This Will Not Be a Linear Path
Here's what your progress will look like:
Maybe you'll really enjoy your first few classes and you'll feel great after them. Often people get really excited at this stage, because they can really feel that it's working. Then you'll try to work out on your own and it will be...okay. Somewhere around week two or three, when you're adding more and more time, you'll start to slow down. You'll skip a day. Then you'll get back on the horse and do a mighty twenty minutes before giving up.
Maybe you'll manage to get three hours a day in, and maybe, after a long or short period, it will start to work for you. Depending on your personality you might get cocky and quit altogether, figuring that your body is healing on its own and the healing has nothing to do with the work you're putting in. Maybe you'll keep going. Maybe you'll succeed. I can't tell you exactly what will happen, because it all depends on you and your will and your decisions, every day, about how you're going to approach this. It has nothing to do with me, or with the instructor you choose to work with.
Okay, it has a little bit to do with them, in the sense that you want to find the best instruction you can, with someone who can work well with your personality and know when to push you and when to not push you. You want to find the most skilled instructor you can. Ask about the person's background and experience. Choose someone who's been teaching for ten years over someone who's been practicing for six months.
In the end, though, this is one of those things that you have to put effort into in order for it to work for you. There is a direct relationship between your choice to keep going, your determination not to quit, and your shot at improving your condition. Good luck. Seriously.
It Will Hurt
For people who are not dealing with serious illness, Tai Chi and Qigong will occasionally leave you with sore muscles and joints - like all exercise. You should sweat. I know, you're thinking, isn't this for seniors? Sure, but do you think those seniors aren't working hard? They are, I promise you. Anyone receiving benefits from Tai Chi and Qigong is working his or her little heart out.
Like I said before, serious illness sits in the body in particular locations. When you start to heal, it will express as pain, soreness, or what seems like a sudden inexplicable injury, cold, or flu. I almost wrote "often" in that previous sentence, and yes, there are always exceptions to the rule, but I pretty much guarantee that you will hit a wall with your practice at some point, and when you do, it won't feel like the same old wall you hit when you don't feel like practicing that day. It will feel like an actual wall that you run into with your face or some other tender body part.
Let me say that again: you will hit a wall. The wall will present as intense pain, soreness, a sudden inexplicable injury, a cold, or the flu, or other bizarre symptom. There will be something weird about it, though. The flu will be unproductive in the mucous sense. Or you'll have tons of mucous without the flu symptoms. You will just get turfed and need to spend a day in bed. The injury will be of mysterious origin, or will be the same injury, soreness, whatever, that came up once before, when you suffered an emotional blow or major life transition. That's the wall.
Here's the thing about the wall. When you hit it, it means that everything you're doing is working. This is the time to keep going, not the time to quit. Whenever I have a client who starts to hit this point, I get excited and scared. Excited because I know this is go time. Scared because it's when most people decide they can't handle it any more. I've made the mistake in the past of not telling people about this up front. I'm telling you now. It will hurt. That's okay. Show up anyway. Do your three hours. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Your Mileage May Vary
What will hurt and how will depend in part upon your diagnosis, and in part on the ineffable mystery that is you. My research on this is still in progress. I'll be dedicating future posts to individual conditions and what is likely to come up if that's what you're working with, but I wanted to give you some idea of the way this can go depending on the health situation you're facing.
Sometimes, the symptom is likely to be very specific. For example, people with Parkinson's will generally speaking manifest a foot injury as they start to really dig into their symptoms using any kind of energy healing, including Tai Chi and Qigong. If you'd like to know why, the Parkinson's Recovery Project has an abundance of information online for free.
From a holistic perspective, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue are related to the body's process of elimination becoming overwhelmed, causing build-up of toxins in the connective tissue (Fibromylagia) or blocks to the processes that bring glucose to the cells for the production of energy (Chronic Fatigue). More about these two conditions at Andreas Moritz's Ener-Chi Wellness Centre.
When you start to move energy and increase blood and lymph circulation through these areas, it is likely you will find yourself dealing with the emotional pain that your physical symptoms have been covering up. This at least was the experience of Barbara Sinclair as she healed from Fibromyalgia. Edie Summers recovered from Chronic Fatigue through a combination of herbal and holistic remedies that included becoming aware of her emotional patterns and managing their impact on her health. As bad as your physical pain and exhaustion is, the emotional turmoil underlying it can be a complete shock, and requires a specific set of strategies to address, which is something Qigong and Tai Chi can help you with.
Next post in this series: things you can do to keep your energy moving when you can't move another inch.