Members of the Taoist Tai Chi Society practice at the Legion.

Taoist Tai Chi: practicing the art of good health thorugh movement

The Tai Chi group in Sooke is practicing each week upstairs at the Sooke Legion.

Twelve members of the Taoist Tai Chi Society move simultaneously around the room, angling their feet at 45 degrees- bringing their hands up before pushing down in a flowing motion as though depicting a waterfall. Their steps are precise and intricate; their movements slow and balanced incorporating animal-like stances. There is a pause before everyone stretches gently upward into a movement known as ‘grasp the bird’s tail’. Each move flows like water into the next; a display of flexibility, endurance and strength.

Movements such as ‘draw bow to shoot tiger’ evokes the idea of a warrior defending with hand outstretched in front of the body; at moments strong and purposeful, at others soft and deliberate. The lasting effect of these 108 moves performed in perfect harmony offers a vision of health and peaceful movement and ultimately a great way to warm up the body and calm the mind.

Around the world people of all ages enjoy better health and well-being through Taoist Tai Chi, says Debbie Clarkston– a volunteer instructor who began teaching 21 years ago. “It appeals to all ages.”

Many individuals have witnessed Tai Chi being performed in a quiet park or perhaps on television- but few know the origins or depths of this venerable Chinese discipline.

The Taoist Tai Chi Society internal arts of health is a set of 108 flowing movements and foundation exercises promoting well-being for people in all conditions.

“It’s a really holistic way of preserving and improving my health. It really works on the whole person,” said Clarkston.

Tai Chi has its roots set in traditional Chinese internal arts. The ancient discipline incorporates stretching, full range of motion and the continuous turning of the waist and spine in order to exercise the whole physiology, including the tendons, joints, connective tissue and internal organs. At the mental and spiritual level, Tai Chi is a method of ‘taming the heart’ thereby developing an attitude of calm, compassion and reduced self-centred behaviour during practice and in daily life explains Clarkston. “The holistic approach really complements other pursuits,” she said.

Friend and fellow instructor Yvonne Cabot, joined Tai Chi after hearing about its benefits from Clarkston.  “I got into it when I was recuperating from a broken ankle–it improved my stability and my ability to move,” said Cabot.

The discipline has become especially popular with those middle-aged as it can lesson your chance of falls explains Clarkston. “It improves your balance, your flexibility, your endurance and all the systems of the body as well as creating more body awareness. It makes you healthier in your senior years,” she said.

Tai Chi is the generic name for the martial art form created by Taoist monk Chang-San-feng during 13th century China.

“There are aspects of martial art but Taoist Tai Chi is more focused on health,” said Clarkston.

“Everything we do is rooted in Taoism but the spirituality aspect is not pushed on you.”

The Taoist Tai Chi Society is a non-profit charitable society, made up of volunteer teachers. Currently Sooke has 45 active members.

Cabot teaches Tuesdays and Thursdays whereas Clarkston works as a continuing instructor. “One of our main goals is to help people,” said Clarkston. The two friends hope that participants interested in practising Tai Chi in Sooke will remain in the program as it is progressive. “We’re hoping they’ll stick it out and stay involved.” Classes are held Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. on the second floor of the Sooke Legion at 6726 Eustace Road.

The winter program has just begun and new members can receive one month free. Call Yvonne at 250-642-2731 or www.taoist.org/victoria.bc

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