Tai Chi is practiced by many in order to return to a more natural way of being. In order to become more natural in the way that we move and breath it helps to practice Tai Chi in as natural a setting as you can find. In todays overcrowded collection of concrete jungles and the ever encroaching urban sprawl there cannot be many places left that are more natural than the New Forest in Central Southern England.
Among the hundred square miles or so of open access common land can be found ancient forest open heath, valley bogs and pasture woodland, what better place to stretch breath slow down and unwind?
Walking and Tai Chi
The Forest is a great place to go for a walk and it’s relatively flat terrain makes it less demanding than some of the other national parks. Walking is a great way to get to know an area but you are still an observer passing through the land scape. By breaking up your walking by stopping to do some Tai Chi you get a different feel of the place, for a while at least you are in the land scape. The more that you can slow down the more that there is to see and feel and Tai Chi is a way of achieving this.
Sometimes it seems to me that the slightly hurried pace of walkers with a tight grip on their map betrays a mild anxiousness and a large group can be talking so loudly that they could drown out the dawn chorus, it’s almost deafening! The only time these walkers stop is to read their map and then once again off they hurry maybe to their real goal the tea rooms at Brockenhurst?
Bird watching painting and sketching.
Activities that call for a physical stillness and require a heightened level of observation and concentration engender a peace of mind that is difficult to describe especially when done deep within nature. Those who come into the Forest, such as artists and bird watchers, are often rewarded not by what they see or record alone but by the mental stimulation engendered in the very act of looking. I have taken groups of people into the New Forest to do Tai Chi. A normal practice session is enhanced when done in an environment in which no man made object can be seen and the only straight line is the horizon. Although the Forest has its fair share of roads telephone poles railway lines and the like there are still many of those magic places where evidence of Man and his modern world do not intrude.
The circle in nature and in Tai Chi
Underlying the Tai Chi philosophy is the principle of the circle. If you are fortunate enough to spend time in the New Forest through out the year you will become very aware of the circle of nature. As the circle starts to noticeably climb it’s upward curve catkins appear on the willow tree, the first sign of new growth since winter closed in, is a welcome sight. May and June is the time for new born foals, the fruit of the Forest. Dragon flys appear and blue butterflies with silver tipped wings and the circle moves on. The purple carpet of heather, bell cross leaf and ling, are the delight of August and the pony round ups begin. For eight weeks before Christmas pigs are allowed out onto the open Forest to feast on the fallen acorns, the ancient right of pan age given to commoners in medieval times or even earlier. The ponies don their winter coats, with less daylight the temperature drops dramatically as the circle curves down to the shortest day.
To be fully exposed to the yearly cycle of the Forest is to feel small and insignificant. Nature puts you in your place and it is strangely comforting because we all have a place in nature that city living cuts many people away from. When contact with nature reveals your smallness and insignificance it also shrinks your worries and problems. You cannot be in awe of nature and be caught up in your small self at the same time, if only for a brief moment everyday cares and pressures do not exist.
A magic moment and the Forest Pony.
Once I was practicing Tai Chi within the still visible perimeter earth wall of a Bronze Age hill fort that gives sweeping views of open heathland far below it. Four thousand years ago this place would have been the centre of a lot of human activity but now I was there alone or so I thought. Out of the morning mist walked a white pony with the mystic of a unicorn, it was small and scruffy with bracken caught in its mane but it had the magic of being free. This pony could roam at will over these open spaces and woodlands as it’s ancestors had done for a long time before the hill fort was built and probably since the ice age! Magic moments such as these stay with you forever and that day I understood what brings the visitors each year to the forest in their millions.
Riding and Tai Chi
I have ridden New Forest ponies in the New Forest for a number of years and have found Tai Chi to be a huge help with the riding ability needed to do this. Tai Chi can help any rider in a number of key areas such as better breathing and posture and having light hands. Having young ponies that are still at the training stage I have found that the principles of Natural Horsemanship and of Tai Chi are in many ways the same. We live in a beautiful country here in England but with most of the land privately owned enclosed and fenced off it is very much a case of you can look but do not touch. In the New Forest you can walk pony ride or do Tai Chi almost were ever that you like, but always respect the commoners and do not be a hindrance to them as they look after the animals and without them the Forest would no longer exist.