Monday, April 03, 2017

Tai Chi, helping mind and body

"Sometimes it is called 'moving meditation', it helps to empty your mind when you are doing something physical."

Most of us are familiar with the images of groups of people in various countries doing Tai Chi exercises, often in the open in parks, writes Brian Byrne. And perhaps many of us mistake Tai Chi for a form of yoga, the exercises which originated in India and which now have a global following.

"Actually, the two are not related," says Yuki Kobayashi, who teaches Tai Chi in Kilcullen Parish Centre on a weekly basis. "Tai Chi is in fact based on martial arts, with the movement slowed down. The old time practitioners found that doing this resulted in health benefits, especially in recovery from injuries."

Yuki is from Japan, and an acupuncturist by profession, but first encountered Tai Chi when she was studying for her PhD in London. She had injured her back and was in a lot of pain. Someone recommended she try the discipline, about which there was considerable interest at the time. "I immediately loved it. It gave me relief from the pain and also helped to balance my life physically, mentally and emotionally. I don't think my studies would have been as easy without it."

Yuki came to live in Ireland in 2000. She is married to an organic foods grower, Liam Ryan, and they live in Ballitore with their two children. She had continued with her practice of Tai Chi, and when she reached the stage that family activities allowed, she began teaching it. Initially in Carlow, and in Kilcullen since last autumn.

When you watch people in the class, they are moving slowly, gently, gracefully. It doesn't look as if there's much exercise about it. But it is, according to Yuki, actually very strenuous. "Slow movement is actually a lot of work, and when people begin Tai Chi, that's what many of them comment on. You may not think it would have as good an effect as strong exercise, but it does."

As with any exercise, the most benefit comes if it is done every day. And an advantage of Tai Chi is that it doesn't require special preparation, or space. "You can do it anywhere, in your home, in the kitchen. There is even a five-minute routine which you can do at your desk, and it is very useful also on long airplane flights."

Each individual can tailor the level of the exercise to their own needs. If you bend down lower as you move, for instance, it takes a stronger effort. "People who have been learning it with me in Kilcullen over the months already feel the difference. They report less pain, less stiffness, more energy. It is also very good for things like body alignment and control, and fall prevention."

The other aspect is how it encourages mind control. Concentrating on the slow movements focuses the mind on the individual parts of the body, clearing away distracting thoughts of the everyday. Even two minutes a day can provide ongoing benefits, but Yuki is only too well aware of how difficult many people find it to make space for those two minutes. "When you are busy with your life, your work, your family, it is all too difficult. We forget that it is important to enjoy the body, to embrace it. As we grow older, that kind of thing tends to get shoved aside."

Though the morning class in Kilcullen currently is all women, Yuki plans to do evening classes at some stage which would be a time more suitable for men. She also plans a special class from May for people with arthritis and similar disabilities.

"There is a special Tai Chi programme for this, developed by an Australian doctor who suffered from arthritis himself, and his methods have now been adopted all over the world."

This article was first published on the Kilcullen Page of the Kildare Nationalist.