Dressed in loose, white, silk uniforms, four practitioners of tai chi chuan move through an array of forms and postures with names such as “grasp the sparrow’s tail,” “snake creeps down” and “part the wild horse’s mane.”
Slowly shifting weight from one foot to the other, their bodies flow from one movement to the next in a peaceful demonstration of balance and control.
Done well, it can appear fluid and effortless, but mastery of the ancient art of tai chi requires the sort of physical and mental effort that yields great benefits, Truman Woo told a small audience at the Georgia Health Science University’s Wellness Center.
“It makes you feel and look younger, and you will live longer,” said Woo, a retired mathematics professor and business owner who has practiced tai chi for decades.
Woo, 64, is a member of a group – mostly retirees – that practices tai chi Sunday mornings in Columbia County parks.
Although it isn’t as vigorous as running or working out at the gym, tai chi relieves stress and increases flexibility, he said. It makes you focus on your breathing and makes the entire body move.
“After a while, all the joints loosen,” he said. “Because all of your internal organs are moving.”
Tai chi chuan means “supreme ultimate fist” or “boundless fist” and has been practiced in China since the 16th century. There are five major styles, each named after a Chinese clan, said Leianna Rackliff, a tai chi master who moved to the Augusta area last year after marrying an American.
Rackliff, whose Chinese name is Chun Zeng, offers tai chi classes at various locations through her business, Augusta Meditation and Tai Chi.
She said tai chi is a great tool for stress relief, fitness and self-defense. One class meets Saturday mornings at Augusta’s Pendleton King Park.
Although Rackliff also teaches kung fu, she prefers tai chi because it is “more gentle and more healthful.”
Medical studies indicate tai chi does have benefits, addressing some key components of fitness – muscle strength, flexibility and balance.
In a 2006 study, Stanford University researchers reported improvements in upper- and lower-body strength in a group of women and men, average age 66, with below-average fitness, after taking tai chi classes. The study found increased flexibility as well.
According to a Harvard Medical School publication, tai chi also improves balance and could help reduce falls. As people age, their ability to sense their body’s position in space is reduced.
Tai chi helps people regain a better sense of balance and also improves muscle strength and flexibility, which makes it easier to recover from a stumble, the publication said.
Woo said tai chi helps stimulate the body’s circulatory system, nervous system and immune system, which in turn provides great benefits in the long run.
Rackliff said her husband, Jack, wasn’t keen on tai chi at first but has become a believer after seeing how it has helped with some of his health problems.
One of the men who taught her tai chi – her “teacher’s teacher” – is 102 and still lives in Bejing and does tai chi every day.
Woo said that is reason enough for people to learn tai chi. It is something you can do your entire life.
“That’s why I want to introduce more and more people to tai chi,” she said.