Tai chi: when the exercise begins to teach you
The gymnasium is filled with 40 adults of all ages, moving in a slow, dance-like motion throughout the room.
Instead of music, the voice of Kayo Robertson accompanies their movements -- known as Tai Chi Chuan. Each movement is performed slowly to make sure that each person is centered and balanced.
"Tai Chi is about changing habits," Robertson says. "The main principle is no resistance. Relax and allow things to happen."
Tai Chi is a martial art, but what makes it unique is that it is a self-defense instruction rooted in Tao philosophy, which says there is yin and yang in everything. The yin represents the receptive elements of nature and the yang is active and dynamic. These two are always at opposite sides, according to Tai Chi Productions, and everything possesses a yin and a yang.
For example, if yin is light then yang is the dark. Their union creates a balance in the universe and helps people move through the flow of life.
Robertson's class, which gathers every week at Logan's Whittier Community Center, has a strong support base, but Tai Chi is really an individual exercise that is perfected over time. Molly Hysell, who takes lessons from Robertson, has been doing Tai Chi for five years.
"We are very lucky to have Kayo Robertson," Hysell said. "Usually a teacher at his level would work in New York or San Francisco. He just got back from studying with a Master of Tai Chi in China."
Hysell said she has found this form of exercise has brought her many positive benefits. "It [Tai Chi] has improved my health, coping skills and I have a greater sense of well-being," she said.
Although vigorous exercise has shown to improve and strengthen the body, Tai Chi is not a sport that revolves around competition.
"You are focusing on your own body," Hysell said. "Because everyone has a different body, their Qi (Chi) is not the same."
Chinese philosophy says chi is a subtle energy that flows throughout the body. When the flow is restricted, then that is when illness occurs. This philosophy views health as the unrestricted current of energy. Western philosophy is different because it considers health as the absence of disease and illness, which are produced by bacteria or viruses.
Tai Chi Chuan is used to maintain a healthy flow to enable people to resist external stresses and focuses on preventing illness, not just treatment alone.
Tai Chi Chuan utilizes many techniques that have great health benefits. The series of movements in Tai Chi comprise the open and close of the arms and legs, the continuity of action and the softness of postures. Deep breathing is also essential in Tai Chi. Because of this, Tai Chi is also useful in eliminating stress and has shown to help arthritis. It strengthens the body, relaxes the joints and mind, helps to teach learning to respond rather than react and teaches how to be calm.
"One thing that amazed me," said Hysell, "was that when I would go to Tai Chi, it would seem like we were doing nothing compared to other exercise. But by the end my legs were extremely tired."
Tai Chi teaches good posture, which helps back problems. The deep breathing reduces heart and circulation problems and less stress usually means more productivity. The exercises promote flexibility, which increases movement for people with arthritis. Studies have shown a relationship between the practice of Tai Chi and decreased risk of falling and frailty in the elderly.
Exercises in Tai Chi also are useful to strengthen muscles. Tai Chi contains both isometric (muscles are tightened but joints don't move) and isotonic movements (muscles are strengthened by moving the joints).
Tai Chi incorporates mind into the actions of the body. It relies on the conscious mind to direct the internal force to help complete the movements. The power of the mind in conjunction with the body improves relaxation and enhances the clarity of the mind.
There are no specific ranking levels in Tai Chi as there are in other sports, because the mind-body connection makes it a progressive exercise. Any person can start Tai Chi any time and continue to improve that skill always.
"In Tai Chi you reach a level where you are able to cultivate all the knowledge and use it. But the challenge goes on and on," Hysell said. "There is always more to learn. You and your teacher will know when you have reached that [level]."
As Kayo Roberston ends the Logan class he reminds them, "Tai Chi is like a symphony. Any musician could not play it memorized if all he could see were the individual notes. You must first learn the details but then just feel it."
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