Energy training with ancient Chinese art of fighting
Tai Chi literally means ‘supreme ultimate boxing’. It was passed down in secrecy from one generation of families to another. However, with time, it became widely known for its health benefits and is now taught by trained masters. Yoga & Wellness gets an opportunity to be a part of a Tai Chi training session to learn more about the art from it’s practioners.
Tai Chi has five styles: Yang, Sun, Wu Hao, Wu and Chen, which is the father of all styles. While some assert that the practice originated in the 17th century, others claim it dates as far back as the 15th century. Tai Chi is “medication and meditation in motion”, whereby, the focus is on channelling one’s internal energy to balance yin (to inhale, store, contract and relieve) and yang (to exhale, release, expand and give). According to Tai Chi’s philosophy, everything has two opposing forces (yin and yang) which interact harmoniously to create a whole.
According to the proponents of Tai Chi, it has a number of physical and mental health benefits.
It enhances the body’s flexibility, strengthens and makes muscles more defined, enhances the stamina and agility as well as our balance and coordination and more importantly, it improves our sleep quality and cardiovascular fitness. It is also highly beneficial for office workers as it relieves back pain. Moreover, the practice of Tai Chi reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and leaves one with an improved wellbeing.
In Dubai, Master Frank Rao and Master John Duval set up a Tai Chi training centre in 2010. Both are 6th Dan Black Belts, gold medallists, 13th generation inheritors, disciples of Shaolin Temple Abbot Shi Yong Xin and successors of Tai Chi Chuan. Till now, the duo claims to have reached thousands of UAE residents including kids, students, chronic patients, expats and government officials.
The Chen-style of Tai Chi uses motions in both high and low positions. Most of the movements require slow and fast hand coordination while standing up straight or with knees bent out in 45 degrees, keeping the body weight pressure equal on both legs. It is important to breathe only through one’s nose, take sips of water in intervals and allow the tip of the tongue to touch the roof of the mouth behind the front teeth.
While the warm up routine is similar to other forms of exercises and yoga, it is the rhythm of your own repetitive movements that make you aware of your inner energy. Soon, you can feel a tingling sensation on your fingertips and heat on your palm. It is empowering to feel like you’re controlling the kinetic energy of the air around you.
Master John says, “You train the energy according to your capacity”. Therefore, the trainees can do the movements at their own ease. For instance, you can stand straight if your knees hurt when they are bent for a long period of time. The placement of hands, palms, fingers and tongue, however, need to be precise as they are “connected to the inner chakras and nerves through which the energy travels across the body”.
When asked why he chose to teach the Chen-style Tai Chi out of the five types, Master Frank said that Chen-style is more difficult as it involves training the energy. “Since I’ve done Kung Fu for many years, I want to start with a harder style and then ease it out. Also, this style is suitable for people of all ages. For the older trainees, it’s about the health aspects. Whereas the younger can learn to become more disciplined and focused,” he shares.
I’ve been taking Tai Chi training for five years now. At the age of 29, I got diagnosed with a very aggressive from of breast cancer which had spread to the right lymph node as well. I underwent a double mastectomy in 2013. As I had been sick for very long, undergone multiple surgeries followed by chemotherapy and radiation, my energy level was considerably low. Battling cancer needs you to be absolutely positive and stress free. So I tried three forms of yoga, but it was Tai Chi that spoke to me. When I approached Master John, he asked me to wait at least for six months in order for my body to heal a bit. My muscles had changed (become stiff and dry) after the surgeries. Thus, after a physical assessment, Master John taught me some special Tai Chi movements that I could do at home. Mentally, it helped me centre myself, gave me a sense of calmness and serenity like a prayer does and internalise positivity on a physical level. This gave me the strength to rebuild my body gradually as my whole frame had suffered due to chemotherapy (had severe osteoporosis and osteopenia). Tai Chi has made me feel the energy flow through my body and focus. It has made me realise that I can be stronger in avenues you don’t think about in every day life. Since I recently underwent a massive corrective surgery and am preparing for another one that will be followed by two smaller procedures, I’ve taken a break from training. However, I am restless to get back to class.Ghadeer Kunna, Policy and Strategy Specialist
I am working on anger management and anxiety alleviation. I chose Tai Chi very recently hoping it will help me control my mind and body.Ajay Banerjee, Internal Auditor for Dubai Sports City
I’ve been practising Tai Chi for over a year now. My experience has been peaceful. I know all the movements by now. It’s not something you can remember and rehearse. This meditative practice combines the mindfulness and the body’s awareness. It is the body that knows and finds the next movement on its own. I need to be very present in my profession. Tai Chi helps me stay centred and focus on my clients.Caroline Gasc, Executive Coach
I didn’t choose Tai Chi, it is the other way round. I had trained back home in the UK as well. At home I practice on my yoga mat whenever I need to ground myself. I must say, some movements are difficult but with time, it flows naturally.Michael Judd, Director IT at The Royal Atlantis