Breathe…….with T’ai Chi

by Mary Cuchna

T’ai Chi (or Taiji) is a mind-body practice that originated in China with a philosophical basis……The words “T’ai Chi” are literally translated as “Supreme Ultimate”, or in other words, to become the best that we can be – reaching our full potential as human beings by balancing the positive and negative aspects in our lives. Tai Chi is characterized by slow, fluid movements in a choreographed pattern called a “form.” It is considered a martial art, but daily practice of this beautiful exercise art reaps many benefits.

One of the major benefits T’ai Chi is noted for is stress reduction. Most of us live fast-pace, overworked, stress-filled lives. But when something radically changes in our lives, such as the loss of a child, spouse, parent, or a close friend, normal stress is magnified as we are left to deal with such immense changes in our world; we can easily become overwhelmed.

Before anything else, learning a T’ai Chi form takes all your concentration and requires you to focus on the teacher and the movement you are learning. This leaves little time for your mind to dwell on much else.

mary-steffner-cuchna
Mary Steffner Cuchna

As you gain experience with the sequence of the form, you begin to relax and this is when you remember to breathe. Our breathing is affected by emotions, such as holding the breath when in a state of fear. The slow, diaphragmatic breathing that is practiced during T’ai Chi oxygenates the body and, coupled with a focused mind, allows the body and mind to relax and become calm and centered.  This wonderful feeling can stay with you for hours after you complete the form. Daily practice of T’ai Chi can allow you to maintain this calmness for progressively longer periods until one day you realize that you are calm more often than not!

There are a multitude of health benefits provided by practicing this beautiful art and there are many research studies that show practice of T’ai Chi can lower blood pressure, promote better balance and  flexibility, improve  mental focus and mood and do it in a gentle manner that is not injurious to our joints. It is often recommended for people with Arthritis and Multiple Sclerosis and by many medical doctors. And it is a suitable exercise for anyone – if you can walk, you can do T’ai Chi.

I would not recommend attempting to learn T’ai Chi from a book or a DVD, but a good teacher will gently guide you on your path. And it is always a good idea to check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.

T’ai Chi is a wonderful, gentle way to help you deal with the stress of losing a loved one. To find out more or to find a teacher near you, go to http://www.worldtaichiday.org or check at a local senior center or Chinese Martial Arts school.

About the author: Sifu Mary Cuchna is a Certified T’ai Chi Instructor and is the owner of MiddlePath Taiji Arts.  She has been teaching T’ai Chi for 13 years in various locations in Medina and Lorain Counties, Ohio. She teaches several T’ai Chi “empty hand” forms as well as T’ai Chi Straight Sword, T’ai Chi Broadsword, and Flying Rainbow T’ai Chi Fan form. She shares 20 rural acres with her husband, too many cats, and one beautiful but ancient dog named Callie. Mary is also one of Peggy Sweeney’s many high school friends.