Taking a Breathing Space

Morello Cherry in bloom, May 2021

Why wait to be happy? When you walk it is possible to walk in such a way that every step becomes nourishing and healing. This is not difficult. (Thich Nhat Hanh)

Springing into bloom

ALTHOUGH it is pouring with rain here in Leeds, as we go into the merry month of May, spring is still doing its thing, with foliage leaping from every branch in my garden, buds bursting on the peonies and mountain cornflower – and the beautiful blossom of the Morello Cherry presiding, with a pure white majesty, over the whole terrain.

When the weather is fine, I love stepping into the garden in the early morning, to practise some T’ai Chi or Chi Kung. Just me and the blackbirds. The Covid Pandemic has meant that I have mainly been walking solo through the gentle steps of this practise. But one of the unexpected bonuses of lockdown has been the discovery of Zoom, and the ability to share the work with people from all over the country – and from Germany and Hungary, on occasion, too.

There are advantages to moving quietly in your own space – but in the (virtual) company of others. For the shy or unconfident mover, it can be unexpectedly liberating. So on I go, running several Zoom classes each month, on a Tuesday evening and a Thursday morning, and they continue to nourish and sustain me – and those I teach – in these hard lockdown times.

Stepping outside, treading gently

Still, it will be a great pleasure to finally come face to face with other people again, all moving together in what is such a quiet and contemplative way: a meditation in movement. So, there are outside get togethers coming up too, and a tentative plan to meet indoors in July. You can check out any of the dates and details on my Breathing Space page. And if you are curious about my own – very particular – approach to movement, then the Dancing page goes into my history a little bit too.

For me, the movements of the T’ai Chi and Chi Kung are deeply embedded in nature – and they take their inspiration from the four elements, from Taoist philosophy, from birds and from animals. Beautiful images like Big Bird Spreads its Wings and Wild Goose Flying serve to inspire, both in their names and in the movement they describe. And its been a deep joy to spend the past 30 years of my life, exploring the deep layers of vitality that these ancient practises contain.

Do join me, this spring, if you fancy a Breathing Space from the considerable challenges we are all facing right now. Take a simple step… As the Vietnamese master Thich Nhat Hanh writes, why wait to be happy?!

Details of how to book a class, or to be in touch for more information, are all included on my Breathing Space page.

Holding the Circle

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T’ai chi in the Park

T’ai Chi Picnic in the Park, Roundhay, Leeds, on Saturday 3rd August 2019. Here some of my group were “Holding the Circle”: symbolically, gathering the world’s energy into a quiet, shared space. With a wish for stillness in movement – and a deep sense of peace.

Look at the expression on these people’s faces: focussed and quiet and steady. Some have plenty of experience of T’ai Chi and Chi Kung; others, almost none. But it doesn’t take long for the message of calm to translate into minds and bodies.

It is such a privilege to work with this movement form, and to meet so many different people, all drawn to the magic, the secret treasure of T’ai Chi/Chi Kung.

Finding your roots

I began this practise in 1986.  It has kept me company all my adult life – through good times and terrible times. Sometimes I neglected to do it, sometimes I left it for a while to focus more fully on my dance and improvisation work. (Have look at my Dancing Page for a more detailed history).

But it always comes back to me, will never let me go. Because there is a companionship, a quiet wisdom, in this ancient Chinese form, that I know I need. Like a pair of warm hands at my back, slowly urging me forward in life. Reassuring. Challenging. Utterly transcendent.

Timeless harmony of T’ai Chi

My teacher’s teacher was Gerda Geddes, a remarkable pioneer, who brought T’ai Chi over to the West in the 1950s. Here she describes seeing T’ai Chi being performed for her in Hong Kong in 1951:

“The two old gentlemen stood up in their long, gray silken gowns, with black skullcaps on their heads, and performed the long Yang form. When I looked at the 82 year old man, whom I never met again, I had a sensation that he was transparent, like air, as if there was no barrier for him between this life and another life.

“His balance was perfect, and although he was old and thin, the flow of his movements and the harmony of his body seemed timeless. I have often held him up as an example of how to grow old.”

If  you would like to grow old gracefully – whatever age you are now –  and try out some T’ai Chi/Chi Kung, either one -to-one, or in a group, then take a look at my Classes Page, and  be in touch with me via email:

barney.bardsley@icloud.com

Looking for the Golden Needle’ by Gerda Geddes is published by MannaMedia

Silence is Golden

IMG_1859(Back Garden at Reiki in Leeds)

“Silence is golden

But my eyes still see”

The Tremeloes

Early in the morning

THIS MORNING I took my wake-up cup of tea out into the back garden with me, and sat, with just the birds for company, in the quiet of the new day. I live on an urban estate in North Leeds, so in the summer, things are rarely completely quiet. There are small children all over the neighbourhood, just raring to kick their footballs into my raspberry bushes at the front. And adolescent boys keen to intimidate, chugging about the roads on their motorised trikes, and revving their souped-up tin-can cars. But peace can always be found somewhere. It settles, in silky meditative layers, in my Reiki Room at the back of the house. And if I sneak out early enough in the day, before everyone is awake, then the entire garden is an oasis of calm. Silence for the ears. Rich colours for the eyes. Just me on my chair – and the birds, flying from tree to tree, unbothered by the somnabulant human, perched in the corner, and dreaming, dreaming, dreaming.

The spaces in-between

Absolute silence, nonetheless, is a rare and precious commodity. Even when alone and tranquil, as I was this morning at 6.30, there were layers of sound all around me – birdsong, the wind, the distant clatter of a kitchen pan; and sounds inside me too – the constant internal narrative of my chattering thoughts, and the high-frequency tones of my pesky tinnitus! But we can, nevertheless, move towards the spaces in between these sounds; and remove ourselves, now and again, from the relentless layers of noise in our high octane contemporary lives. The relief, when we do so, is palpable, and profoundly rejuvenating.

Just like stillness (The Art of Stillness) and solitude ( The Uses of Solitude ), silence is a beautiful resource. A deep well of energy can spring up from within its contours.

IMG_1853(Listening to Penny Greenland speak at #WildConference. Photo Malcolm Johnson)

Alone in a crowd

I have just returned from a wonderful open air Wild Conference organised by the mighty Slung Low theatre company here in Leeds, West Yorkshire. Set in the rolling hills and woodland of the Temple Newsam Estate, the gathering of 450 people – artists, public policy makers, theatre creators and political activists – met, to discuss ideas, to dream of a better future, and to vow to help that happen, to implement change: with the maxim “be useful, be kind” at its root. Everyone wore headphones and moved from tent to tent, gathering inspiration from the many fine speakers. With the headphones switched on, you could tune in to any of the speakers at any given moment, by switching channels as you wished. You were also free to move – away from the crowds, to sit under a distant tree, maybe, or to lie on a cushion and gaze at the sky. All the while listening to a stream of lovely, intelligent talk. Easily overwhelmed by crowds, this was a perfect set up for me. Even better: I got to feel the wind on my face and the sun on my head. Outside, unchained.

img_1857.jpg(T’ai Chi in the wind at #WildConference. Photo Malcolm Johnson)

Moving together – in silence

There was much to put fire in my belly from this fine endeavour – like a mini Glastonbury, without the music (although there was that, too, at the evening cabaret.) Perhaps closest to my heart was the energy of Penny Greenland, founder of JABADEO , speaking passionately about living an embodied life (rather than retreating, as adults so often do, into our minds and our armchairs, or locking ourselves away behind desks.)

But one of my favourite moments, was away from the campfire hubbub, up on a green hill, where I led a morning T’ai Chi session ( See also Classes with Barney ) for anyone who was willing to abandon their croissant, and come up under the trees, to move with me. I suspected no one would come at all. But they did. And the wind blew cool. But we stood firm, performing the ancient Taoist movements – Wild Goose Flying, Separate the Clouds, Pushing the Wave – in exactly the kind of setting from where those movements’ inspiration came: on the green grass, under a blue sky, in nature. Moving silently together. In peace.

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The Silent Eloquence of Touch

T’ai Chi and Chi Kung gain their greatest power when performed in silence – when the instructor’s voice drops away, and it is just a body of people, moving quietly together, in a stream of flowing energy.

Reiki – the other body-based practice I love – seems quite a different activity from T’ai Chi, to the outside eye: one person lying, perfectly still, on the practise table; with the practitioner laying  hands upon her at various places along the body – head, heart, solar plexus, knees, feet – and simply leaving them there, as if planted, for what can seem like an eternity. Time stops still in the Reiki Room. But all the time, an energetic flow is being released – between hands and bodies, between bodies and minds. It is a quiet summons to life itself. A tuning in, to the hum and pulse of our living, breathing bodies. With stillness, movement. An embodied moment.

All of this takes place in silence. Although music may play softly in the background – though often people elect for none – words are rarely exchanged, once the Reiki session has begun. And this time of silence is curiously intimate, touching and profound.

How badly we need to communicate with each other more openly and optimistically, as patterned by the Wild Conference. How crucially important it is – for  our brain health, as well as our whole being – to live Penny Greenland’s “embodied life” of movement. And how golden it is, to be silent from time to time, whether alone or together; whether in the flow of a T’ai chi class, or the deep rest of a Reiki session… Or maybe, just sitting quietly outside – or in a church – or in your own room. Just being. And leaving the world to its own devices, just a for a little while. To quote another fine sixties pop group, The Hollies: “Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe.”  The sound of silence is calling to you now – listen in.

If you would like to book a Reiki session or T’ai Chi/Chi Kung session with me, take a look at Reiki in Leeds  and Classes with Barney for more details. Or drop me a line at barney.bardsley@icloud.com.

The pictures of the Slung Low Wild Conference were taken by Malcom Johnson. Take a look at his website here: https://www.malcijphotography.co.uk

 

 

Reiki and the Sea Inside

IN TIMES of trouble, I go to the sea. When I fractured my shoulder, and was fuddled with pain, my brain dark with depressive thoughts, there was only one real solution: to get to the coast and listen to the seagulls cry, feel the rhythmic swell of the tide, walk on the shingle, feel the salt wind in my face. And it worked. (Read more here). Celebration is an ocean, too – seaside jaunts with family and friends, sandcastles and picnics, rock pools and sunburnt knees. There is a sea inside us all, and we long to return to it, one way or another.

Sea of Chi

All you have to do is hold a seashell to your ear, and you can hear it: the tidal flow of blood, swooshing behind our ears,  the endless rhythmic, fluid pulse of our bodies. Around sixty per cent of the human body is liquid. Seventy per cent of the earth’s surface is covered in sea. No wonder it holds such a  potent attraction for humanity. There is a mysterious alchemy at work here: symbiosis and seduction, all at once. In acupuncture, too, the meridians, or channels of energy pass  through the main organs and run, like rivers, through the whole body, keeping us active and moving, from cradle to grave – and have their own particular rhythmic flow. If there is a block in the flow, like a river run stagnant, then disease can follow. Acupuncture needles work to release these hidden blocks. Deep in the belly is acupuncture’s T’an Tien, or true centre, a couple of inches below the belly button, storing up energy like a human powerhouse. The name of this centre? The Sea of Chi. Everywhere we are water. Everywhere the sea.

Pushing the Wave

In T’ai Chi and Chi Kung, too (for more info see here), come myriad images of sea and sky. ‘Pushing the Wave’ has you moving rhythmically, forwards and back, arms gently rolling, like water breaking on the beach, advancing and retreating, to the ancient rhythms of time: balancing the body, slowing down the mind. ‘Scoop the Sea, Greet the Sky’ swoops you low over one leg, plunging deep beneath your own surface, only to rise, arms extended, head lifted, like a bird  flying high. There is physiological wisdom in these moves, but there is philosophy too. A harmonising of the self with the wider natural world. And at the very beating heart of all nature: is the sea.

Rhythms of Reiki

Thirty years of exploration in acupuncture and T’ai Chi have led me slowly, inexorably to  an affinity with, and passion for, the hands-on practise of Reiki (For background see here. )Every day now, I lay my hands on my own heart, my solar plexus, my belly.  And ever more strongly I can feel the rhythm and flow of the energy passing through. In my practise, at Reiki in Leeds, people sit beside me, or lie on the table, eyes closed, silent and waiting. And I wait too. Wait and listen – with my hands, with all my senses. And the body always responds. Responds in the way it knows so well – like waves passing over the shore, advance and retreat, sometimes wild, sometimes soft. But always with a certain primitive wisdom, that is the wisdom of the tidal flow. River to sea. Person to person. Soul to soul. And a balance is found, mind and body: a coming to quietness and to a new path of health. Reiki is an elegant practise. Simple. Unpretentious. It is all a matter of attention and respect. Then the body does the rest.

At the water’s edge

The last time I was at the sea, in Robin Hood’s Bay (pictured above), North Yorkshire, I got into the habit of walking early along the beach, to catch the rising sun over the southern edge of the bay. There was rarely anyone else about, except for the odd dog walker, and a solitary gull. But one day, as I walked, I noticed a young man standing, stock still, by the water’s edge, mesmerised by the scene in front of him. He hardly noticed me go by, such was his revery, his far away dream. But at the last minute he caught my eye. There was on his face, a look of amazement. I got the feeling this place was new to him, that he was a visitor, maybe from the city, or somewhere else inland. As he greeted me, there was a catch in his voice. “Isn’t this just the most beautiful thing?” he said. And then he turned away and stared again at the distant horizon and the glow of the orange sun. When I had got to the end of my walk, and had turned around and walked all the way back, he was still there, in the same position, staring, staring, staring, at the waves as they broke on the shore. Not star-struck, for it was morning. But all alone and happy: completely and utterly sea-struck. And I’ve never forgotten him. For I am sea-struck too.

For information about my Reiki in Leeds sessions, click here

And take a look at my Facebook Reiki in Leeds page here

For Instagram Reiki in Leeds pictures and poems, click here

 

As autumn leaves start to fall…

IT WAS over thirty years ago that I stepped into a T’ai Chi class for the first time. It was taught by a wonderful Greek man called Andreas Demetriou, who, to this day, practises the T’ai Chi every morning in his local Brockwell Park in Brixton, London, and must, by now have passed on the beautiful mysteries of this elegant Chinese movement form to thousands of people. I remember the feeling I had. Despite the sometimes complex and alien movements, an immediate sense of calm and balance entered my body. My fingers tingled. My feet felt more connected to the ground. I felt uplifted and peaceful. It was a revelation.

Despite learning many dance and movement forms since then, T’ai Chi is my absolute favourite. It has become my true home.

The style that I practise, the T’ai Chi Yang Style, Long Form, was first brought over to the UK by a remarkable woman called Gerda Geddes. Although she has been dead for some time now, her words and her teaching have been passed down through the generations. It was she who taught the form to Andreas, my own teacher, whilst he was a dance student at The Place, London School of Contemporary Dance, and he went on to be a formidable T’ai Chi Master in his own right. I am proud to be part of this particular “lineage”.

To quote Gerda Geddes herself, on the magic of T’ai Chi:

“the body becomes the flow, the stream of life and there is no separation between the workings of the body and the workings of the spirit.”

Here in Leeds, we regularly practise this beautiful art form at Leeds Buddhist Centre. And as autumn sets in, it is a warming resource of energy and balance. Read more about it here. It’s a lovely, lovely thing.

Moving into Stillness

THIRTY YEARS ago an enigmatic teacher, Andreas Demetriou, began to train me in the old and beautiful slow dance of T’ai Chi. It was the long, classical Yang form that I learned with him in London, and it has stayed with me through the extraordinary twists and turns, ups and downs, sicknesses and recoveries, of my life since then. It is, of all the movement forms I have practised and loved, the one that will grow old with me. Though I leave it from time to time, it never leaves me.

Andreas’ own teacher was the formidable Norwegian Gerda Geddes, who was a true pioneer. Dancer, psychoanalyst – a woman who escaped the Gestapo when she joined the Resistance, and then landed in China with her diplomat husband in 1949, just before the Chinese Revolution – Gerda first saw the T’ai Chi in action, on the misty banks of the Yangtse River in Shanghai in the 1940s. She wrote about the power that it stirred in her: “As I watched I had a sensation of hot and cold streaming up and down my spine. It was like ‘meeting with the Holy’ and I remember thinking: ‘This is what I have been looking for all my life'”. She went on to study with a T’ai Chi master in Hong Kong, and later, she was the first European to bring the technique over to London, where she taught generations of dancers and interested laypeople at The Place, and all over the country, for several decades. She herself practised the T’ai Chi until she died, well into her nineties. Her philosophy and wisdom live on through the people she taught, and the words she shared, on the deeper meaning and significance of this profoundly peaceful and nourishing art form. My own work, mentored for many years by Andreas, has also been shaped and influenced by her, though we never met face to face. There are other pathways too, that inform the way I practise and teach. The Alexander Technique.  Meditation. Nature itself.  The trees in the little wood down the end of my road, rooted and graceful. The gorgeous dog I walk every Thursday, bounding with natural energy. The ground under my feet. They all remind me how to breathe –  how to be fleetingly, but tangibly, free – and how to be still, content.

Again, here is  Gerda Geddes, describing the first meeting with her future teacher, who came with his friend to demonstrate the T’ai Chi: “When I looked at the 82 year old man, whom I never met again, I had a sensation that he was transparent, like air, as if there was no barrier for him between this life and another life. His balance was perfect, and although he was old and thin, the flow of his movements and the harmony of his body seemed timeless. I have often held him up as an example for myself, and of how to grow old.”

I shall be running independent classes again in T’ai Chi and Chi Kung, in Leeds, starting with a taster session on Friday February 19th, 12.30 – 1.30, at Leeds Buddhist Centre. Visit my Facebook Author’s page for more details, or leave me a message below.

Dancer in the Light: the Life of Gerda ‘Pytt’ Geddes by Frank Woods (Psi Books)

Andreas Demetriou teaches at Brockwell Lido in Brixton

www.gerdageddes.com