My Path to a Movement Arts Practice
In 2003, my wife and I were sitting on the boxes of our packed-up apartment in Santa Fe, New Mexico, having one last debate about moving back East. As much as we loved Santa Fe, we were looking for work opportunities and wanted to be close to our families in Boston. I wasn’t completely sure what I meant by “work opportunities”, but I did know that beyond family (my friends has all scattered across the country at that point), I wanted to be back at Brookline Tai Chi.
Igniting the Spark
In high school, I started down the path of Tai Chi. I grew up as an avid soccer player and when I got curious about meditation, I happened onto Tai Chi as the perfect blend: meditative movement. I found Brookline Tai Chi in a footnote of an article about my soon-to-be teacher Bruce Frantzis. The first night I went in, BTC founder Bill Ryan welcomed me right into class, even though I was easily the youngest in classes by 15 or 20 years. He showed me how to adapt tai chi and qigong to my interests in sports and meditation and I found the exploration of an “inner world” completely fascinating.
Forging a Personal Practice
Throughout college, I found places to practice my form or quietly do standing qigong in (semi-) private places. I stuck with it because it sparked something inside me, not because I thought it was good for my health, or joints, or balance or anything like that. The more I practiced, the more there was to explore and each moment of practice became more rewarding. So when we were sitting on those boxes in Santa Fe, I knew going back to BTC was important to me. I just didn’t know where that decision would lead.
Returning to the Source
Almost 10 years later, Brookline Tai Chi turned out to have a significant place in my life and in my professional career.
Here’s a brief time line of my relationship with Brookline Tai Chi:
- Winter 1998: Began studying Tai Chi and Qigong at BTC and took my first trip in Summer 1998 to Bruce’s California retreats, where I learned what it felt like to have a completely saturated nervous system â€“ an excellent and totally exhausting experience.
- Fall 1999 – Fall 2003: Charted a path of self-directed learning, with occasional input from my main teachers. This is how I learned to appreciate standing qigong as the centerpiece of self-guided practice. When you stand, you can feel things moving through you that you would have missed in movement-only practice. Without a lot of external feedback, this method was critical to making progress.
- Fall 2004: Began a teaching apprenticeship at BTC, after work and on Saturdays, watching, learning and eventually leading my own classes. Check out what happened the first time I had to teach a class on my own!
- Summer 2005: Took over as the Director of Brookline Tai Chi. Soon after I joined BTC full time, my teaching hours went up to 12-15 hours a week (peaking around 20 for a couple of years). I calculate my total number of classes taught in this period as somewhere around 5,000. For me, this was the equivalent of all those hours of standing qigong. What I mean is, there are certain things you can’t learn about teaching, group dynamics, and this material in particular unless you go through a heavy teaching period. As exhausting as it got sometimes, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to go through that many cycles of classes.
Along the way, I’ve also explored other movement systems. While tai chi and qigong are great life-long energy development tools, I was searching for ways to offer people more tailored movement practices that solved short-term problems, i.e. specific injury rehab protocols. I found those tools in the Z-Health exercise system. Now I help people design simple exercises they can use in addition to their regular exercise routines that rehabilitate old injuries, restore lost ranges of motion, and begin a bigger “whole-body movement” reeducation process.
Beyond one-on-one and group teaching, I’m very interested in the business side of movement education. Most of the serious practitioners I’ve met devote hours to their training every day, but when they want to make a living from all their hard work, they find it’s a completely different struggle. I’d like to help them solve that problem! Read about the business of movement education and some tools I’ve developed to help movement educators here.
My Most Rewarding Teaching Moment
I can pinpoint my proudest teaching moment in this whole process, because it was the moment that I recognized, in a group of 20 students, the same inner spark that I felt when I would sneak into a gym to practice before anyone else showed up at 6 in the morning or find a standing spot in the woods of Western Mass or the mountains of New Mexico. It was 3 years into my full-time teaching responsibilities when this group came together. It’s worth mentioning that in any intro tai chi group we start, barely half make it past 8 weeks, and we would often lose half again at the 6-month mark. So when I looked at this group of 20, I didn’t just see 20 people, I saw the hundreds that I had worked with, whittled down to 20 dedicated students. Over the course of a year, we went through the full standing qigong process, working head to toe in meticulous detail. As a group they learned to stand for longer and longer periods and you could watch their internal awareness grow too. Taking them to a place where this was a comfortable, interesting, and rewarding practice was my proudest teaching moment.
I don’t think they knew how grateful I was to have a group like this. And now, every time I start a new group, I wonder whether one of them will move through this process and arrive at a place where connecting to their inner world becomes a nourishing part of their daily routine. That’s who I’m always on the lookout for and that’s who makes teaching meaningful for me.