So one of my new found passions has been Tai Chi. I began practicing Tai Chi about three years ago as yet another way of 1) staying active 2) staying sane 3) staying upright.
A little over a year ago, I was invited to train to be a certified Tai Chi Instructor and so I took my love of this amazing practice to a whole new level. I have to say that I did not do this lightly or without a great deal of consideration and yes, even fear. I knew that having RA and managing the chaos that is such a constant part of the disease would present some unique challenges when it came to taking on a teaching role. It is one thing to do a physical activity that could be put on hold when a flare happens. If my shoulders or hips are painful, stiff and swollen, I could simply curtail my practice when it was only me. But if I committed to teach a class, then I would have to show up no matter what! I had to think carefully about just how I would deal with that very likely scenario.
In the end, I decided I would indeed handle it. And so I have. One way was to work with a co-instructor. That has proven helpful to both of us. On several different occasions one or the other of us has had to miss a class. Having each other to depend on has been a life saver! I broke my foot last October and had to miss a class while casting, etc. was being resolved. I was back in a week and worked around it for the rest of that series.
Which brings me to the second strategy to deal with RA while “teaching”. Give your class some credit for being very accepting and patient with you. I shared from day one my specific situation with RA. I told them that it was entirely possible, if not probable, that my level of physical participation may need to be modified or adjusted. The fact is that for many of the folks who take my class, they too have varying degrees of limitations and so they were just fine with hearing that they were not alone in needing modifications. If anything, I think it made them feel more welcome and comfortable. They were a lot more at ease with the notion of having to take a break from the practice for whatever reason they had. I actually believe it created a bond between us that might not otherwise have existed.
A third strategy is careful planning. I do my very best to get to bed early and take care to be “rested up” for the days I teach. Knowing how RA operates, I am keenly aware that doing something strenuous the day before I teach would be unwise to say the least. Planning ahead has helped to ensure that I am at my best on the days I teach.
What I have discovered is that not only is teaching Tai Chi working for me, it has done wonders for my physical and mental health in ways I never imagined when I agreed to do this. Often with RA, our self-esteem takes a serious hit as we are often forced to give up activities we love to pursue. I know that was true for me. Finding Tai Chi and realizing that not only could I do it, I could teach it, was amazing! Sharing this passion with others and being able to say with certainty and conviction that you can do Tai Chi no matter your physical limitations, totally helped me to regain that lost self-esteem. I was, in fact, a walking example of it!
I encourage anyone out there to find a pursuit you feel passionate about and share it with others! Not only will you be helping others (which is satisfying enough), but it will transform you too! It really does work wonders!
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