Some 16 years ago I had a workplace injury to my lower spine. The pain was often excruciating. Many times in the enduring of this injury I would often be bedridden for periods of 4-5 days at a time and I often could barely move. During this time, I refused to go under the scalpel but I did become reliant upon pain-killers – slow release morphine patches no less.
As a result of this deadly combination of events I became overweight. I could not exercise nor even walk around the block and I was often dependent upon a walking cane for mobility. Most movement and even standing for too long would cause pain and for my body to seize-up. Having previously practiced Taijiquan for some decades I could not even do preliminary exercises nor could I do the Taijiquan form itself.
I decided that I would do aspects of Taijiquan that I could still do or, at least begin to do, even if it were only a few turns or a few steps. Mind you, I could not turn much nor step out very far. However, I made up my mind that regardless of what happens I would practice at least a little bit every day, to the extent that I was capable.
Progress came slowly. After two years I could go to the first single whip, albeit tentatively. It was during this period that I devised what I referred to as the Four Pillars sequence, which enabled me to go through the form up to the first push posture in a continuous loop, slowly strengthening my body whilst focusing on core aspects of Taijiquan.
Slowly, I loosened up enough that I began moving through the form a couple of postures at a time. I also reconstructed fundamental exercises I had learnt earlier, removing those areas that played havoc with my injury. I then referred to these as the Seven Fundamental Practices.
It took me about five years from the time of my injury to complete a full form along with fundamental exercises, standing practices and so on. This was performed somewhat precariously, but I could at least walk through it nonetheless. It has taken another 10 years to begin to address the full impact and effects of my injury through re-aligning firstly my skeletal frame, working gently with my spine and then through establishing and stabilising my energetic alignments, which I have found to be vitally important.
Whilst the initial injury to my lower spine was immediately evident, what was less obvious to an outside observer was the collateral damage which spread throughout the body in a domino effect. For example, there was twisting in my lower spine and a pulling across and in of my left leg/hip, plus the freezing of the muscles resulting from the body’s attempt to adjust and protect itself. This, I found, creates further imbalances within and throughout the body. Then there was the psychological impact of such extensive physical limitation.
Currently in 2016, I hesitate to say all remnants of the injury have now left me because it’s still a work in progress. But today the 25th May at 3.30pm for the first time in all those years since the injury I performed sweep lotus freely and without restraint and it made me feel very grateful that I was led to learn this wondrous art and for my teachers. The neigong, chi-kung, Taijiquan and the standing practices they taught me provided a broad canvas to draw from in first, coming to terms with and then, re-determining my injury.
Comparatively with some people, I realize my injury may be relatively minor, but I cannot overlook my personal experience nor the potential of the daily practice of Taijiquan as a means for physical, mental, emotion and spiritual healing. From this, I can only encourage my friends that if injured or enduring an illness do not despair, find a good teacher and give Taijiquan a go.
- JB Hartley, Inner Health Taijiquan 2016.
John Hartley, Founder and Principal Instructor of Inner Health School of Taijiquan, Adelaide