Happy Little Tree Pose
By all accounts, this week’s workout, Discover Tai Chi: AM/PM Workouts, should be terrible for uncoordinated people. It is tai chi, so there are a lot of confusing asymmetrical movements; unnecessary camera zooms can make it hard to see what’s going on at times; the verbal instruction is not always very detailed; and there is a 5-minute period in each workout on the DVD where there is no verbal instruction at all.
So, how is this DVD my favorite tai chi workout to date, and one of my favorite DVD workouts period? How does instructor Scott Cole make this workout work, despite all the aforementioned strikes against it?
First, let’s look at what’s on the DVD. It contains one AM workout and one PM workout, each running about 34 minutes. The special features on the DVD include a 12-minute AM meditation and a 9-minute PM meditation. There is also an option to do the workouts with music only (I never take advantage of this special feature on DVDs, for obvious reasons).
Though the specific moves differ between the two 34-minute workouts, the general format is the same. The first half of the workout teaches you the moves; then the setting changes to the beach and Cole takes you through a 5-minute routine using all those moves; he repeats the 5-minute routine without verbal instruction; and finally, the workout wraps up with a cooldown/meditation.
Scott Cole is the Bob Ross of workout videos. Like the famous painter of “happy little trees”, Cole has a soothing voice and a very laid-back attitude. The focus in this workout is definitely on doing what is right for you, rather than maintaining perfect form.
Cole mentions more than once that you should not be concerned about doing the move exactly as he does, and instead, you should “strike your own happy balance of movement”. As someone who rarely has perfect form, I really appreciated this mindset.
Although his attitude helped me feel better about any struggles I had with doing the moves, I found that I didn’t have that many struggles during these workouts. This really shocked me, since “workout struggles” is my middle name.
Being an overthinking kind of gal, and not content to just enjoy the accessible workout, I set out to analyze why this workout was relatively easy for me.
First, this is the only tai chi workout I’ve found to date where the instructor mirrors the moves. I can’t understand why more tai chi instructors don’t do this, when it makes such a big difference. The extra brain power required to translate un-mirrored moves really increases the difficulty level of a workout.
Second, tai chi moves super slowly. Yes, I was half a second behind on every single move, but when it takes you several seconds to complete a turn to your left, half a second is nothing. I just turn marginally faster then the instructor, so I arrive at my left at the same time.
Third, there just aren’t that many moves in these workouts. Seriously, there were maybe four or five big moves per workout. With so few moves, you really spent a decent amount of time practicing and internalizing each one.
As a bonus, many of the movements were nature-based (sadly, there was no “Happy Little Trees” move, though I kept waiting for one). In many cases, the descriptive names of the moves helped me recall what they were. I may never remember the steps involved in a mambo; but nature-based names are much easier to recall. Flying Wild Goose is clearly the move where you slowly flap your arms up and down, and Monkey-Bear immediately brings to mind the move where you lean slightly forward and swing your arms back and forth close to the ground.
By the time I got to the segments without verbal instruction, I was ready for them. I was very familiar with the moves, I had a good idea of what was coming next … and even if I didn’t, Cole was moving slowly enough that I could quickly get back on track again.
The only time I really ran in to trouble was in the PM workout, where there are a number of moves that require you to bend forward at the waist with your head near the ground. Without the verbal cue to straighten back up, I couldn’t seem to get the timing right. I’d come up and see Cole already on the next move, then I’d overcompensate next time and come up way ahead of him.
I’m super excited about finding a tai chi workout that is accessible to the uncoordinated, but the real happy surprises of this DVD were the two meditations in the special features.
Traditional meditation is all about sitting perfectly still and clearing your mind, something that I do not excel at. The AM meditation started in a similar way, and I hunkered down for several minutes of trying in vain to clear my mind.
A couple of minutes in to the AM meditation though, a wonderful thing happened. Cole instructed us to sway in the breeze like a tree (undoubtedly a happy one). Then we waved our arms slowly like tree branches.
I was so focused on the slow tree movements that I didn’t have time to think about other things … so my mind was clear. When we went back to sitting still again, it was much easier to do. The slow movements of the tai chi workouts themselves had this effect on me, but I did not expect to get that same effect in something billed as a meditation.
The PM meditation started out in a standing position, and went to the tree movements almost immediately. I found it a little harder to clear my mind in this meditation, mainly because I kept getting distracted by the parasailer in the background. It helped that this was a more active meditation; we didn’t even sit down until halfway through the meditation, and only sat still for about 90 seconds towards the end.
This is clearly an older DVD (just look at Scott Cole’s hair!), and there were a couple of minor production issues (abrupt transitions from one segment to the next, for example), but overall, this is a gem. The DVD is worth twice the price just for the sense of accomplishment when someone as uncoordinated as me can do 5 entire minutes of workout without instruction.
In a forest of difficult tai chi workouts, Discover Tai Chi: AM/PM workouts is a happy little tree.