Tai Chi

If you have ever found yourself on the front side of Eliot this fall on a Monday or Wednesday afternoon,  you’ve probably seen the tai chi students practicing their slow, patient movements over by the trees.

Not quite a dance, not quite an exercise regime, the fluid motions of tai chi possess a graceful dignity that inspires tranquility in those who perform them, and even in those who simply watch. The steady, slow pace, feeling how the weight of the body gently shifts from foot to foot, how the body and head turn, how the arms smoothly rise and descend, quiets the need to rush and hurry. As one movement leads into the next, meditative awareness rises, replacing the habitual story-telling and planning that reigns over most of our waking moments.

I became a tai chi student a little over 12 years ago. I arranged my schedule so that I could get to the Reed gym twice a week for tai chi instruction and there I discovered one of Reed’s most closely guarded secrets: a full-fledged tai chi program (hand, sword, and saber form, and push hands) led by an amazingly gifted teacher/philosopher/practitioner, Dave Barrett ’79.

Dave began his own study of tai chi as a Reed student in the 70’s, a path that would lead him into the Watson scholarship program which funded his study with teachers in Asia, and then back to Portland where he became a full-time teacher (including classes at Reed since 1981), and also as an author and editor for the International Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan Association.

Some might say that doing tai chi is its own reward (a position I have slowly learned to appreciate). but a growing body of research has shown that the practice of tai chi can also bring an array of health benefits. If you would like to learn more about this practice and some of its health benefits, particularly for older people who may have limited options when it comes to exercise, check out “Living a Healthier Life with Tai Chi.” As with meditation, it just takes a few minutes of tai chi each day to inject a sense of ease and refreshed energy into one’s life.