However, I discovered a completely unexpected benefit recently, during my two-yearly mammogram check. This is not a comfortable experience, despite the care taken by the friendly and experienced radiographers. As we went through the routine of 'move forward ... this arm here … move forward a bit more ... chin up ... other hand here, please ... relax your shoulders' four times, the radiographer complimented me: 'You're really good at this!' I asked what she was talking about, and it turned out to be 'relaxing on order'. I attributed this to Tai Chi, and she wasn't surprised. She's noticed that women who practise Tai Chi or yoga seem to be able to relax into the rather awkward positions required and lessen the discomfort of the procedure.
I have been practising Tai Chi for almost a year now and I noticed positive improvements from the very first class. I remember feeling great after the first class – relaxed and as if every joint had been moved around a bit. I really liked the gentle and graceful movements of the form, even if I was a bit worried about whether I would ever remember them. This learning actually proved to be quite easy, as Brett and Fontane have broken down the Tai Chi form into learnable movements that they teach and demonstrate at each class. And, of course, with some practice at home, it starts to come together into a continuous 'flow' – this definitely improves with time and practice.
I remember in the first few weeks noticing the significant freeing up of tension in my shoulders and becoming more aware of when I was tensing up – while driving for example. I also felt really good after each class – more alive and centred. It was definitely the combination of the teaching, the relaxation/balancing of the Qigong and the beauty and gentleness of the Tai Chi form that kept me coming back.
I really enjoy the classes, and try to attend at least two or three times a week. The teaching is excellent, with lots of encouragement and good information about how the practice fits into the broader context of the philosophy of Tai Chi. It is also great being able to practise the form with others, very absorbing and relaxing – a great antidote to a tough day at work. In terms of other results I have noticed over the past year, there has been a big improvement in my leg strength, joint mobility and balance. I now have no trouble in picking up the bath mat – something that I was not able to do without pain and difficulty twelve months ago! I am also able to do a greater range of activities, and my blood pressure has decreased to 110 / 70!
I am so pleased to be involved in Tai Chi because it really has made a significant difference to my life – and I intend to keep practising until I am a very old lady!
The Qigong as well as the slow moving Tai Chi form 'tricked' my mind into looking at life at a different pace. They also taught me how to focus on the moves so intensely that my 'wild elephant' mind could no longer wander aimlessly through innumerable thoughts. The positive vibes given off by the serene instructors were also infectious as well as inspiring. I never knew humans could be so happy!:)
I have to say, the training has been a major factor in turning a lost and negative individual into a happy person with integrity and who contributes to society. I only hope that one day I will achieve the level of tranquil peace and internal power that the instructors exude every time I am in their presence.
The Hun Yuan form I am practising consists of gently flowing movements which especially loosen and free the joints of the upper body. In doing so, there seems to be a release of tension in problem areas for me such as the spine, shoulders and neck. This, I find, makes it so much easier to 'move' through my day. I am on arthritis medication which is normally prescribed for people at least in their sixties, so I am twenty years ahead of my time. I have gradually been able to reduce the medication to only one tablet per day since resuming practice and I have the determination and the foresight, based on my past experience with Tai Chi, to envisage the probability of ending the medication altogether as time goes on.
I did two Beginners' Courses and two weeks of Level 2 and then I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After surgery, I had to have 18 weeks of chemotherapy and several more of radiation. I tried to come back to class, but I was just too tired so all I did during that period was pop into a Beginners' Workshop. I kept in touch with Fontane – her tips and encouragement were gentle and welcome.
When I did come back (no hair), it was quite difficult to move my arms. One was still stiff from the surgery and the other was badly damaged by the chemotherapy and an associated DVT (deep-vein thrombosis).
My treatment ended a year ago. I am now in Level 3 and I make the following observations:
- both of my arms have improved immeasurably. I have no problem from lymphodema which is common for women in my situation.
- I am coping well with the uncertainty I now live with day to day. In Quiet Standing, quite naturally my qi appears to me as the essence of me that stays the same whether I am sick or whether I am well and this is enormously comforting.
- my body feels well – as I move through it, I sense this and again, this is enormously comforting. I don't think that Tai Chi has cured me. But it does help me to accept where I am in life, to accept my changed body and to gain insights into what a life threatening illness can offer me.
I love it! And I feel sure that it will continue to add to my life for however long that life is (hopefully decades).
The Hun Yuan Style of Tai Chi certainly provides a testing, yet entertaining way of achieving this feeling of strength, flexibility and calm. The grandmasters will tell you about diligence and perseverance. Practising daily initially took some determination, but I found that, after a short time, you can’t go without doing a daily routine of Tai Chi and Qigong. In addition, I find it enlightening to read about Tai Chi and the principles and philosophy that underpin it. I wish I had discovered Tai Chi twenty-five years ago, but you obviously can start at any age and shape. Do it, for it will be one of those decisions that will change your life.
Initially, the Hun Yuan Tai Chi form just did not seem to have a recognisable structure (particularly after the familiarity of the Yang Style). I was well into learning the moves in Level 2 before I began to relax and enjoy the more fluid and subtle experience of the form. I came to understand there definitely was structure, but of a different kind. In my years of learning and refining the traditional Yang Style, I had heard repeatedly about the importance of ensuring that the waist moved continuously. With the change of style, I really did discover how much I needed to achieve more movement and fluidity. I have been concentrating on the waist and have found that I am slowly getting to the point where it is acting as the anchor for the rest of the body. Let me emphasise, slowly! On those occasions now when I have the waist moving correctly and the arms and legs in concert, I find the form a joyful expression of my body in motion. Perhaps a slightly over enthusiastic comment, but I did not embrace Tai Chi to add a sporting scalp to the belt; I was looking for a way of maintaining a feeling of physical well being.
I enjoy the sensual nature inherent in the Style as I engage all parts of my body and I enjoy the restfulness of the mind when I am concentrating on the form. I enjoy good health and my life generally, and am very conscious of the contribution that the traditional Yang Style and the Hun Yuan Style of Tai Chi make to my feeling of well being.
I had a dislocated shoulder and a sprained ankle when I attended my first lesson in October 2003. As I learnt from Fontane, an excellent instructor, how to relax and exercise the joints without force, my injuries healed faster than they would have if I had gone to a physiotherapist or masseur. This has demonstrated to me the healing power of internal energy generated by the Tai Chi movements.
Since I have learnt to 'unlock' my knees, my body no longer aches from long hours of standing, waiting for some action before scrambling on unfamiliar ground to take some photographs. When I get worn out sitting in front of the computer, editing some urgent work from one morning to the next, I replenish my energy by doing Tai Chi, Qigong, Fa Soong Gong and Chan Si Gong. A little exercise each day goes a very long way.
As I have gained lots of benefits from the Hun Yuan Tai Chi system, I would not hesitate to recommend anyone to learn it. Having some martial arts background, I can safely say that Fontane and Brett are highly skilled instructors. They also give the students value for their money.
I first learned the Yang form, but I particularly enjoy the Hun Yuan form, which is more dynamic. I find this makes coordination of the whole body easier and I now really understand the importance of using the waist to generate movements. Learning Tai Chi really is a journey and there always seems to be so much more to learn. I love starting the day with Tai Chi and am excited about the fact that I will be able to do it for the rest of my life, in the convenience of my own home.