Instructor Info

 

Laraine Tucker

 

My Journey

 

I first attended a Tai Chi class in 1996 as I had heard it would be good for back problems. I had been blighted by back pain since I was about 15. I saw many doctors and had x-rays and scans and was told I had bone rubbing on bone in my lumbar spine causing more bony spurs which just increased the problem. I had developed hyper-lordosis and a scoliosis (accentuated curvatures of the spine). My doctor gave me a back brace to wear; thankfully I never used it, as according to other specialists that I later met it wouldn’t have been the best long-term solution and would have weakened my back. Thirty years later, our modern approach is different and there are now more good physiotherapists with a much more rounded knowledge of the subject and of alternative ideas and therapies.

In my youth I trained in ballet, tap and contemporary dance and also gymnastics. Unfortunately this had contributed to my poor posture through over use and contorting my body into unnatural positions through being hyper mobile in all my joints and connective tissues. A basic instruction I was given as a dancer was to ‘pull up’ and 'pull in’. Over the years I could see this was a clear link to the curvatures in my spine. At that time, it seemed there was nothing I could do, just put up with the pain for many years through my University degree in Performance Arts and in a brief career as a dancer in London. The pain caused further tension and tightening throughout my entire body which was a vicious cycle of tension and pain which I had got used to and thought was ‘normal’.

Some years later, I suffered subluxated a disc (a bulge of the disc) in my lumbar spine and decided to give up dancing completely.

One of my first encounters with Tai Chi, as I recall, was watching a Tai Chi teacher practising with his students. I was fascinated by the way they moved, gliding along the floor, smoothly, flowing from one movement to the next, such an ease of movement, no friction, as if in slow motion….I wanted to move like that. It was swimming on land, just as I read much later in Cheng Man Ching books.

When I found my first Tai Chi class it felt very alien to me at the beginning and didn’t really seem to be helping my back problems. All I needed, as I later found out, was patience and a little discipline. Unfortunately my first teacher didn’t have the experience of assisting the students with postural corrections, but over time I found my own way to feel through the movements and relax into this new way of moving.

The movements enchanted me and I became hooked. Tai Chi is very addictive and the more you put into it, the more you get out of it and so the more you want to practice. I diligently practiced several times a week and certainly was improving, but then reached a plateau and for a long time I couldn’t move on.

At the same time I had been attending a series of intense Alexander Technique lessons with my teachers Miriam Wohl and later Vivien Turner. This was the beginning of my ‘letting go’. I hadn’t realised my posture was so taut and unnatural, my weight thrown forward on to my toes, my knees locked, pelvis shoved forwards, rib cage falling backwards so my head had to slide forward on my neck!! It was no wonder I had such a bad back. I was locked up and gravity was pulling me in so many directions I was in constant tension just to stand up. Thankfully, even though this seems to be a common problem I see in my students, I can spot this now based on my own experience and I can assist my students to find their centre and feel their postural alignments. In this way the postures that at first felt normal to them are transformed during class and practice time at home.

Although the first series of my Alexander Technique sessions pushed me through the worst, I still felt there was more to it and wanted to re-visit the art of letting go later on.

With the hands on nature of the technique I was learning to ‘feel’ how to release tension in the muscles and joints throughout my body. My weight came back into the centre of my feet, I unlocked my knees and hips, released my lower back, my pelvis floated backwards and my rib cage rested on top, then my neck became straighter and my head could float forward and up. I re-learned how to sit, stand, walk efficiently and do any tasks in an entirely different way, with ‘awareness’ of how I use my body. This was a massive breakthrough for me, a revelation! This, together with my Tai Chi practice I started to unravel all the tension I was holding in my body. This is still work in progress and for me it is a long journey. I’m sure you will agree old habits are hard to break especially at home when driving, washing up, hoovering, cleaning etc not quite mindfully. Using this technique has helped me to access the Tai Chi principles and was a leap forward for me. I repeat in my classes that feeling is more important than analysing the movement.

I wanted to immerse myself in the world of Tai Chi so in 2004 I decided to visit Taiwan for six weeks to expose myself to the authentic art. I had no plans or expectations just an open mind and a willingness to learn.

After visiting many parks and open spaces to find some Tai Chi I was directed to Master Chen Hsiu Yao (Rosa Chen). She seemed fairly ordinary.........until she moved…..her first step out with the left foot….  She was like a marshmallow in a bowl of oil, absolutely amazing. Rosa played Tai Chi like she meant it.  Every cell in her body was tuned in to each movement, fully focused and fully aware.  Soft and supple on the outside but you could see her power within.  Rooted to the ground, her mind directing her body.  I had never seen anyone move like this, she had something extra I couldn’t put my finger on. 

Rosa is famous in Taiwan and teaches and performs Tai Chi all over the world. She teaches students who enter the Asian Games and many of her students have won first prize in national competitions. She is listed as a top Master for the Government to teach anywhere in the world.  She is second generation to Cheng Man Ching.  Her teacher, Grand Master Chu Hong Ping, studied under him and was one of his top students. Despite all this there wasn’t any sign of an ego, she was so down to earth, and played down her status.  She was very funny and loved to laugh and as I later found out when I was invited on a night out to a karaoke party room, she loves to sing and has a beautiful voice.

I started learning Cheng Man Ching’s 37. I felt like a beginner again and it was very humbling.  Rosa said I was making progress so at least I felt like I was getting somewhere.  Her hands-on approach at first can be daunting as she leads you through the form, with both her hands on your hands or forearm to give you a focus for your intention or on your shoulder to remind you to relax here, or in your hip crease or lower back to remind you to relax here. The entire form can be performed like this, her tangible energy oozing into you. It requires 100% concentration on relaxing and feeling through each joint and muscle in turn and bringing your attention finally to the finger tips.

This experience was truly inspirational and Tai Chi was never the same again for me. I visited Taiwan to train with Rosa again in 2005, 2006, 2008 again for six weeks intensive training and again in 2016 for 10 weeks. She taught me so much and embraced me like one of her family and I hope sometime to go back to visit her and all my friends.

We never stop learning. Training with as many people as possible is always beneficial in many ways. I always enjoy going to classes myself and learning from others with different Tai Chi backgrounds and experiences. I have found excellent, extremely skilled practitioners in Mark Peters, Chief Instructor of Kaiming Association for Tai Chi Chuan, based in Birmingham and Ian Anderson, a natural teacher and one of Mark’s Senior Instructors who are both helping to bring me to another level.

Around the year 2010 I started learning Chen Style with Alistair Sheffield. Alistair is a very patient and sensitive teacher and I really enjoyed the new challenge. Every new teacher and each new style and form brings about a whole new level of feeling and understanding, deepening your knowledge and filling in any gaps you may have had in your training.

Tai Chi is often not quite what you think it is and my development is testimony to that, constantly stripping it down and re-building it piece by piece, looking again at the principles because they mean something different to you as the journey continues.

The fruits of Tai Chi have had a profound effect on me mentally and physically and I cannot imagine now, what life was like for me back then. I am now pain free; I can sit for hours on long haul flights, unthinkable before. My lower back isn’t on fire at the end of every day. I am stronger and more supple now than when I was dancing full time in my late 20s. My awareness and posture have improved, but more importantly I know when I feel things aren’t right and now have my own tools to help me, my Tai Chi.

I have been instructing Tai Chi now for 21 years and I find that this un-locking of tension throughout the body is something my students have slowly gained an awareness of and the joy of this is tangible as they can begin to release and let go, mentally and physically. They enjoy the flowing, meditative qualities of the movements and they tell me how it has helped them to cope with the anxiety at the dentist, managing asthma and blood pressure problems, recovering from hip replacements and also in real life situations things like being able to use Tai Chi principles when using the strimmer in the garden rather than holding it up with the shoulders, using the principles to close a heavy garage door with your body weight, not just your arms, to lift a kettle of water without lifting the shoulder, improving their golf swing etc. But most importantly being able to relax, really relax and release tension through mental focus, to stand, walk and sit using the minimum effort possible with an awareness of their own use. A lovely quote I heard from a student on the radio “You don’t do the form, you undo what is in the way and the form just happens”.

In my classes you can start exploring various forms of Chi Kung, including 18 Therapies and Silk Reelind exercises. We train Yang Style 24 Form and Cheng Man Ching’s 37 short Form and Chen Style 19 Form. I also teach 32 Simplified Sword, Staff and Fan Forms.

I instruct weekly classes, workshops and Tai Chi tasters in Leicester and Leicestershire.

I enjoy Push Hands, Standing Chi Kung and Silk Reeling exercises and see these as essential parts of my continuous training.

I have an Advanced Diploma in Exercise and Health Recommendations for Referred Clients, A City and Guilds 7407 Teaching in Further Education – Level 4 and the St John Ambulance first aid course Emergency First Aid at Work.

 

 

 

 

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