The Promise of a Garden

SO HERE we are in high summer. A baking hot July day, with the neighbourhood children going wild with excitement, as they launch themselves madly into a paddling pool – and even my resident frog is finding it a wee bit too warm to sun himself, as he usually does, on the little tiles at the side of his pond. Today he sits wisely in the shade, and occasionally dives into the water, leaving just his little beaky head peeking out, to see what’s going on in his immediate surrounds. The glorious poppies in the picture above, bloomed briefly and magically in late May, then were blown to smithereens by rain and wind and cold. Well, this is England. Full of weird contradictions – in government, in the people, and even in the weather itself. But on we go.

T’ai Chi and the path of peace

I never would have thought, in spring 2020, when we first went into lockdown because of Covid19, that I would be teaching all my T’ai Chi and Chi Kung classes online within a few months – and that a hitherto unknown and uninteresting (to me) platform called Zoom, would be my only means of connecting with all the students who longed, like me, to continue stepping quietly through the world, via the flowing sequences of this lovely Chinese movement practise. It was, however, a life line, and I have only just finished a long few months of Zoom teaching, that started properly in September 2020, and ended in mid July 2021.

Judging by the new wave of Covid infections sweeping the UK, I feel it will not be the last of these curious – but strangely peaceful – online sessions. And I have already booked in some dates for the autumn. (See my Breathing Space page)

Finding our way back to each other

Teaching T’ai Chi/Chi Kung at Slung Low’s Wild Conference, Temple Newsam, Leeds, Summer 2019

Still, how I long to be in a big group of people – outdoors or indoors – and teaching them the magic of T’ai Chi, stepping with them quietly and steadily, feeling the sense of communal power and connection. The last time this happened on a large scale was at the Wild Conference in 2019, organised by the mighty Slung Low Theatre company in Leeds: a big celebration of the arts, of conversation, of movement, dance, music, theatre. (And with lots of colourful waving flags!) Moving as one body, on a high green hillside on the Temple Newsam Estate, in the early morning, is a joyful memory that stays with me still.

And yes, slowly, we are finding our way back to one another. I made my first tentative steps into the studio at the beginning of July. Masks on, hand sanitisers at the ready. But nonetheless, a physical connection. Real people. In real time. In a three dimensional space. Strangely disorientating, and tiring. But deeply reassuring.

And the beat goes on

Outside Leeds Playhouse, July 2021. Standing between posters for the new show.

Tomorrow sees another big leap forward. Rehearsals begin at Leeds Playhouse for The Promise of a Garden, directed by Alan Lyddiard and devised and performed by the Performance Ensemble. How I love this maverick company – made up exclusively of older performers, story tellers, dancers, writers, space scientists, teachers and much, much more… This large scale, new production – twice cancelled because of Covid – is, as its title suggests, all about the garden, and everything that it means to people, on a physical and metaphorical level. Yes, there will be T’ai Chi in it! And dance. And deeply personal human stories, soulful music, and a big colourful set.

The Performance Ensemble celebrates all life, the dark and the light, from beginning to end. As the Chinese saying has it: “When a human being is born, there is a ripple on a still pond. We go on our journey and when our life is over, there is another ripple on the pond, and the spirit returns.”

Live theatre has had it particularly tough during the pandemic. It is still in a precarious state. And who knows whether Covid will leave our company completely alone, to bring our magical dream of a garden to full fruition this time? But we must step forward somehow. And, as a garden lover and maker myself, I can think of no better way of doing so, than through the medium of flowers and trees, through the seasons of winter, and on into spring and summer and new growth. From night into the light. Nature has all the answers: if we listen, tread carefully, and dare to be bright and bold as those poppies; to flourish again – and again, despite all the odds. This, after all, is the promise of a garden.

The Promise of a Garden will be performed at Leeds Playhouse, from 18- 21 August 2021. Tickets can be booked here.

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.

Lost and Found: Back to the Garden

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The Rising Sun

A woman steps outside into the garden. She takes off her shoes and stands barefoot on the grass. It is early morning and the ground is wet with dew. A blackbird sings from the top of a high branch. He serenades her as she begins to move. Turning her face to the east, she lifts her arms slowly to shoulder height. This is the Rising Sun. And the day begins.

Walking with dead friends

As she moves through the sequences – as familiar to her as the air that she breathes – she calls forth her disappeared. Here is the husband, dead from cancer at 47. And here, the mother, who loved to garden, and who danced on the lawn of her life, barefoot and wild-eyed. Here comes the father, who taught her stillness and peace. And the best friend – who died young of AIDS, but not before he sat in many gardens with her, and reminded her how to laugh.

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Dancing the T’ai Chi

Ward Off Danger, Push Away. Step Back, Repulse the Monkey. T’ai Chi, Yang Style, Long Form. Life is a series of new beginnings. The Big Bird Spreads Its Wings – into a wide blue sky. Life is a dark mass of endings. The Snake Creeps Down into the Water. Shoot Out the Arrow. Pick the Lotus Flower. Find what is good and valuable in your life, and show it to the world with pride. Then leave that world, with grace. And don’t look back.

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For Remembrance

She takes her finishing steps and, placing her feet together, fist in an open hand, makes a final bow. As she leaves the garden she runs her fingers through the foliage and flowers she has planted with loving intention. Autumn flowering cherry. Cotinus ‘Grace’. A flush pink rose which bears her mother’s name: Kathleen’s Rose. The orange and scarlet crocosmia, upended from her previous garden, now sprawling, profligate, in this new paradise. A scrambling clematis, called for her grandmother, the gentle Elizabeth. Dogwood. Bamboo. Spiky fern. Delicate daisies. Lavender. Wild strawberry. And rosemary – for remembrance.

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The turning of the seasons

This is summer: the season of fruit and flower and casual abundance. Soon will come autumn, to cut down the sickly excess. And winter will follow. The dying season. Letting go. With luck, there will be another spring, and each of these plantings will bud and flower again. And she will step back into the garden, and – kicking off her shoes – stand barefoot once more. Ready to move through the seasons of her life, to honour the dead, salute the living, and be grateful, if for nothing else, then for the very air she breathes.

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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

The Uses of Solitude

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“Solitude stands in the doorway

And I’m struck once again by her black silhouette

By her long cool stare and her silence

I suddenly remember each time we’ve met.”

Solitude Standing/Suzanne Vega

TREES do it for me. Woods and water. Those are the places where I reclaim my solitude, and my sense of inner peace. Also, sitting in my favourite chair, in my favourite Reiki Room, at home. Alone. With a book. And my quietly settling thoughts… These are the uses of solitude. It’s a matter of remembering where to go, when the world gets too much. Back to the source. But how often we all forget.

The age of high speed

This is an age of high speed connection, and of twenty four hour visibility. The mass communication tools of online social networks are astonishingly useful – and sometimes corrosively cruel. There is a pervasive collective sense of being on view, on guard: and a heightened fear of being left behind. I am not immune to any of this. Partly this is a professional imperative: my last publisher insisted I join Twitter; whilst a tech-savvy colleague said Instagram was essential to my Reiki business. But partly, it’s pleasure, too. I am curious – and I am full of the trigger-happy smart phone habits of those far younger and far more switched-on than me. How many ‘likes’ on a Facebook post? Who has re-tweeted my latest, carefully crafted tweet, complete with click-bait photo? Oh, those little shots of dopamine, when someone says something nice about you online. And the horror of the constantly lurking trolls. It’s a minefield out there, both online and in the real world.

Stepping off the train

But in the middle of this constant chatter, there is a deeper, quieter, more reliable resource. Somewhere to turn to, for solace and relief. It’s always there. Always available. Being attuned to Reiki has brought me back into its embrace, after too long away. The joys of being alone. Although linked to the quality of stillness, another Reiki-related resource that I have written about here , it can also be tapped into when on the move. Alone in a crowd. When walking or running… Even when doing the washing up! Solitude is a pleasingly transportable and eminently meditative feast. It’s all about tuning in to the “still, small voice inside.”

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Extroverts and Introverts

There are some people who replenish themselves through the company of others. They are the true extroverts, like my lively, gregarious mother, who would have found it a torture to be alone with her own restless spirit. Then there are those who are quite deeply introverted, and who would always choose their own company over that of others. My late husband was pointed that way:  steady, silent and serene, in another life he would have been a hermit or contemplative.

I am somewhere between these two extremes. An “extroverted introvert”, as my brother once pronounced, when subjecting me to some cod psychological profiling for his ‘A’ level studies. And he was right. People do matter to me, very much indeed. They comfort, challenge and delight me, every day of my life. But when my tank of energy is empty – or when the phenomenal noise and speed of the modern world  overwhelms me – it is solitude that fills my cup, and settles my frayed and fractured nerves.

Reiki: being alone together

One of the things I have come to love about receiving and practising Reiki, is the sense of quiet and inner listening that it brings with it. Something about the silence that descends, when Reiki hands are placed on the body during a treatment, is particularly special. Someone is there with you – tuning into the deeper rhythms of your physical and mental self – and yet, there is no sense of intrusion. Few words, if any, are exchanged. You are alone: able to travel inwards, for refreshment, even some kind of healing; yet with the hands of another held upon you, keeping you steady and safe.

Challenges and rewards of solitude

Solitude, as singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega suggests in her 1980s classic, ‘Solitude Standing’, quoted above, can be provocative. It brings you face to face with yourself – no escape, through mindless chatter, or another empty scroll down your Facebook timeline. Solitude, as Vega sings, is a “flower with a flame”. It’s beautiful – but it can burn, too.

Too much solitude can turn into loneliness and isolation, and the illumination of a mind turned in on itself can become a trap. As with all things, a balance needs to be struck. The golden mean – a middle way. Enough company. Enough time alone. Switching off the smart phone one day a week, is not such a bad idea (although surprisingly difficult to do!) And seeking out quiet practices like T’ai Chi and Reiki, which bring you into closer contact with your inner – soulful – self,  can bring more balance and flow into your busy life. Sweet harmony. How do you find yours?

If you want to give Reiki a try, take a look at my Reiki in Leeds page, for more details.

And there is plenty of T’ai Chi coming up at Leeds Buddhist Centre. Details on my Classes with Barney page.

Suzanne Vega’s ‘Solitude Standing’ album was released in 1987.

Walking on Air

“I have spread my dreams under your feet:

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

The Cloths of Heaven/W.B.Yeats

WHY DO so many of us dislike our feet?  When people come for a treatment, here at Reiki in Leeds, they are often bashful about having their feet touched, or even looked at. “Oh, I hate my feet”, said one woman, who had the daintiest, most well-groomed pair imaginable. Her feet were bare and she shrank from my touch. But not for long. Soon she settled into the feeling, and I could almost feel her feet giving a sigh of relief: at last, someone is paying me attention! This is a reticence I have never understood. Since training as a contemporary dancer, over thirty years ago, I have learned to respect and honour my feet. They are the body’s great asset: holding us up, taking us forward, one step at a time. It is time to consider feet quite differently – to kick off the too-tight shoes and walk on the grass, barefoot, whenever it is warm enough to dare. Otherwise, let them breathe indoors, from big toe to little pinky, spreading and widening the sole, feeling the support of the ground beneath you. The foot has wisdom in it, and it does us good to listen.

Treading softly in the forest

The T’ai Chi that I have long studied as part of my movement practise, was brought to England over half a century ago, by a redoubtable Norwegian woman called Gerda Geddes. She was exceptional in many ways, a dancer, psychoanalyst, anti-Nazi activist, and then a passionate advocate of  T’ai Chi for most of her long and elegant life. In her tiny book, ‘Looking for the Golden Needle’, she talks about her childhood, when she walked in the forest with her grandfather, who taught her to study the footprints of animals – and to tread softly herself, so as not to disturb the flora and fauna living and breathing, so delicately, all around her. She writes that this early experience came in handy, when she began studying T’ai Chi with a man called Master Choy in Hong Kong in the 1950s.

The openness of the foot

She says: “What my teacher stressed most to begin with was the importance of the foot; how it touched the ground, how each step must be soft and gentle and flowing, how I must be aware of the contact of the sole of the foot with the ground, of the energy which is drawn into the body through the sensitivity and the openness of the foot. Now this was a teaching I understood. It was as if my grandfather’s wisdom was coming back to me through this old Chinese gentleman. It was a language I already knew from childhood.”

A well of energy

In the many Eastern techniques – acupuncture, reiki, yoga, t’ai chi – that are so good for raising and balancing our energy, the foot always receives its justified moment in the sun. There is a potent acupuncture point, in the centre of the ball of the foot, called ‘Bubbling Well’. It is a kidney point, and the meaning is clear. There is power in this place: a well of energy, that can be drawn on, by the insertion of an acupuncturist’s needle, or the movement, heel to ball, ball to heel, that takes place in T’ai Chi, or the gentle, insistent holding of the foot at the end of a Reiki treatment.  Feet are powerful. We need to learn to harness that power more effectively.

Feet receive, hands transmit

The warmth of a reiki practitioner’s hands is well documented. They can channel a wonderful, flowing stream of energy and vitality  through into a client’s body. And there is undoubted intelligence and wisdom in every person’s hands: we communicate a great deal through them, all the time, not just in a reiki room, but in ordinary conversation, as we gesticulate, demonstrate, remonstrate and acquiesce. But if our hands are to transmit energy and information,  in the most effective and clear way possible, then they need help. Right at the other end of the body, the feet do that job. They receive the support of the ground beneath them – drinking it in, like a plant’s roots drawing up moisture from the earth. Feet receive, hands transmit. A perfect partnership: if we let it  happen.

Cherishing the moment

The last place I visit on a journey through a person’s body during a reiki treatment, is the feet. I spend a lot of time there. As I said, I like feet – and I think they deserve the attention. People’s feet are often cold. And they often react with a small, almost imperceptible startle, when I lay my hands on them. But softly, slowly, they begin to respond. The warmth begins to gather. The toes begin to lengthen and spread. The sole of the foot begins to breathe through the pores of the skin, and a kind of peace begins to flow. It is a simple moment. A cherishing of our roots.  Holding the foot is a lovely thing to do, for others, and for oneself. A kind of earthy reverence.

Walking with care

Most of us don’t have the luxury of walking barefoot through forests every day. Our feet are encased in shoes that often constrict us – particularly the little toe, so vital for balance – and we bang those shoes down over concrete and stone, on pavement and road, up into high rises, and down into basements. Cut off, most of the time, from the soil beneath the concrete. But there is a way to tread softly, even in the city. A sense of awareness helps – particularly of the soles of the feet. Allow them to soften a little as you walk, and you might find they ache a little less by the end of the day. And let them go free, whenever you get the chance. Naked and strong. There is so much more to a foot than meets the eye. And so much sustenance to be gained, from the earth beneath them.

The path untrodden

Meanwhile, as Chuang Tzu – quoted by Gerda Geddes – remarks: “The foot treads the ground in walking, nevertheless it is the ground not yet trodden on which makes up a good walk.”

Visit my  page Reiki in Leeds here for further information on my work, or to book a reiki session.

Looking for the Golden Needle: An Allegorical Journey’ by Gerda Geddes (MannaMedia, 1991)

 

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