Tai Chi a unique way to keep healthy - in body and mind

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese exercise that strengthens the body, focuses the mind and brings personal energy into balance with challenging and graceful movements.

Originally developed for self-defense, Tai Chi is now mainly used as a means of stress-relief and for improving and maintaining good health.

Gentle, flowing movements are performed in a slow, focused manner and accompanied by deep breathing. It is non-competitive, self-paced and encompasses movements to strengthen and stretch the body. Each posture flows into the next without pause, ensuring that your body is in constant

Tai Chi's low-impact style puts minimal stress on muscles and joints, making it accessible for all ages and fitness levels. It may be especially suitable for older adults who otherwise may not exercise. To practice Tai Chi you need comfortable clothing. You can do it outdoors while it's warm or in any comfortable indoor space. There are several spaces in Brandon where instructors lead classes in Tai Chi.

Several years ago, Doug Derkson suffered from serious sciatic nerve problems. When he found no relief from surgery he became anxious to find an exercise that could help alleviate the pain. Doug registered for Tai Chi through the Zen-Tao society in Brandon, who practice at the Brandon School of Dance building on 10th Street.

"I was intrigued by the slow and yet powerful moves of Tai Chi," recalls Doug. "I met Master Ng [the group's teacher from China] who helped me get started on one of the initial foundation exercises.The Zen-Tao style of Tai Chi allows each person to express the moves as their bodies are able, however small or minimal their moves may be.At the start I just did some of the walking and the one exercise and then stepped out to watch. It was a slow and humbling experience but after 4-5 years I was able to do the entire hour-long practice."

Doug goes on to explain that although the slow nature of Tai Chi is often made fun of, its pace enables people to really listen to and feel their body as they express the moves and build more strength. In other words, by moving through the flowing postures with presence and awareness, Doug was able to work alongside his nerve pain and improve his health all the while. Doug is now able to run through the entire 108-posture practice and is one of the leaders with the Zen-Tao group.

"Tai Chi was humbling and character building, and may not be for everyone," admits Doug. "It was a major part of my recovery."

To learn more about Zen-Tao Tai Chi in Brandon, contact Doug at doug.derkson@gmail.com or Sally at 204-726-8220

The Fung Loy Kok Institute of Brandon (formerly the Taoist Tai Chi Society) offers both beginner and continuing classes five days a week at St. Matthew's Anglican Church on 13th street.

Kathryn Old is part of the instutite and credits Tai Chi as a positive force in her life.

"I joined a class when I was in my 20's," says Old. "It fit my schedule at the time and sounded interesting.I did not know at the time how much I needed this art form in my life. It is beautiful, calming and enriching, and the people you meet onyour journeyare incredible."

Kathryn explains why Tai Chi is so much more than just physical exercise: "The movements exercise the whole physiology; including the tendons, joints, connective tissue and internal organs. At the mental and spiritual level, they are a method of 'taming the heart' and developing an attitude of calm, compassion and reduced self-centredness - both during practice and in daily life. This aspect is cultivated in particular through the deeply held value of volunteerism present in Fung Loy Kok."

The Brandon Fung Loy Kok Institute can be reached at 203-571-0684.

On Thursday mornings the Prairie Oasis Centre offers Tai Chi for seniors. These are drop-in classes specifically geared for participants who suffer from reduced mobility and arthritis. Activities director, Dave Walker says that the program has been on offer for three years now and classes size is fairly consistent. "Some people have arthritis that bothers them," he says, "but they all seem to enjoy Tai Chi. They seem to come back all the time."

Anyone can reap the benefits of presence of mind, a mobile, strong body and a peaceful heart when they chose to engage in Tai Chi. Here in the Wheat City there are several places to find what you seek and enjoy the exercise and meditation of Tai Chi.

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