Greetings. Fall is here. Cooler weather, leaves turning, spiders making webs. Watching huge container ships on the water, gliding past our Saturday in the Park. Finishing the interview from last week, and a reminder about the upcoming workshop, playing with Chan Ssu Jing.

Tai Chi and Psychotherapy
4. What sorts of general health benefits coincide with a scheduled Tai Chi regimen?

If we look at what it would take to be a successful martial artist, or athlete, that is what we can expect. As the body is strengthened and rooted, blood pressure is stabilized. The arteries and veins open as inner tension is reduced, improving circulation, taking much stress off the heart. Circulation also improves vision and hearing. Because the circulation improves, the lymph system improves, so colds, flu and other viral and bacterial invasions are lessened or eliminated. Joints are exercised, without the damaging effects of heavy impact. Bones are strengthened because the slow, relaxed movements are done in a semi-squatting stance, and the weight is placed on one leg at a time. Breathing is slow, relaxed, and controlled in Tai Chi practice so the lungs can clear and function at their maximum. The mind is focused at all times on the here and now, eliminating internal chatter and distractions. One becomes present and able to see a situation more clearly. Posture is improved by strengthening and aligning the spine, thus eliminating many back problems.

There are many special exercises in Tai Chi study that involve moving energy consciously inside the body. May involve working with the internal organs – cleansing toxins and strengthening the function and interaction between the various organs. This idea might be quite foreign to most westerners but has been practiced in the East for many thousands of years.

Tai Chi is typically regarded as a general, tonic exercise. It helps the entire body in a very balanced way. For special problems, the Chinese tend to use Chi Kung, as it can be more directed toward specific targets.

5. Tai Chi is often seen as a means to achieving overall wellness. Along with the physical health benefits, will Tai Chi help to reduce psychological problems in any way?

My own story illustrates many of the ways a person can benefit psychologically from Tai Chi practice. I was depressed because I had too much stress and didn’t have a physical outlet to help balance that destructive energy. I was in a very negative state, filled with worry about the future. I felt uncomfortable in groups, mostly comparing myself with others. My mind would not shut down. I couldn’t hear what people were saying to me through all the mind chatter. I was ready to end my life. I just couldn’t see a way out of the pain.

My practice quickly helped me to feel better physically. That was an important step. The physical imbalance is easies to cure. It gives a person a bit of room to take a breath and start to relax. Non-stressful, easy, relaxing exercise soothes the body and mind.

The rooting and grounding exercises of Tai Chi allow the emotions to become more stable. The highs and lows become less extreme. There is a very strong sense of Self developed, along with a strong sensation of being centered in the body.

The mind is calmed because, most of the time, the practitioner focuses on the body center, located in the lower belly. The communication between the body, emotions, and mental functions is strengthened through constant, conscious movement of energy between these three centers.

In the usual group-learning situation of a Tai Chi class, students learn to interact with others on all levels. Students learn to touch others and be touched in appropriate ways and to receive the support of others. Students learn to work together to achieve goals, to understand their inner workings, and to notice the energy of others. The student’s focus moves from me to us. He or she welcomes and actually absorbs the energy of the partner.

The final stages of Tai Chi study encourage the senior students to help others who are making their way along the path of self-discovery. This leads to compassion and a caring for others. The individual has moved from isolation into a community of people whose goal is enlightenment and openness for the good of society. The thought pattern has moved from me, to us, to all of us.

6. What sorts of participants typically visit the studio? Is Tai Chi for everyone?

I live in a fairly unique place in the United States. There is a high concentration of retired people who are health conscious and have the time for study and practice. I offer two main types of classes – Chi Kung and Tai Chi Chuan. The Chi Kung (Energy exercises) classes appeal to the people who are attracted to more traditional exercise programs, but with less stress and effort required. The ages tend to range from the 40s to 80s, mainly women. These students mostly come every morning for a non-stress workout to get their energy moving and to get centered for the rest of the day.

The Tai Chi Chuan classes appeal to the younger, 20s to 60s, group. Many come only once a week to class and then practice on their own the rest of the time. Tai Chi is more demanding physically and mentally, so the student is more committed. I make it clear from the start that learning Tai Chi requires a minimum of a year and is really a lifelong study and practice. Also the martial aspects appeal more to the younger fitness group.

It has been my practice to offer free classes to all people of high school age. On occasion, I offer an after-school class for teens. It is fun, and the young people are enthusiastic. Most of them have a hard time carrying through with all that is required to completely learn the system, as their lives are so busy. I have had a few teens that have stuck with it and have gone on to teach. That really brings me a feeling of satisfaction, to be part of their possible future career. I always thought that Tai Chi was for everyone because I enjoy it so much. I have come to realize that many people are just moving through life too quickly to take the time to learn something as complex as Tai Chi.

7. Michael, thank you for your time. Are there any last words you’d like to leave with our readers? How about advice for first-time Tai Chi participants?

Thank you for this opportunity to share with your readers some of my ideas about Tai Chi. Tai Chi is a vast study, and like the elephant story, I can only tell you about it from my perspective, which will be different from other teachers and practitioners. For people who are interested, use the Internet. It provides all the information, plus more, that a person would need to find out about this ancient Chinese system.

If one decides to attend a class, make sure to sit in on a session before committing to a lengthy program. Each teacher has a different way of approaching the art, and as wonderful as the teacher might be, it might not be the information you need to accomplish your goals. If you are young, you probably won’t want to be in a class with all seniors. If you are looking for a meditative approach, make sure the instruction isn’t a martial arts instructor from some different type of school, like karate, who has taken one Tai Chi class and now teaches it. Check on a teacher’s background, how he or she learned, and how long it took before gaining an instructor’s certificate. All this really makes a difference in what and how you will learn.