So, how have you been keeping your spirits up during the last few months, when everything has seemed so topsy turvy? Embroidery? Gardening? Quiz nights? Perfecting the ultimate sourdough recipe? Reruns of beloved comedy shows?
For me it has been practising the ancient arts of Qi Gong and Tai Chi with an online class twice a week.
In the first couple of weeks of lockdown, a lot of people were desperate to get or keep fit, taking up running or working out in the park. My son made a kind of steampunk home gym in the garden with old sash window weights, his rusty childhood pogo stick, a skipping rope and so on. I started doing an online Qi Gong class – a Chinese system that exercises all parts of the body even while feeling fairly gentle. It seemed really weird at the time to be doing this in my front room on Zoom, in front of a small screen, with a teacher in Cornwall and some participants in other countries, while every now and then various animals or family members walked into shot; but it’s now so utterly normal that I almost struggle to remember any other way.
It’s been a revelation, though. I’ve also been doing an online Lishi class, a dynamic form of Tai Chi with similar principles to Qi Gong – designed to get your energy going – and goodness me, it doesn’t half do the trick. Both practices are based on the same principles as Traditional Chinese medicine, designed to cultivate physical fitness and strength with a meditative, metaphysical aspect. There is an emphasis on breathing deeply and boosting the immune system, and on controlling the movements – which have wonderful poetic names, and many of the postures are derived from animals, like “Horse” which means standing in a thigh-and-buttock-curdling deep squat with a straight back as if you are sitting astride a large horse. Ouch. Of course my teachers love this one.
Sometimes it feels easy, sometimes it’s meditative and slow, sometimes it is practically killing me as I’m doing drop kicks in four directions without putting my foot on the floor, and I’m looking plaintively at the clock to see when it will all be over – but both classes are always, always energising and fun and just make me feel alive, alive-o – and at the same time, balanced and on track. Even without the spiritual element, I do feel that having this regular boost of exercise, connection and especially the emphasis on breathing deeply, has kept me well. Despite having had a mild brush with the virus.
And what has this got to do with art? Well … perhaps not a lot except that the intentional mustering of Qi, (the vital energy or life force that keeps us all going) is what drives the artist too. Sometimes it feels really hard to get going, and leaves your muscles aching; sometimes it just flows. On those days when it just doesn’t come naturally, you still have to have the discipline to do it anyway.
Writing is similar too, of course, and can be equally curdling on the buttocks as you sit for hours on a hard chair trying to find the right words. But you have to show up. That’s the hardest part of all, and the most important, and it’s been said a million gazillion times before because it’s true.