Are you looking for a new activity this fall? Why not try Tai Chi? It is an ancient Chinese martial art designed for exercise, self-defence and meditation.
Many people I have spoken to about Tai Chi have the mistaken impression that it is tortuously slow or that one simply stands around holding weird poses for no apparent reason, or that there are no health benefits. Luckily, I did not have any of these misconceptions, as I had the good fortune of watching proficient groups practising this discipline in Vancouver and China. With my background in human kinetics, I could tell right away that the practice had many physiological benefits. Also, I was struck by the fact that some participants seemed to be in their eighties or nineties. Their ability to sustain this exercise for an hour, complete the movements with grace, and balance on one leg with ease was impressive.
I was also enthralled by the peaceful beauty of the movements and the synchronicity of the participants. When I saw a group practising on the bustling waterfront in Macau, it was mind- boggling how they maintained their calm focus in the midst of the frenetic activity surrounding them. These encounters must have planted a slow-growing seed in my psyche, as more than 20 years later when I spotted a sandwich board, on Lewes boulevard, advertising Tai Chi classes and I instantly knew that the time had come to give it a try. That was two years ago, and I have been hooked ever since.
Initially, I was surprised to learn that Tai Chi is a martial art and that every move in hand form has a defensive application. For example, the elegant “cloud hands” move involves a block, a grab and a pull-down. Learn the application and the move becomes easier to remember. That is a good thing as there are 103 moves to recall if one endeavours to learn the traditional long form. Talk about a cognitive workout! Fortunately, the long form is broken into three parts, so learning it section by section is not so daunting. There are other shorter hand forms as well. My personal favourites are the 16 movement form and a new 22 movement form called Yang Family Essential, which will be the focus of a seminar on September 23.
Tai Chi has many known health benefits including balance, mindfulness, structural alignment, flexibility, relaxation and strength. In the United States, Tai Chi leads the list of effective fall-prevention programs advocated by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Balance is a learned and practised complex skill that many people lose, over time, due to physical inactivity or to visual or vestibular (inner ear) degeneration. The way Tai Chi is practised with slow, complex movements (some combining a head turn with specific visual focus), addresses different aspects of balance by improving cognition (anticipatory postural adjustments) and proprioception (the sense that allows us to engage our muscles and joints, to achieve equilibrium), as well as providing something akin to vestibular therapy. The bent-knee posture of Tai Chi movements also greatly strengthens leg, hip and ankle muscles and connective tissue important for balance.
There is also the social aspect of Tai Chi to consider. This is particularly evident when we come together on Saturday mornings for free practice sessions or participate in special events. In other words—come join us—I think you’ll like us!
Starting the week of September 17, Tai Chi Yukon is offering four evening classes for beginners, and during the first week the classes are free. Also this season (September–April), chief instructor Pam Boyde will be leading a series of eight seminars including traditional form, push hands, and sword and sabre forms. Register at or before the first seminar, on September 23, for the full series or for individual seminars or the sword seminar, which encompasses a full weekend. Check the website at www.taichiyukon.com for full class and seminar details.
by Marina McReady. This submission is provided by Tai Chi Yukon.