Reflecting on my Tai Chi experience

In my forties a number of people suggested that I would benefit from and enjoy Tai Chi. At the time I thought I did not have time to add another activity to my over-busy life as a parent and full-time worker. Two decades later, prompted by my 60th birthday and a health scare, I arrived at the Box Hill centre and nervously started in the class.

That was over six years ago, and how pleased I am that I found the Celestial Tai Chi College. Mind you, my first thoughts were not “Eureka, this is what I have been looking for”! In fact I was rather daunted by everybody else’s competence and my body’s unwillingness to learn new tricks. I recall feeling quite frustrated by the slowness with which I was able to learn new moves, and I began to understand why several of my friends had started tai chi but then abandoned it.

Grand Master Eng Chor Khor and my other patient teachers were uniformly encouraging, although they also stressed the need to practise. Eng Chor would often tell us beginners that, although progress might appear slow, we would see it with the passing of time. And we did! I was diligent with my homework and completed each level with a real sense of pride. I didn’t break any records with the amount of time it took me to complete the 108 moves, but complete them I did.

While I was focussed on achieving some mastery over my limbs, however, I was surprised to discover almost immediately that I was gaining some benefits from Tai Chi. First, I noticed that my balance had improved really quite significantly. I say that I was surprised, because I found the balance exercises in the class quite difficult, but there I was at home putting on shoes and socks standing on one leg, without any effort on my part. I then noticed that walking up hills had become easier; I am a keen bushwalker, and clearly the leg muscle strengthening that is an important part of tai chi was yielding benefits in other parts of my life.

One of my daughters recently asked me what I saw as the benefits of Tai Chi. In addition to the physical benefits I have already mentioned, I believe that I am now more ‘grounded’; that is, calmer and more able to enjoy the moment. Interestingly, my daughter confirmed that she had noticed this change in me. I am also aware that tai chi acts as a form a meditation for me, and so I practise it when I am stressed or wanting to slow down. Eng Chor encourages us to practise our tai chi in the morning, but I have to confess that it is very good to do it at night, as it improves sleep.

Another benefit is the social side of Tai Chi. I loved my regular Monday nights with a very friendly and welcoming group of instructors and fellow practitioners. I say “loved”, because I have recently moved to Castlemaine, and unfortunately Monday evenings in Box Hill are not at all practical. As I was very keen to continue with my Tai Chi, I have found a group that meets in the Botanical Gardens here every Sunday morning, under the instruction of Cat Lummis.

The Celestial Tai Chi College park sessions were always a highlight for me, so practising Tai Chi every week as a ‘park session’ is a lot of fun. We are surrounded by tall trees that are home to an amazing array of birds, many of which seem to take an interest in what we are doing. For a few weeks a powerful owl appeared to be supervising our activity from on high, and this morning a pair of corellas was minding a nest in a hollow of a nearby tree, a duck sat in a branch watching us and all around were cockatoos, wattle birds, galahs, more ducks and many small bush-hugging birds. I don’t include this list as a nature study, but to show how connected I feel to the Earth’s chi as I try to enhance my own.

I am very grateful to the Celestial Tai Chi College, especially everybody at Box Hill, for the help they have given me in improving my quality of life. I would like to give special thanks to my instructors, including Eng Chor, of course, with his thoughtful reflections at the beginning of sessions, but also Snezana Dabic, who keeps the Box Hill centre rolling, and Edward Yong, who tried – with limited success! – to teach me the 42 form.

Cathrine Harboe-Ree
Student, Box Hill Evening Centre

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Updated: 5 October 2019