Meeting breathes life into tai chi

Athina May

Tai chi enthusiasts from all over the world are gearing up for World Tai Chi Qigong Day, with a mission to get the nation to “breathe together” and spread knowledge of the healing sports, which have been endorsed by the likes of Abdullah Ibrahim and Iggy Pop.

Advocates of tai chi say this martial art, which has been called “meditation in motion”, has a mountain of health benefits. It combines graceful flowing movements and breathing techniques, which have little impact on the joints and allow practitioners to control their physical and emotional energy, improving general well-being.

“It’s about listening to your body, absorbing and then letting go. Physical movement brings the mind into movement,” says Milnerton Ridge Wu-style tai chi instructor Natalie Wittwen, who has been doing Wu-style tai chi since 1999.

At age 49, Natalie has the glow of a 25-year-old and a spring in her step that would make you doubt her age, but she does not thank any creams for her youthful appearance. According to Natalie, finding your centre balance is the key to a long and youthful life.

“Everybody, as in every ‘body’ has calm inner powers. It gets heated up when you’re in an argument and raises your blood pressure, doing all sorts of negative things. When you’re doing Wu-style tai chi, all the heat dissipates. It helps you to be aware in a calm way,” says Natalie, demonstrating the gentle movements.

Tai chi is most commonly used for stress relief, as it promotes serenity and clarity and brings about a calmness of mind. It is also known to reduce anxiety and depression, improving sleep quality, lowering blood pressure, improving cardiovascular fitness, and overall well-being.

“Those caught up in the modern way of living get the biggest advantage of tai chi. It calms the nervous system, like a pool of water. When the water is still, it’s murky and dark and not inviting to others, but a crystal-clear pool is more inviting to others. When you’re calm, others feel calm too,” says Natalie.

Apart from teaching Wu-style tai chi, Natalie helps the elderly with balance exercises to loosen joints made rigid by age.

“My oldest student is 96, but they teach me so much. One of my students told me that when you get to 80, the joints in your toes get hard and calcify, so I learnt that massage balls work well to exercise the feet.”

Although tai chi today is a slow-movement sport practised by all ages, it was originally an impact sport performed with fast movements.

The original name, tai chi chuan, means “supreme ultimate fist” and the martial art had several techniques used for self defence.

Tai chi chuan used hardness to resist violent force, and students were taught not to directly fight or resist an incoming blow, but to meet it in softness and follow its motion until the incoming force of attack exhausted itself.

“I learned the original fast-fighting-style tai chi, but it’s never aggressive, you don’t fight back, but take the power away from your partner. With World Tai Chi Qigong Day, we hope to bring awareness to people of breath and life,” says Natalie.

World Tai Chi Qigong Day is on Saturday April 30, and at 10am, Natalie, along with other tai chi instructors, will hold an open tai chi session at De Waal Park, in Oranjezicht.

“I am bringing tai chi practitioners from the south and north to meet in one big group. The collective energy is something special. We encourage people to join us.

‘There will be Wu stylists and Yang stylists who will demonstrate tai chi forms like slow forms, fan forms and sword forms,” says Natalie.