a garden is problematic. We like having our own space but it has to work for us. The two most important things are:
1. The garden can cope with neglect for long periods of time while we are away in the campervan.
2. The garden has a fairly level and large enough space for two people to practice tai chi.
However, much I might want to turn our garden into a green and colourful wild flower meadow full of insects and birds, I come back to these priorities. If only practicing tai chi in the road outside was an option! Unfortunately, I know this would not only get the neighbours talking, it would soon get us either run down or abused by passing motorists!
The compromise in terms of plants in our small sunken back garden [probably slightly bigger than we would like] is to grow hardy trees, shrubs and bushes that are drought tolerant. This is a win-win as even when we are at home we can minimise our water usage and the three water butts we have are usually sufficient to get us through any dry spell. These plants surround a sunny paved area that we use as our tai chi practice space.
We will never master tai chi but we have been practicing for many years now, with different teachers. On a good day we will practice both shibashi and some of the tai chi forms we are learning. On a lazy and wet day we will at least try and practice the shibashi or a short form.
Shibashi combines movements and breathing from tai chi in a set of 18 repeated exercises that flow into each other. Shibashi means 18 moves and doing them is calming, energising and excellent for someone who sits at a laptop writing for many hours!
The first tai chi form we learnt was the Sun Style 98 form and I feel connected to this form because it was my introduction to tai chi and it takes me back to the welcoming and friendly Salford class we found. The form has 98 different moves but only takes about seven minutes to complete. Sun style is one of the least popular tai chi styles but I like its fluid movements, the follow steps, the clearly defined transference of weight and the ‘pause’ between movements with opening and closing of hands. It feels beneficial to try and keep the moves of this form in my head and this sums up what I like about tai chi; it occupies both my physical body and my brain and remembering the moves of the form leaves no space in my head for trivia or anxieties.
We have also been learning a more popular tai chi style, Yang. A lock down project was to learn the moves in Yang 40. We haven’t quite finished it, so what we do at the moment is Yang 31! All tai chi forms are related and have similar moves but also have differences and it feels good to experience these variations.
When we have time we also practice some of the other tai chi forms we have learnt so that we don’t completely forget them. We can manage Yang 10, a short form that is compact and we can even push the furniture back in our living room and practice this one there if the weather is poor. We also mostly remember some of Dr Paul Lam’s forms from his Tai Chi for Health Institute that we learnt in Salford.
Some of the garden was already flagged when we moved in but it had obstacles that got in the way of our tai chi and disturbed the flow as we stepped over them! This summer we have moved the hurdles, re-laid some of the wonky flags and moved the gravel areas to the edges. We have re-used the flags and gravel that were already there so we could save money and not to add to the environmental cost of quarrying and production. We added the metal sun plaque on the wall to give me a glimpse of the sun, even on gloomy winter days.