June © 2004
by Bridgette Mongeon
Recently while shopping at the grocery store with my mother I was distracted by a conversation held by two older women. The first woman was vibrant and appeared to be in her mid to late 70’s. She was discussing the benefits of something she was doing and there was urgency in her voice. The second woman had dark circles under her eyes and looked very unhealthy but I could tell she was very interested.
“It is so good for you.” The vibrant woman continued as I approached walking down the isle past the condiments. “It can improve your health, and memory, is great for high blood pressure, and many other ailments. It isn’t jarring and is so easy to do, and as you get older it will improve your balance.”
My mother was ahead of me in the electric shopping cart. I was taking mother on her first shopping trip in many, many weeks. She was just returning from her third visit to the hospital. She had a broken hip and recovering from too many falls to mention. I stopped to listen; intuitively I knew what this vibrant woman was talking about. The second woman began to question her, “Where did you learn it? Can I do it? Is it difficult to learn?” she asked. As her questions were being answered I joined in on the conversation, “Excuse me for interrupting, I overheard your conversation and I just wanted to say that I have been doing a great deal of research on this subject and have found that everything this woman is saying is true. Scientists are beginning to study the effects and agree that it has incredible potential for people of all ages,” I said.
“Show me what it looks like” the second, sickly woman asked the first. Jokingly I said in a very loud voice, “Tai Chi demonstration on aisle seven.” The vibrant woman began to move so gracefully that she resembled what I would describe as wind through the trees. Then to my surprise this grey-haired woman stood on one leg lifting the other leg high to her chest, she also raised both arms up high in the air. She resembled a crane and she stood as still and firm. I looked with longing at my mom in the electric shopping cart. My mother was at least ten years younger than the woman balancing in the aisle, but mom did not have balance, was not able to breathe correctly and had acquired many other maladies that were descending upon her quickly stealing her vitality, and her life.
My own desire to learn this ethereal dance began from the moment I first saw it many years ago. I had purchased a video to try and learn Tai Chi, and it seemed overwhelming, but recently I started taking lessons. There are different forms of Tai Chi; I choose the Yang style long form. There are 108 forms in the long form, which will take the average person more than a year to learn. You do not however have to know all 108 forms to begin to see the benefits of Tai Chi. The woman in the grocery store said that she chose to learn just the first 40 forms, and had been doing Tai Chi for eight years. Perfecting the forms is part of the process of Tai Chi.
With quite a bit of repetition the graceful moves were easy to perform. Learning the choreography of the moves was difficult at first, but soon my body was doing them with little thought until I too was then working on perfecting the moves instead of remembering the steps.
Tai Chi Ch’uan is meditation with movements. Though these movements are based upon martial arts the practice of Tai Chi does not require incredible agility or strength, but it will build both.
It is performed by people of all ages and improves health and vitality. Tai Chi has been practiced for several hundred years originating in China. It can be performed by anyone in any physical condition, proceeding at their own pace and level.
The movements of Tai Chi and another form of Chinese movements called Qigong help to channel the flow chi (pronounced chee) through the body. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is believed that the uninhibited flow of chi through the body encourages health and vitality. Like blood, chi must move through the entire body and does so through a chi circulatory system. If your chi flow is blocked then sickness will occur. Many scientists are studying the effects of chi. Chi is not something based in mysticism, but is scientific, and is being accepted more and more in the Western world.
There is a meditative state accompanied with deep abdominal breathing that comes with the practice of Tai Chi. The slow movements and turns massage different internal organs. Besides increasing range of motion, building strength and stamina and improving coordination and balance, regular practice of Tai Chi can help with asthma, and other respiratory ailments. It also aids the digestive system, circulatory system and immune system. Many of the scientific studies of the effects of Tai Chi and Qigong can be found in Kenneth Cohen’s’ book The Way of Qigong. Cohen describes Tai Chi as a form of Qigong and in his book, Cohen states, ” Qigong is frequently recommended as the primary therapy for advanced, inoperable, and medically untreatable cancer. In these cases, Qigong can ameliorate pain and other symptoms and slow the progression of the disease, more rarely, Qigong practice results in long term remission.”
I am continually intrigued by the research being done concerning Tai Chi. For me Tai Chi and Qigong are more than just exercise, they are ways of promoting and keeping my health. For those dealing with such things as cancer who feel helpless to what is happening in their bodies, it may be empowering for a patient to accompany their treatments with Tai Chi or Qigong.
For myself I have adopted Tai Chi as a daily practice. I believe that performing the moves will help me to stay healthy. As Tai Chi and Qigong become a part of my life, and in my journey of perfecting each move perhaps I will enter the second part of my life with grace and vitality. When I am 80 or 90 I will not feel the least bit silly standing on one foot like a crane in the middle of the grocery store sharing my adventure and hope with another. Who knows maybe if I do, someone else just might find their health on the isle seven near the condiments.
Don Price is a certified Tai Chi instructor. You can learn Tai Chi long form through the Jewish community Center 5601 South Braeswood 713-729-3200 ext. 3223 The JCC will also be starting a seniors class in the fall. Don teaches throughout the city. To find a class nearest you contact Don Price at 713-988-2765 or e-mailing him at DPriceOCentral.UH.EDU.
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