In December I decided to invest in my physical and mental wellbeing and switch to a fancier, more expensive gym closer to home. If there’s one thing I’m terrible at, it’s motivating myself, so having access to a variety of exercise classes seemed like a good idea – once you’re there, you’re committed to an hour’s exercise, and you’re guided, so there’s no standing about and messing around for twenty minutes while you decide what to do next. There is a wide range of class types too, so it’s varied enough to hold my (sometimes fickle) interest.
One of the classes I was especially interested in trying was Tai Chi. I suffer with what my former boss used to refer to as ‘chattering monkeys’ – that constant, nagging voice in your head which talks and talks and never seems to shut up unless you’re asleep, and even then it sometimes finds a way to sneak in. I’d tried yoga previously, and while I enjoyed the physical aspect of it, I found there were just enough long pauses for the voice to weasel in – in those quiet, meditative moments in which I ought to have been focusing on my breathing, or on holding a pose, I was instead trying in vain to quiet the brain-noise: what if this were to happen did you forget to do this thing remember that time two years ago when you did something really embarrassing you need to renew the home insurance what if you get home and everything has been stolen what if you mess up at work tomorrow and get the sack oh no you forgot to buy bread…
You know. Chattering monkeys.
I didn’t know what to expect from Tai Chi. I’ve seen people practicing it in parks; they always look so peaceful and graceful, so co-ordinated. I am none of those things. It turns out that isn’t a bad thing. Tai Chi requires a pleasant kind of concentration; you have to be ready to transition from one move to another in order to maintain the smooth flow of movement, so to a certain extent you must always be thinking ahead. And your movements must be smooth, slow and controlled, so you must also concentrate on the speed of your movement, the control of your muscles (and here I hear my instructor: “When we’re stressed, we speed up. Control your speed. Control your stress.”) You are focusing on form, on the physical reality of each movement, and on the concept which underlies it (‘Crane spreads its wings’, for example, or ‘needles at sea bottom’).
And to do all of this successfully, the brain must be focused solely on what you are doing. Which means there is no room for chattering monkeys. Which means an hour of blissful silence. And this alone means my gym membership has been worth every penny.