By Michaela Gibson Morris
With gentle gestures and quiet rocking motions, the class battles with vertigo, arthritis, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure and stress.
In the years Ron Richardson has been leading T’ai Chi Chih classes like the one at First Presbyterian Church in Tupelo, his students have told him the practice has improved their balance, lowered their blood pressure and relieved their pain.
“People really have to be committed to learning the movements,” Richardson said. But when they do, “they often see great benefits.”
T’ai Chi Chih, which is sometimes described as a moving meditation, was developed in part from the ancient Chinese martial art by the late Justin Stone, who died last year at the age of 97. T’ai Chi Chih has 19 basic movements and one pose. Most beginners can get comfortable with the movements in about eight classes.
It doesn’t require special equipment, physical conditioning or stamina. The movements have descriptive names like “Around the Platter” and “Pulling Taffy.”
“The movements are so slow and graceful,” said Stephen Thompson, who leads a community practice group at Lee Acres park in Tupelo. “They’re done very easily.”
Although it’s much simpler than the traditional T’ai Chi Ch’uan – which has 106 movements – T’ai Chi Chih still requires regular practice. The benefits of T’ai Chi Chih didn’t come overnight, but they did come for Daisy Aycock, who regularly attends classes at the NMMC Wellness Center. After a severe inner ear infection that destroyed her sense of balance, Aycock said she tried T’ai Chi Chih on the suggestion of her neurologist after exhausting conventional medicine options.
“This has been a slow process,” Aycock said, and it took persistence and discipline over two years to regain a comfortable level of balance. “I’m wearing high heels again.”
The simple, soft movements and quiet practice combine to balance the body physically and emotionally. For many, there’s a spiritual component, although instructors emphasize T’ai Chi Chih isn’t a religion.
Instructor Margaret Baker, who hopes to establish a free community class in Verona, said she often will do the movements as the praise team performs at her church. The practice has improved her balance and given her a sense of calm.
“I’ve been hooked on it,” Baker said. “I do something every day.”
Although T’ai Chi Chih is often attractive to older folks who are starting to experience issues with balance as well as chronic health problems, the practice isn’t limited by age.
“People don’t need to take balance for granted because they were young,” said Richardson, who has had students in their 20s and in their 80s. “We need to nurture the balance in our lives.”
Later this month, a nationally recognized T’ai Chi Chih teacher, Daniel Pienciak, will lead two workshops in Tupelo.
“We’ve had several workshops over the years,” Richardson said. “He will bring a wealth of information. He is a master in these movements.”
The advanced Seijaku workshop, Nov. 6 through 8, is drawing participants from across the country.
The T’ai Chi Chih workshop, which will be offered Nov. 8-10 would be great for beginners who want an in-depth experience.
“It’s a chance to delve a little deeper,” said Pianciak, who has practiced T’ai Chi Chih since 1995 and became an instructor in 1997. In 2012, he was appointed as a teacher trainer.
The workshop will focus on helping people perfect the movements and understand more of the principles Justin Stone used to develop T’ai Chi Chih.
“The more you discover, the more there is to discover,” Pianciak said. “That’s what hooks people. … It doesn’t become old hat or boring.”