I am passionate about Taijiquan and Qi Gong. And I am a woman. And I think that women are a bit underrepresented in the Tai Chi and Qi Gong world. I mean, look at all the big masters, they are mainly men! So I want to raise the awareness for all the wonderful women in our community. Thus I often interview Tai Chi and Qi Gong women. In this interview I talk to Jarl Forsman. One of my newsletter readers suggested her and I am excited to get to know her.
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Jarl Forsman. I’m a 67 year old woman and I’ve lived in California my whole life. I began studying Taijiquan in college at the age of 21 and I’ve been doing it as a daily practice now for 46 years and teaching Tai Chi and other forms of Qigong for over 30 years all over the San Francisco Bay Area.
I’m married, I have a daughter and a new grandson and I live in a wonderful floating home community in Sausalito. I don’t know what my life would have been like without Taijiquan and Qigong, but I can’t imagine it would have been as magical.
Wow, 46 years of practice, that is really a long time! How wonderful.
Please share some details of your Taijiquan/Qi Gong journey?
I discovered Tai Chi near the end of my college years. I found it so fascinating that, shortly after graduating, I moved to San Francisco to study with Grandmaster, Kuo Lien Ying. When I met him, he was 83 years old and I remember thinking “I want to be just like him.” He was so vital and alive and fun. He was a man of wisdom and vitality who clearly radiated light and love.
I came from a dysfunctional family that had to deal with my father’s alcoholism, my parents’ divorce, and my mother’s workaholic tendencies and anger issues. My parents were loving, but unstable. Meeting my teacher Kuo Lien Ying at the age of 21 was my good fortune because both he and Taiji had an incredibly healing effect on me.
Surprisingly, for a young woman in her early 20’s, getting up at dawn and trekking to the park to practice with him everyday was a delight rather than a chore. I rarely missed a day. On the occasional day I did miss, he would call to wake me up and scold me in Chinese. I didn’t understand what he was saying, but I got the point. I loved him and I loved the practice.
Within a relatively short period of time from beginning my studies with him, the chronic bronchitis and allergies that had plagued me for most of my younger years disappeared and my posture improved immensely. The yearly bouts with colds and flu became a thing of the past and I began to benefit from a higher level of personal energy that has stayed with me all these years. I began to feel more relaxed and balanced mentally very early on and noticed a spiritual opening that has continued to blossom.
It sounds strange to say this, but I believe I was an acupuncturist in a previous life. From the time I was 7 or 8, I felt the urge to press or rub certain points on my body. Much later in life, while I was studying Chinese Medicine, I found that the spots I was rubbing were points on the meridians corresponding to specific organs. Somehow I intuitively knew about all these points.
When I was in 7th and 8th grade, I remember asking friends occasionally to form a circle and follow me doing slow motion movements during recess. I had no conscious idea what I was doing, I just thought it was fun. Later, when I discovered Taijiquan, I realized I had been doing a version of Qigong in those early days at recess.
I loved to dance and everyday, from the 5th grade on, I would come home and dance in my living room. I still do this dance, but I now know exactly how and why I’m moving the qi through my body.
Oh, I also love to dance in my living room! It’s a mixture between my 12 years at the ballet and now Qi Gong and Taijiquan moves.
Finish this sentence: When I started learning Taijiquan and/or Qi Gong, I would have liked to know…
I would like to have known that everyone’s practice is unique, that we get out of it what we need to and that we are intuitively moved to cultivate our practice in ways that are important for us, individually. For instance, I was not as interested in the martial as I was in the healing and spiritual aspects. I sometimes felt a bit inadequate in my practice because of my lack of interest in the martial part of Taijiquan. Although, I knew what the moves were for, martially, I just wasn’t able to focus much on that part of the art. I see now that it hasn’t really mattered for me. I believe it wasn’t necessary for me in this lifetime. I’ve never needed to use it for that and I feel that just the ability to stay present protects me.
Is there anything that you specifically learnt from your first teacher that you still remember? A lesson or insight that you keep dear to your heart?
Kuo Lien Ying was my first teacher and he told me that the form would teach me all I needed to know. Just doing the form would open up the doors to the insights I needed. I was particularly struck by his words after about 8 years of practice, when I opened up a book on Taoism and realized that my philosophy of life was totally in alignment. The wisdom had indeed come through the practice.
Later, my Qigong teacher, Li Jun Feng gave me the tip to focus on upper and lower body synchronization in Tai Chi and that took my practice to a higher level. I still focus on that while doing the set.
What are you currently practicing? Do you have any personal goals in Taijiquan and/or Qi Gong?
I still teach the Taiji form I learned from Kuo Lien Ying. It’s called the Guang Ping Yang form. I also teach a style of Qigong that has evolved over my years of studying different forms. It’s a combination of several different styles and moves that have come to me during my own improvised practice.
My goal is to continue to teach, practice and allow the wisdom to inform my life.
How does your Taijiquan and/or Qi Gong practice impact your everyday life?
It keeps me healthy, balanced and makes me feel like I’m dancing joyously through life. Taijiquan and Qigong have gifted me with what feels like an extraordinary life filled with wisdom, joy, well-being and an incredible gratitude for and love of life.
Oh, that sounds so wonderful! Now I really hope that I will be able to practice for 46 years!
I think that it is best to learnt from a teacher in person, but which book taught you the most? Which would you recommend to a friend?
Finding a good teacher is important. But practice is the best teacher. The Tao Te Ching and the I-Ching are wonderful books to accompany ones practice.
Jarl, thank you for this open interview and for sharing your experiences and thoughts!
Now if you, dear reader, would like to know more about Jarl Forsman have a look at her Taijiquan/Qigong website: www.alignmentarts.com and sign up for the daily bites of wisdom that she and her husband have been writing together for the past seven years at: www.gratitudetwentyfourseven.