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01 July 2014 / Features
Violinist Helen Pohl shares the benefits of the practice.
28 years ago tai chi changed my violin-playing life. When I lived in Boston in the late 1980s I was having some soreness in my arms and shoulders. My stand partner in the Boston Philharmonic, an orchestra conducted by Ben Zander (later to inspirationally conduct the New Zealand National Youth Orchestra several times!), told me about tai chi and suggested I try it sometime.
So one day I took myself off to an introductory session at Yang’s Martial Arts Academy in the suburb of Jamaica Plain. I still remember some of the first postures I learned there that day and my rising excitement as I sensed that this was something that was going to give me a whole new level of wellbeing – premium fuel and new tyres for the sports car, as it were! I came home and immediately raced to the violin. My arms felt a whole new level of alive and my fingers were connected to my core with sizzling electrical connections. Since then I’ve made a daily practice of this ancient Chinese art. I learned Master Yang’s Yang style Long Form in Boston, then when I moved to San Francisco I learned a different Yang style, and in Wellington I learned a Wu style form from Master Shi Mei Lin, which I’ve been practicing for 20 years now.
I’ve had various other teachers along the way, the most inspiring of which is Ed Ware, a New York City – based master, and I was lucky to be able to go to New York for two days last week for a chi gung workshop with him. As well as the workshop, where the focus was on pulsing chi energy through opening the joints, I had two private lessons where we concentrated on directing the flow of chi specifically through the fingers, particularly the one I broke last year. The days were very warm and we had the private lessons outside, one in Tompkins Square Park and one in Central Park, which was an extra pleasure.
Tai chi helps me with recovering from illnesses and injuries as well as dealing with the regular insults of travel, hotel rooms, and jet lag – and there’s nothing to pack, as it’s always with me! It also has given me better balance, like on the rocks at the beach… Chi gung practice, which is the scales or studies to tai chi’s musical masterpiece, focuses on and amplifies small elements that can be applied to the whole form. Great teaching gets right into the smallest detail of weight shift, rootedness, balance and connection of all of the joints to each other. All of this gives me great inspiration for my continued practice, and confidence that I can keep my body well-tuned for many years to come.
Interestingly, at the innermost level I am finding more and more overlap between the practice of tai chi and the Feldenkrais studies I have been enjoying for the past decade and more. One feeds the other. And both are valuable for my playing and teaching of the violin as I gain in experience in all of these areas.
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