EXTREME TAI CHI
What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the words “staff retreat?”
a.) Free coffee and cookies!
b.) Developing camaraderie and a closer working relationship with your colleagues
c.) Trust falls
d.) Martial arts
For me, it’s c, and I start practicing the hoarse phone voice I’m going to use to play sick that day. But they promised me I would not have to hurl myself backwards into the waiting arms of the coworkers I hold in high esteem and yet still don’t want to be the only things standing between me and grievous injury.
So I showed up. Our retreat was held at a local naturopathic university (shut up, it’s a Seattle thing). The sign on the front door declares it a “fragrance-free zone.” I wondered if students who show up wearing perfume or scented deodorant or whatever are sent home to shower.
Our agenda included a morning of Strategic Planning followed by lunch in the all-vegetarian cafeteria. Personally I liked the Tofu Stroganoff, but I’m a vegan sympathizer and therefore my tastes are suspect.
After lunch it was time for Tai Chi. Our instructor met us in the conference room and looked at our rag-tag group of smokers and caffeine junkies with clear disdain. “Follow me to the field,” she said. “And bring water. ONLY water. No soda! No coffee!”
We dutifully followed, clutching water-only bottles, and arranged ourselves in a large circle at her behest.
Last week I took a step aerobics class at the gym. I had some difficulty following the more complicated maneuvers, but for a first try I thought I did pretty well. Several things helped. The instructor always faced the same direction. The movements were done to the beat of the music. She used words I understood, like “tap” when we were supposed to tap our feet. (Nowhere near the men’s room, thankfully.) We repeated each thing many times.
Not so in this case. The Tai Chi instructor changed her orientation constantly. The movements presumably had a purpose, but the purpose was never clear to me. She described her movements with odd terms, like “ding” when we were supposed to put a toe down, and “brush knee” for a movement that did not, in fact, involve brushing one’s knee. I was waiting for “wax on, wax off,” but we never got to that one.
Near the end she demonstrated an interesting fact: the same apparently purposeless but graceful arm movement we’d been performing could, when applied to the body of our largest staff member, render him immobile on the ground.
I was glad when it was over.
After that humiliation, we figured we couldn’t embarrass ourselves any further, so we hit the softball field. I did manage to hit the ball a few times, but I throw like a girl. We all made a pact to keep one another’s abysmal performances to ourselves.
So I had it all wrong. The Staff Retreat included a, b, and d, but no c. Not a bad day’s work.