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Published August 3rd 2013
Still your monkey mind with moving meditation
As a form of exercise, I've always considered tai chi a bit of a doddle.
I found it hard to see how these sequences of slow, graceful choreographed movements with names like 'grasp the sparrow's tale', 'white crane spreads its wings' and 'embrace the tiger and return to mountain' could possibly add up to health benefits.
[ADVERT]And then I met Emily (not her real name).
Emily explains, "I was diagnosed with cancer and had to have radiation (therapy) two times a week for three months."
The diagnosis, understandably, scared her and the treatment for it resulted in severe nausea and vomiting and the sense that she was inhabiting the body of a much older woman.
When she was introduced to tai chi, however, Emily found her mind relaxed, her nausea eased, and her flexibility improved. "I started to feel and think in a different way - tai chi saved my life," she says.
This is not to suggest that tai chi cures cancer, but it does facilitate mindfulness and improve a person's quality of life, says Petrina Hendry, a continuing instructor with the Brisbane Branch of the Taoist Tai Chi Society of Australia.
Its health benefits are so well-recognised that instructors lead twice-weekly sessions at the Royal Brisbane Hospital's pain clinic.
This unassuming sign is the gateway to courses that some people describe as life-changing.
I met Petrina and Emily at an Open Day hosted by the society that featured free introductory sessions, demonstrations by experienced practitioners, and presentations on the health benefits and other aspects of tai chi.
The Brisbane branch resides in a huge cavernous mirrored room with red lanterns hanging from the ceiling and Chinese dragons tethered to the wall.
And while there are weekly classes held in different parts of the city, there's also an option to fast-track your tai chi knowledge by undertaking an intensive weekend class here.
Petrina Hendry demonstrates some of tai chi's classic moves.
These classes are particularly suited to people whose work arrangements don't allow them to attend regular weekly classes, or simply people who are looking to immerse themselves in a new experience.
This is a form of exercise that suits just about anyone and you don't need to be suffering an illness to gain the benefits of tai chi practice.
The longer I watch the experienced practitioners in action, the more awareness I develop that my own attempts to perform these 108 moves are clunky and robotic.
It's a common feeling apparently.
Many people sign up to tai chi classes because they want to learn to move more gracefully, to improve their coordination, to develop their observation skills, to learn more about their own body, to enhance their ability to relax, and perhaps even to make new friends.
These tai chi-ers are a very sociable bunch, sharing lunches, holding tai chi sessions on the beach, undertaking volunteer work (because service is such an important part of the underlying philosophy), and conducting awareness raising activities.
Tai chi classes allow beginners to learn from advanced practitioners.