What a Wonderful World of Tai Chi

Catherine Brenner and John Carrier Demonstrate Push Hands (photo by Sheila Harrigan)

On a sunny day in the park, you may have seen groups of serene-looking people moving gracefully through a coordinated set of movements. You were probably watching people practicing Tai Chi — and it’s coming to the Honest Weight Food Co-op, too! The Co-op is offering a second, free Introduction to Tai Chi class on Wednesday May 23, from 12:30-1:30. The class is limited to twelve students and is open to the public. The Co-op offered its first introductory class on May 16, 2018.

What Is Tai Chi?

Tai Chi, or Tai Chi Chuan as it is more formally known, is an ancient Chinese martial art that was historically used for self-defense and is now more widely practiced for its health benefits. Tai Chi refers to the balance of yin and yang, and Chuan means ‘fist’ or ‘boxing,’ which reflects its basis as a martial art.

People are drawn to Tai Chi to improve coordination, flexibility, balance, strength, stamina, and concentration. While you would want to obtain your physician’s approval, Tai Chi for health classes can accommodate people of any age and ability level including those with physical limitations. Unlike most Western exercise, Tai Chi is a mind-body discipline that focuses on slow, smooth, continuous movement. Tai Chi is a moving form of Qi Gong. Qi Gong includes a variety of practices to cultivate life energy.

World Tai Chi and Qi Gong Day

Participants share Tai Chi symbol of strength, friendship & humility, from left to right: Regina Odom-Swinney, Kathryn McKee, Cindi O’Bryan, Deb Dorsey, Madelon Herzog, Sheila Harrigan and Earl O’Bryan (Photo by Andrew Axler)

World Tai Chi and Qi Gong Day is an annual event held on the last Saturday of April in 80 countries. It started in 1999 with a motto of “One World….One Breath.” On April 28th, I joined others at the Bethlehem Public Library for World Tai Chi and Qi Gong Day activities organized by the Asian Arts Group in Albany. Catherine Brenner, Librarian and Tai Chi Instructor extraordinaire, along with Lorraine Noval of the Asian Arts Group, kicked off the event with everyone joining in a Qi Gong meditative practice.

After moving our energy, we formed into groups of people mixing those new to Tai Chi with those more experienced to practice three Tai Chi family styles, Chen, Sun and Yang. Everyone had the opportunity to move from one group to another. Chen is the style that set the framework for all the styles that followed. Yang is one of the most popular family styles world-wide. Sun style is a basis for many Tai-Chi-for-health options, including evidence-based forms designed to help with arthritis and fall prevention. After Tai Chi, we calmed our minds through a Wu Ji Qi Gong energy practice, and moved on to conversations and refreshments.

Learning More About Tai Chi

To learn more about Tai Chi health benefits, read Tai Chi Medical Studies and Tai Chi Research Articles. There are also many free on-line introductory Tai Chi lessons, including Tai Chi for Beginners, which provides a lesson as well as general information.

However, it is best to learn Tai Chi in-person where instructors can provide both expertise and feedback. Introductory lessons like those offered at the Co-op on May 16th and 23rd, are also often found at local libraries, fitness clubs, senior centers, and retirement communities. A wide range of excellent ongoing classes and schedule options for beginners and advanced students are also available at local Tai Chi Centers for a fee.

While many people come to Tai Chi for health benefits, they stay because it is fun. Groups that practice Tai Chi together over a period of time get to know each other and find social opportunities at special events, such as Chinese New Year celebrations, summer picnics, special skill building workshops with Tai Chi masters, and World Tai Chi Day.

As mentioned, if you are interested in a taste of Tai Chi, the Co-op is offering its second, free Introduction to Tai Chi class on Wednesday, May 23, from 12:30-1:30. The class is open to the public but limited to 12 students. Please register in advance at HWFC events or in-person at the store’s Service Desk. Enjoy this gentle Tai Chi practice to begin a journey to calm your mind, and improve balance, coordination and flexibility.

Sheila Harrigan has been a Co-op member-owner since 2012 and started in the Wellness Department on Central Avenue. In her current role, she greets customers with samples of tasty foods and beverages as a service to the Marketing Department. She has played Tai Chi for eight years and continues to practice as both a student and as a certified instructor. (Ed. Note: The practice of Tai Chi is described as playing and practicing.) When not practicing Tai Chi, Sheila works on social services policy issues and plays the ukulele.