Chang I-Chung in a tai chi kick
My first yoga practice started when I was in high school after discovering the book, Richard Hittleman’s 28 Day Yoga Plan. I approached yoga as a basic stretching program, to help me become stronger and more flexible. I had no experience with meditation, and getting that from a book didn’t come easy. While at UCSC, I began studying Iyengar Yoga with an energetic young teacher, Ann Barros. She was a student of B.K.S. Iyengar, and was inspirational and powerful. Practicing yoga in that beautiful, bright studio up on campus, overlooking the aquamarine Monterey Bay was a transformational experience. That was the first time I felt my body, both electric and deeply still, awaken to a new possibility. I spent 4 years taking weekly classes, 3 at UCSC, and 1 year after graduating, in Ann’s class at the community center. My girlfriends and I use to spend sunny afternoons out in the backyard or on our bedroom floors at night, draped in yoga postures, listening to music, going deeper into the postures, having a grand old time.
While I was working as a baker at Staff of Life, I often noticed two men coming into the store several times each week. One was Chinese and one American. Their common language was Japanese, and they would peruse the aisles of the health food store very methodically, studying the different food products. They began discussing the baked goods with me, giving me suggestions for making the products healthier. They would say: “use fresh ginger in your ginger cookies, and molasses for its mineral content instead of fructose.” I found out that they came to Santa Cruz from San Francisco 3 days a week to teach Tai Chi. Chang I-Chung was the senior instructor and Joe Deisher was his student. They had met in Japan, and after many years, came to teach in the Bay Area. One Monday afternoon they handed me a business card. I showed up in their class that night. During that first class, as I felt my “roots” between the soles of my feet and the earth, gently bent my knees, aligned my spine, floated the crown of my head toward the sky, and relaxed my belly, I felt like I had come home. I couldn’t believe that standing still and doing absolutely nothing could feel so good.
I attended three classes a week, learning one move at a time. The Tai Chi form they taught consisted of about 100 different postures strung together like a kinesthetic alphabet written in cursive with the body. I soon embraced the sculptural nature of the art. The skeletal system was the internal armature, the supple and sinuous muscles, tendons and ligaments were like soft clay applied to the armature. The continuous flow from one beautiful posture into another was the energetic and lively form the living sculpture would take, constantly changing, flowing like a river. This became my art form. It was sculpture. It strengthened me, healed me, interested me, took me deep into my own nature. I was in love!
Tai Chi as Living Art
The deeper I dove into the practice, the more I learned about natural healing through improving my diet and lifestyle. Although I was working in a health food store, I was overeating pastries and sugar, and putting on the pounds. After 4 years of baking, I decided to move in a different direction. I enrolled in the local massage therapy school and quit my job at Staff of Life. I became a Certified Massage Therapist and started working at a health spa.
In 1985, my Tai Chi teachers decided to stop coming to Santa Cruz, and asked if I would take over the classes. I was nervous and a bit intimidated by the task, but with their encouragement and under their guidance, I accepted. In October 1985, I started teaching my first classes at Ocean View Park in Santa Cruz and applied for a business license for The Tai Chi Natural Health Club.
But the best thing of all that came from the first few years of Tai Chi was meeting Sid Fontana. He was a student of Mr. Chang and Joe Deisher in Las Gatos, on the other side of the Santa Cruz mountains. We met at a Tai Chi retreat that was held at Mount Madonna Center. We instantly became friends. For the next three years we became practice-partners. Sid drove to Santa Cruz every Friday at 1:00 and we practiced the form and the 2-person sparring practices. We were solid friends for 3 years, until one day, in the middle of our partner form, a golden cloud of love enveloped us and changed our lives forever.
Sid Fontana, Chang I-Chung and I presenting Chang with a plaque of appreciation.
Coming up next….. Back to school!
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