“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity”. It has become almost trite to utter such a phrase in difficult times, but for myself and my vocation, it has proven so. Until mid-March of 2020, I travelled across Tyneside delivering Tai Chi and Qigong classes to the general public, charities, care homes, schools and community groups. Virtually overnight, like so many of us, I lost my livelihood. Not content with this, I managed to accidently sever the BT broadband cable running to my home office, cutting off my computer from the only connection I now had to everyone. A few days later, in a state of high anxiety and emotional imbalance, I slipped and fell down the last few of my stairs and strained my lats, leaving me sitting in the same position in bed for two weeks. I was truly down and out.
Being fully immobilised with no income does, of course, sharpen the mind. And if you can hold a laptop in the right position for long enough, it gives you the opportunity to google, ‘How do I move my Tai Chi classes online?’
Public service has always been a huge deal for me in terms of my mental health and self worth. I need to contribute and especially so, when people are suffering. As I sat in bed, trying to find a pain free position, I was aware that the hundred or so students that regularly attended my classes would benefit from the support that Tai Chi, relaxation and mindfulness can so effectively provide.
When we first went into Lockdown, the prevailing emotion experienced by many of us was fear. Fear of the virus itself, fear of losing loved ones, fear of being alone and isolated, fear for our economic survival. Anxiety levels rocketed. In the UK, we had the added concern that the government didn’t appear to be in control. They were late in acting and contradictory in their advice. Like walking over shifting sands, it was difficult to feel grounded in reality, as we didn’t really know what the real situation was and still don’t to a large extent. There was much work that needed to be done
On 1 May, having ingested sufficient ibuprofen to enable me to move freely, I ran my first facebook live Qigong class. Forty-five people had signed up to an online monthly subscription, so I had a programme to deliver. For the next week, I barely left the computer, apart from to sleep. Not only did I have my own steep learning curve to climb, technologically speaking, I had to guide elderly and technophobic students onto facebook, zoom and youtube. It was a full-time job and I witnessed much bravery in adapting to this new way of working.
We are now in full swing and the feedback is amazing. We have supported each other as a community, come together to exercise our bodies, opened our hearts and lifted our spirits. We have learned how to ground and centre ourselves and how to reduce fear and anxiety. In terms of the deeper aspects of Qigong, we have learned to connect to the underlying energy in the natural world- the chi – as the Chinese call it and be nourished by that. To be house bound and yet able to feel in harmony with the earth, the sky, the sun, moon and stars and all life is particularly uplifting. We learned how to hug our own bodies because many of us couldn’t hug anyone else.
As a teacher, I have learned to be more present and to tune in to the suffering of our times so as to find ways to transcend it. I now have the tools and the potential to reach and help more people whilst protecting my own energy levels.