I spent much of my Saturday painting an awning-type structure that shields our back door from the elements. This was accomplished by standing on a wooden ladder that may be older than I am — and less stable — and making slow and gentle movements between the paint can and the unpainted structure above my head.
In our youth, we do these sorts of things with reckless abandon. We don’t move the rickety ladder in order to minimize the risk of toppling to the cement below, because we are immortal. When we ask our young selves, What’s the worse thing that could happen? we aren’t able to come up with anything at all. We cannot imagine that there would be consequences.
At some point, however, this changes.
It’s very subtle; I can’t actually point to one of those “aha” moments when it became clear to me that it would not be a good idea to topple off a rickety ladder onto the cement below. But it’s a positive aspect of one’s broader personal development.
So these days when I find myself standing on a rickety wooden ladder with a gallon of paint sitting on that movable shelf thingy and an unpainted piece of wood way up there above my head and slightly out of my reach, I climb down to the ground and move the ladder.
I’ve never practiced the ancient Chinese art of Tai Chi, but when I was standing on that rickety wooden ladder and carefully moving the paintbrush between the paint can and the unpainted wood, it felt a little like that kind of mindful movement. Dunking the brush in the paint, wiping the excess on the side of the can, and extending it carefully toward the unpainted wood while simultaneously maintaining some sense of equilibrium — it all would have felt slightly meditative were it not for the paint dripping onto my face.
I later did a little research on Tai Chi and discovered a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that promoted its salutary effects on elderly folks suffering from various chronic diseases, including breast cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), osteoarthritis, and heart failure. Researchers reviewed multiple studies and found Tai Chi improved everything from muscle strength and breathing capacity to pain and stiffness.
“Tai Chi can improve some physical performance outcomes in four chronic conditions . . . But not at the expense of worsening pain or dyspnoea [breathlessness],” the study authors wrote.
I’m happy to report that I have none of these maladies, but my day-long sort of Tai Chi session was similarly helpful, in a variety of ways. I didn’t fall off the ladder, for one thing, and . . . I didn’t fall off the ladder.