I first started teaching tai chi & qigong in about 1990. Back then, not so many people knew what tai chi was, and even fewer knew anything about qigong.
However, about 3 years after I started teaching, tai chi went through a massive upsurge in popularity, and suddenly, after having beginners classes with only 5-8 beginners, I suddenly had classes with 20 or more beginners. In fact there was one term when I had 40 beginners and had to rent the theatre at RADA Studios for the ‘trial’ class before splitting into 2 groups! But the fashion in exercise constantly moves, and after 2 or 3 years of packed classes, all of a sudden the fashion had moved on to something else.
I found this hard to understand at first; it is such a brilliantly designed form of exercise.
40 years from when I began it, I am still constantly amazed at the subtlety and the ingenuity of its structure and design, and the depths of understanding that the Chinese must have had, and still have, in working out its principles that enable it to operate so effortlessly and with such powerful results, not only martially but also health-wise. The latter refers to the way that the entire system is integrated with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), so that tai chi, qigong, and TCM support and build upon the strengths of each other.
Yoga has always been in the limelight, but we have seen the fashion spotlight focusing on Zumba, Pilates, Military Fitness, and it’s just moving to Ballet Barre workout.
Osteopaths I have spoken to are keen on these other forms of fitness, purely for cynical reasons; the exercise brings them a lot of business.
Often the teachers don’t appear to be very well trained ….. it’s a fashion, so there isn’t time to get any deep understanding, and, generally in the West, our culture encourages impatience and fast results. Therefore, the students are allowed to overdo it, pulling and straining muscles, overworking body parts that were quite content being dormant before being nudged to wake up a little too abruptly.
I must admit that it surprised me when I heard this about Pilates; obviously there are well-trained teachers out there, but I suppose that it’s not a lot different to someone taking a term’s tai chi lessons and then setting up their own class. It happens, unfortunately, and the beginner doesn’t know any better.
Maybe the instant result package works for some, but it always strikes me that it’s a bit like brushing your teeth, or some other mundane daily task, where all you want is a result and the actual process is a bit irrelevant, and perhaps something to be endured. No wonder people don’t stick to it; working for an end result means not enjoying the journey.
What I particularly enjoy about tai chi and qigong is that there’s a continuous growth in understanding about how the body works, what makes it work more efficiently, and how to make it move so seamlessly that it feels as though it’s moving itself.
I spend ages trying to teach this to my students. I’m not saying that I always get it right myself, I don’t, but when I do, I’m always amazed at the perfection of the movement, how the body worked in perfect unity, and how, when you’ve moved into a new position correctly, it almost feels as though you haven’t moved…. and in a sense you haven’t, because it’s you in the middle acting harmoniously.
Pretentious? Probably, but language has always been a bit inadequate at describing how one feels about an experience.
However, in spite of Ballet Barre workout, I have noticed that the wind has changed direction slightly, and tai chi is just beginning to catch the breeze again. Even the medical profession is referring patients to take up tai chi. I am now getting several students every term who have been told by their doctors specifically to take up tai chi. The Western medical profession is beginning, at last, to catch up with the Chinese medical profession and realise how astonishingly good, how amazingly versatile, how incredibly adaptable this exercise is.
It works well for people of all ages, from 5 to 100+ years old, and you can take it on any level you like: it exercises not only the body but also the mind, and you can go into into its depths or not as you wish and still get something from it. You can use it as a meditation, or as a martial art, or just for some plain exercise, or to build up energy, to strengthen muscles, to relieve stress, to slow the heart rate, to improve breathing, to improve coordination, to help balance, to prevent falls in the elderly, to help with arthritis … and on and on. And even if you chose to do it for only one of these reasons, you’ll get the benefit of all the other reasons anyway, whether you want them or not!
So what about qigong?
The majority haven’t caught up with this yet, and the Western medical profession still seems to know little about it. I find this slightly odd, because surely the medical profession is aware of what goes on within the Chinese medical profession, where Western medicine, acupuncture, massage therapy, and qigong are used alongside each other, each supporting the other.
Qigong is taking its time, although I think that eventually, not so long from now, it will find a place that is on a par with yoga.