Sandra Wilson was struggling with anxiety and road trauma injuries when a friend suggested Tai Chi could help.
‘I realised after a little while that my neck wasn't hurting anymore, and then I realised my back wasn't hurting anymore, and then other people started pointing out how much calmer I seemed, and then I thought, “Yeah, that's actually right”.'
That was almost 30 years ago, and Sandra is now an instructor with the Taoist Tai Chi Society of Australia, along with Rhonda Gocher. Both women say beginners often begin reaping the benefits of Tai Chi within a couple of classes.
‘When they do come, they say, “I wish I'd started earlier”,’ Sandra laughs.
Those benefits can range from greater balance and reduced falls risk to improved sleeping and circulation — and even pain management.
‘It's different for everyone,’ Rhonda says. ‘They might feel their leg strength developing or becoming more balanced, but it goes deeper the longer you do it… you just keep learning, and you just keep developing your awareness.’
One of Rhonda’s students broke his collarbone and leg after hitting a pothole and coming off his bike. In hospital, when his blood pressure spiked, he did some Tai Chi exercises in the bed.
‘They came back and took his blood pressure again and it was fine. That kind of immediate application of your learning can just get you through tough situations,’ Rhonda says.
Tai Chi was developed in China as a martial art and some practitioners still emphasis its application as a self-defense technique. However, schools like the Taoist Tai Chi Society, which is run as a volunteer organisation, have a greater focus on its benefits for health and physical and emotional and mental wellbeing.
‘We place no emphasis on the martial arts aspect of the moves; although they have a basis in blocks and strikes and so on, that's not how we practice them,’ Rhonda says.
The society’s foundation practice is a series of 108 slow-motion movements that take about 15 minutes to complete, but Sandra says Tai Chi is integrated into her day.
‘It’s the way you hold yourself, the way you relax, the way you move — Tai Chi influences every part of your everyday life. So, when you go to sit in the car, rather than holding onto the steering wheel in a tense way, you let everything relax. You can be doing Tai Chi while you're standing in line at the checkout without anybody knowing, just by allowing everything inside to relax or to maybe expand.’
At the heart of the practice is the Taoist tradition as taught by the society’s founder, Master Moy Lin Shin who was a Taoist monk.
‘Ultimately everything about Tai Chi is about rediscovering that balance and that harmony that we all have inside us,’ Sandra says.
Reviewed 16 April 2023