Airport Tai-Chi anyone?

by | Aug 21, 2007 | From the Road

“People who look at you might think you are crazy” the Dutch policeman says to me in the outdoor plaza of Schipol Airport. Grey morning clouds, wet pavement, umbrellas, deep rain spouts, the drops multiplying exponentially as the grey expanses of cement and asphalt disappear in an opaque cacophony of silver bullet lines.
I was in the middle of the Cherokee “Dance of Life”, or some variation on that theme, a Tai Chi’ esque ritual offered to the four directions ( wing, over the big mountain, tree, energy from the ground to the sky, energy from the sky to the ground).

Well I often do some form of stretching before long flights and stuck moments, sometimes the ritualized version if I feel so inspired, other times more straightforward yoga/chi gung style exercises.

I was quite surprised by the negative, near street fighter energy of the short wiry near shaved head policeman. Two had approached me under the huge awning of the all glass wall of the terminal. The two men who approached me in their blue uniforms surprised me, I was deeply engaged. I guess that after twenty years of the practice, and much philosophical reflection on the value of doing such actions in the public forum, that I had come to the conclusion that my actions were not worthy of security considerations. Even in these heightened security alert times, only once has any security official wished to check the nature of my actions.

This time however I am subjected to the good cop/bad cop treatment. I am honored, and perturbed. Resisting sparks of argumentative nature surfacing, I let the smaller cops attitude wash over me. Still when he came up with the comment about people perceiving my actions as crazy, I felt the need to reply and did, in a respectful calm way. I told him that I resented his comment, his suggestion that I might be looking crazy I told him was his judgment, that people usually wanted to know if I was doing Tai-Chi.

I thought that would be the end of it, after all I showed him my ticket and passport, and certainly what I was doing had no illegality about it. However, the little guy started questioning my ability to speak Dutch, what was I doing in the country, did I visit a lot and so forth. Eventually he ran out of questions, or maybe got tired of giving me a hard time. So I asked if I could finish my stretch. Both policeman told me it would be best if I didn’t. There was a hint of threat in the answer, like maybe they would be taking me in for more severe questioning if I attempted to continue.

There had been considerable discussion with friends during my three day stay in Amsterdam about how stricter the police had become in Holland, and that was a reflection of the shift in government towards a more conservative right wing stance. Most of that discussion had focused on how the city was cracking down on it’s free wheeling bicycle tradition, issuing tickets for traffic violations and not using bicycle lights at night, something that would have been unthinkable when I lived in Amsterdam twenty years ago. Well I guess everything changes…

About airport stretching:

Of course it is not that accepted a practice to stretch outside, or inside airports. Having a bad back ( I wear a brace for long flights), the stretching is essential to my well being, especially when there is a show to perform at the other end of the flight. I have often thought that there should be yoga lounges in airports. The consideration if it is a proper thing to do in a public forum seems like a no brainer to me. After all people jog in public streets all the time, and stretch in all ways imaginable. Public parks include plenty of facilities to enhance the activities, so why not airports.
Taking the thought a bit further, is it not the role of the clown to do just that, to do actions like mine in public places. Isn’t it part of the role to make people question entrenched attitudes and cultural/public moral values. Wouldn’t a logical conclusion to a philosophical pondering of my actions be a positive outlook towards the practice. Certainly airline officials at countless boarding gates have smiled, quipped, and offered encouragement of my practice. No doubt they understand a little better how that cramped airplane seat feels like after five or six hours.

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