For Concordia students seeking alternative methods to alleviate the stress of university life, Tai Chi may just be the path to peace of mind.
In a nutshell, Tai Chi can keep you healthy and happy. It’s remarkably effective for relaxation, health and fitness. Besides that, it’s fun.
“Tai Chi responded to my being and at the same time gave me the physical workout needed to vent any frustration felt, both with work life and with home life,” says Arlene Provoteaux, who works in a high stress job at the Yellow Pages in Montreal.
Provoteaux tried weight lifting, Tai Box, step, and heavy aerobics and realized that neither her knees nor her constitution could support such strenuous activity constantly. Apart from that, she says it did not calm the growing anger within her.
“Last year about this time, many things were going on in my life where I had to say I better stop [and], do something about it, or you will be miserable.” In came Tai Chi. “Tai Chi has now given me balance, both physical & mental. It seems that the inconveniences of life seem a hell of a lot more tolerable, and has brought me back to the usual calm-feeling me.”
Scientific research has supported what people have been saying. Research conducted at the Medical Academy of Shanghai, the Tangshan Medical Centre and Bellevue Hospital in New York City has shown that tai chi stimulates the central nervous system, lowers blood pressure, relieves stress and gently tones muscles without strain. It also enhances digestion, the elimination of wastes and the circulation of blood. Moreover, Tai Chi’s rhythmic movements massage the internal organs and improve their functionality.
You do not have to be super stressed or sustain an injury to benefit from Tai Chi-produced relaxation. Tai Chi simply offers a tool to help you cope with your busy, modern-day life by appreciating the tranquillity and the nature around you. Going hand in hand with relaxation is the alleviation of stress and depression.
“Tai Chi is a wonderful way to balance the mind, body and soul,” says Craig Cormack who teaches tai chi at the Energie Cardio in Place Alexis Nihon. “It balances the mind by requiring you to concentrate on relaxing, which is perplexing at first because in our culture we are nervous about learning new things.”
Initially Tai Chi helped Cormack heal an ulcer in his stomach. “I was a very nervous individual when I began [Tai Chi], and it helped me to learn how to relax. This also had an affect on my sleeping patterns,” he says.
“As I began to practice I began to look at my body differently, as a river of energy, and I began to care for myself better. I reduced my intake of alcohol and began to eat better.”
The most widely practiced and practical aspect of the art is the solo hand form. The form can be practiced for many reasons, and although a martial art, there are perhaps more important reasons for learning this art.
Tai Chi is probably best known for its therapeutic benefits than its martial aspect, and is often practiced for this reason alone.
Much emphasis is focused on the careful and flowing movements. The flow is gentle, harmonious and graceful, which makes watching it an aesthetic experience.
While the upper body remains nimble and loose, the lower part of the body and legs are stable and planted firmly on the ground without being stiff.
Tai Chi should calm the mind, but it should not empty it. “The mind is always involved,” says Danial Lee, who teaches Tai Chi in Pasadena, California.
“The mind moves the Chi, and the Chi leads the movement. At the first stages, you have to learn to move your left foot, right foot, arms, etc., but eventually you become very fluid. You begin to express the movement. But you do not do it totally in a state of ‘no mind.'”
Lee says the “no mind” state applies only to fighting. “In Tai Chi, you come in with total openness and you respond spontaneously,” he says.
But students should not practice Tai Chi automatically, Lee cautions. They must be totally aware of everything. “You are aware of the situation around you, but it does not disturb you,” he says. “For example, if you are doing a form, and a car backfires, people around you jump, but you have an invisible shield. You hear the sound, but it does not penetrate to your consciousness.”
Tai Chi has many distinct advantages over other types of exercise.
The biggest shortcoming of most systems of physical fitness is that they service only part of the body. They concentrate on certain muscles or muscle groups, while neglecting others entirely.
For example, isometric exercises tense one set of muscles against another set or an immovable object. Because this is a one-dimensional exercise, the benefits are minimal.
“Tai Chi helps to balance the mind and body because we learn from the very first class about weight shifting,” says Cormack.
“With very few exceptions most of the movements are on one leg or the other. We are not double-weighted very often. Movements that are executed on one side are executed in mirror image on the other side; therefore both sides of the body and brain come into play. The upper and lower body is also balanced because the arms and legs move in unison. By relaxing the mind the body follows and Tai Chi becomes a soulful experience.”
Beginners should be patient and not dive into it too fast.
“I would say it is very important to be patient with yourself. I find we are our own worse critics and all of us need to learn how to be gentle with ourselves,” says Cormack.
“Someone who is beginning to learn Tai Chi has made a great choice, and Tai Chi will become a useful tool to combat stress.”
*Craig Cormack is a teacher of Tai Chi, Chi Kung, accupressure and Reiki. He can be reached at 369-7860. For more information visit his web site at www.risingtao.ca.
There will also be an open house Nov. 1 from 12: 30 p.m. to 5 p.m., at the Ikra centre de Sant