Tai Chi Saved Me! "Rooting" Prevents an Accident

Lori came rolling into class with something to share. Lori has multiple sclerosis, and because of weak legs and spasticity she has her feet strapped down to her electric wheelchair footpads. We had been practicing “rooting” in class, and that’s what Lori wanted to talk about. 

“Rooting” is the fundamental principle in Tai Chi and Chi Kung of getting a strong connection with the earth through the feet. The imagery is that the feet have roots growing down deep into the earth so that you are firmly planted and control your movement, balance and coordination through a strong foundation. 

Those who do martial Tai Chi want to be firmly rooted so they can hold their position and not be knocked over by an opponent. In everyday life, being rooted means that you are centered, balanced and ready to move easily from one position to another—and that you are not easily pushed around. 

Think of a tree such as a mighty oak. The root system for a large tree must be strong, and the whole tree must be strong and yet supple, able to stand tall and yet also able to sway with the wind. Similarly, in order to have a good root in Tai Chi, the whole body needs to be grounded and ready to respond appropriately in any situation. Having a good root also means having a clear mind and calm emotions and being sensitive to the environment around you so you can respond as needed.

So how can people who are in wheelchairs get a good root?  First of all, we practice both the physical and mental aspects in class. We press one foot deep down into the earth, sometimes pressing down on the knee with the hand in order to emphasize the strength of the root. This is not so easy for people who are weak or have paralysis or tremors or some other condition that makes it difficult to use their feet. That’s what makes the mental practice so important. We all say together, “See it in your mind, feel it in your mind, do it in your body.”  

That’s what Lori had been practicing, not knowing that rooting would have important practical value for her. It happened while she was going down the street in her motorized chair. The strap holding her foot to her chair unexpectedly came off, and she suddenly realized she was in trouble. Her foot could fly out and be injured, and, without the foot anchored, she could lose her balance and fall. She instantly told herself to “root” and pressed her foot down into the wheelchair footpad.  She went two whole blocks rooting her foot to stabilize herself and prevent an accident, a remarkable feat! 

Lori continued to practice, and two or three weeks later she was back at class again, wearing a “So there!” smile on her face that suggested another triumph. She said, “There’s something different about me—see if you can tell.” Other members of the class looked but didn’t see anything right away.  

She said, “Anna will be able to tell.” 

I gasped when I looked down at her feet and saw that they were both resting quietly on her footpads with no strap on either one.  “Lori, what happened?”

Lori had got new footpads for her chair, and it was going to take a couple of weeks to put the straps on. She had been practicing rooting and decided she was feeling confident enough to try going “footloose.”  We all cheered her on! All her practice was paying off.

So many times during all the years of my training and practice I have come to the point where I feel like I want to step out and try something I’ve been working on, but I’m not sure if I can do it. There is a feeling of hope and yet caution, of excitement and yet reticence. I may think about it for a while and begin to do it several times before I actually get up the courage. I imagine it, sense it, feel it in my mind, try it out a little at a time. Then, one day, all of a sudden, everything comes together in that special moment—the time, the place, the inspiration, the courage, the assurance. I take off that brace or do that movement or go out on my own, and—Yes!  It’s there!  I can do it, I succeed!

When these events occur, we can feel ourselves grow. We are not stuck, we are moving on! Let's share our stories. They inspire us all to keep on rising! 

"They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes. and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit." (Jeremiah 17:8)

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