In my last post I wrote that it was very important to pay attention, to stay focused. A day later I tested this claim. At the same time, I followed the advice of all the experts on aging on how to retain your mental faculties throughout your life, namely, learn something new, such as a foreign language. My language lesson consisted not of new vocabulary, but certainly new ways of combining familiar words: “Wild Horse Shakes its Mane,” “White Crane Spreads its Wings,” “Step Back and Repulse Monkey,” “Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail,” and “Snake Creeps Down, Golden Rooster Stands.” The language is tai chi, (a Chinese martial art widely practiced for its health benefits), a tongue made more difficult by virtue of having to move my arms, torso and legs in some semblance of order while trying to mimic one of the class’s three teachers as she demonstrated each of 24 movements, many with colorful titles like those above.
We began by performing each movement very slowly. I had no problem seeing each one demonstrated, since, as a newcomer, a teacher directed me to my place of honor in the front row. When she completed all 24 movements she turned to the class. “That was painfully slow, wasn’t it.” (Just what every new student wants to hear — that the teacher slowed down the class for her sake and, as a result, everyone else is miserable). She followed this with, “Ann, what did you think?” I said I didn’t think the pace was too slow. In fact, it seemed just right.
We repeated the cycle two more times, each time moving faster. I found that I often held my right arm above the left when it should have been below, I stood with my weight on the left foot when it should have been on the right, and it was difficult to quickly transform from a Snake into a Golden Rooster. But the one thing I did do correctly was focus. And I really enjoyed the challenge. If I hadn’t, the Monkey might have Repulsed me or the Sparrow grasped the Wild Horse’s Mane. Immediately after class I had a doctor’s appointment. My blood pressure was 121 over 65, proof that imitating White Cranes, Snakes, Golden Roosters and other creatures has a calming effect, even if performed off-kilter.