I am so excited to be adding a new item into my toolbox of mind-body-spirit “flowtation” devices: tai chi!

Starting this week, my sister and I (and hopefully our grandmother) will be taking a 10-week series in tai chi chuan.

It is not the first time I have dabbled in tai chi. My gym offers a class (led by a master instructor), which I’ve dropped into a few times, and then in the summer of 2010 I took a 6-week series in tai chi chih. I took the chih class during a very stressful time in my life, and that weekly gathering kept me grounded. My mind was all over the place that summer, and that one hour and 15 minutes each week was my lifeline. However, as much as the practice contributed to my well-being, in the end, I definitely felt a greater attraction toward the chuan style of tai chi.

Tai chi chuan is the style most people are familiar with, the steady flow from posture to posture that resembles an underwater dance. Tai chi chih, on the other hand, is a series of 19 movements that are done more like repetitions in a set. They are just as flowing as the movements in the chuan style, but they are not linked as seamlessly and it is not considered a martial art like chuan.

My sister, her boyfriend, and I took a free introductory class last week. My grandmother–who we’re trying to encourage to attend class–backed out at the last minute due to painful sciatica flare. We are trying to rally as many people as we can to take this class; as this article describes, there is pretty much no reason not to do tai chi. It helps improve memory and balance, can lower blood pressure, and helps reduce depression. The day of last week’s free class, as if on cue, this article popped up on my Google Reader from the New York Times wellness blog, about a study touting the benefits of tai chi for individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

Even after practicing for an hour under bright florescent lights (ugh!) and an overhead fan (on a 35-degree night–brr!), I left last week’s class feeling pretty darn good. I had been trying to get my lower back to crack all day; it had felt “stuck” since 7 a.m. Sure enough, after class I pressed my hands against my sacrum and pop! Relief. I loved the class’ gentle warm-ups, the way the movements felt like a dance to me, but one in which I had to exercise concentration and control. The instructor is also a certified hypnotherapist, and I swear after listening to his steady voice for 60 minutes, my brain had shifted into a very peaceful state of mind. It was not the workout I am used to at all, but it gave me that same focused and centered mind that I usually achieve after doing yoga.

Finding this class–convenient in terms of location, time, and cost–as well as the fact that we’ve got some family involved, makes me feel good. Really good. If only I could get the whole family to try it out, and then we could turn suburban New Jersey into a mini Beijing:

Common sight as we drove through China. (June 2006)

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