Garuda Tibetan Taichi
garuda tibetan tai chi

10900 Menaul N.E. / Albuquerque, NM 87112
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Click here for the Albuquerque Journal 2009 Fit Magazine articles.



Tai chi movements improve physical and mental well-being, practitioners say

By Johanna King
For the Albuquerque Journal Fit Section April 2008

    The ancient art of tai chi with its slow, methodical moves and controlled breathing has found a niche in this modern fastpaced world, thanks to its physical and mental health benefits.
    Masters of the exercise say it can reduce stress, improve muscle strength and definition, lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular fitness and increase feelings of wellbeing.
    “It gives you what you lack, and it’s restorative,” says Marilyn Feeney, a tai chi master instructor and owner of the Garuda Studio of Tibetan Tai-Chi at 10900 Menaul NE.
    Master instructor Charles Lin of the Chinese Culture Center defines tai chi as “the exercise of immortality” because of its regenerative powers and overall health benefits. “Tai chi is a life force,” Lin says from the center at 427 Adams St. SE.
    The gentle, flowing movements of tai chi center on balance, physical strength, flexibility, mental awareness and “chi,” which is defined as vitality: the internal energy inherent in all things. “It’s what makes you alive,” explains Feeney.
    Chi, she says, comes into the body through breath. Tai chi takes breathing to a thoughtful level. “Every move has a coordinating breath,” she explains. “You have to think about it.”
    The discipline demands regulated deep breathing from the diaphragm. This controlled, relaxed breathing brings a lot of oxygen, a lot of chi, into the body, which helps strengthen it, heal it and rejuvenate it, Feeney says.
    Deep breathing comes from the core, the center of the body, or what the Chinese call “dan tin,” says Lin. Tai chi helps strengthen this core, internally and externally.
In harmony
The physical benefits of tai chi come from its deliberate, controlled moves. “As one portion of the body moves, the rest of the body follows,” Lin says. “You have to have perfect coordination.”
    He compares the synchronized, dancelike motions to “swimming on the ground” with resistance coming from the “unseen forces” of air and also of the body itself.
    Tai chi also focuses on flexibility, improved coordination and balance. “The maximum benefit comes not from learning the moves, but from learning how to move,” says Feeney. “Right with left, inhale with exhale, flexibility with strength.”
    Michelle Swanson, a master instructor at Garuda, says tai chi is a whole-body, non-aerobic exercise that gets many of its movements from the animal kingdom.
    There is some disagreement as to the origin of the ancient art form, but most say it was invented more than six centuries ago by a monk who, in his search for the secret to immortality, observed the movements of animals such as the crane, snake, tiger and praying mantis. The monk was impressed by their suppleness and grace, and began emulating their moves.
    Many of the tai chi moves used today are patterned after animal gestures: Feeney teaches advanced students birdlike poses, Lin has a poster hanging in his studio that instructs students to be as flexible as a snake; as stable as a crane. And Swanson shows beginners how to walk like a tiger: low to the ground with very soft, quiet steps. “You should be able to sneak up on a deer in the forest,” she says.
    Other forces in nature influence tai chi moves as well: flowing water, floating clouds, drifting leaves. Students attending a class at the Chinese Culture Center recently practiced moves with names like “sparrow’s tail,” “scoop into the pond” and “white stork spreads its wings.”
Focus on moves
In addition to the breathing and physical aspects of tai chi, an important element is the mental engagement, say the masters. “You have to think while you exercise,” explains Lin.
    Feeney agrees. Because tai chi moves are so intricate and deliberate, the body has to do what the mind wants it to do. “It’s mind over body,” she says.
    Adds Swanson, “You can’t be thinking about what you’re going to be cooking for dinner when you do tai chi.”
    Newcomers to workouts often find the required focus one of the most difficult skills to master, the experts agree. “It makes the brain work, and that’s another muscle in our body that resists work,” Swanson says. “You have to be in one place with yourself. How many times in a day are we like that, if ever?”
    In some forms of tai chi, including the Chen style taught at the Chinese Culture Center, self-defense is another aspect of the discipline. Lin calls it a true martial art that utilizes internal as well as external power. The essence of defensive moves in tai chi involves borrowing strength from one’s opponent; offensive strength comes from the ground and the surrounding environment. “Strength is floating in the air,” Lin says.
    The experts recommend attending classes taught by trained masters who can teach specific positions and how to regulate breathing. “To keep it a vital art, it has to be done correctly,” says Feeney. Her studio offers classes several times a week, and provides introductory instruction for newcomers. The Chinese Culture Center also has classes several times a week.

Leora Siegel and other students follow tai chi teacher Marilyn Feeney’s lead during a recent class. Tai chi is said to be able to reduce stress and improve muscle strength.

 Garuda Tibetan Taichi instructor Marilyn Feeney, left, works with Leora Siegel during a class.

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