Cloud hands on the mountain
My third day in residence at Djerassi, I join fellow residents Wei and Daiane in their Tai Chi practice. I have only previously tried Tai Chi once, for twenty minutes, when it was part of an employee wellness demonstration years ago. Here on the mountaintop, I decide to try it as a form of exercise. I can’t do my customary lap swims here. I imagine it will be something like yoga. Good for my body, but also meditative.
It is similar to yoga, and also entirely different. In truth, though, now that I’ve been practicing daily with a group of five others, each day I realize I’m learning something new about what it is, and each day I learn that there’s so much more I don’t yet know.
Today we pair up to practice a movement called cloud hands. We’ve been learning it individually, copying Wei as his arms flow in front of him, hands gracefully turning, but it’s an entirely different experience when the focus is on the movement and on the connection with another person. Our wrists touching, Wei and I try cloud hands while remaining in constant contact with one another. I’m having trouble with the flow: my movements are jerky. I get confused.
This can also happen when I write.
“Let’s try it one side at a time,” he suggests. With my right arm, it’s challenging. He tells me to relax; offers metaphors. Imagine scooping with that hand. Imagine reaching. Then we switch sides, and my left arm gets it immediately. “Wow,” he says, “that’s so much easier for you!”
Not a surprise: my left arm is driven by my right brain. The non-analytic, more intuitive, more emotional side; the side that is often less valued in our culture. “Let your right arm learn from your left,” Wei instructs, and all my motions become more fluid.
I’m here on this mountaintop to nurture my creative side, the side that can atrophy in day to day life. I’m here to focus on writing. I started tai chi to care for my body. I didn’t expect it to stimulate the right hemisphere of my brain, the very regions I hope to exercise.
Of course, right now, I’m using my left hemisphere to tell you all this. To entirely appreciate the benefits of the practice. Years ago in medical school I learned that people were often either right-brain or left-brain dominant: that scientists and mathematicians, for example, were more commonly the latter while artists were the former. More recent studies suggest this is largely a myth.
We need our brain in all its richness to express our full potential. If only there were a way to remember, back off the mountain, that the analytic, logical brain works best in concert with the intuitive, non-verbal, creative one, and that one side can mimic and learn from the other.