I had a free evening last week and was scouring the internet to try and pick a new fitness class to try. After a week of walking, cycling, ‘bouncing’, my body seemed to reject any thought of a high-octane workout. I resigned myself to a night in and plopped myself onto the sofa where a recent copy of ‘Stockbridge Spotlight’ stared up at me from the coffee table. As I thumbed through the pages, a tiny ad jumped out at me ‘The Art of Chi’….. ‘Focus and Relax’….. this was PERFECT! My overworked body suddenly leaped off the sofa in excitement – a 90 minute class of gentle, flowing movement and relaxation would be the perfect complement to my normal workout routine.
Luckily this was a beginner’s class as I have never tried Tai Chi or Qi Gong. I’ve seen people doing it in the park or on TV, and it looked relaxing yet challenging as the movements were very slow, precise, requiring balance and control. From my complementary therapy training I am aware of the basic concept of Chi (also known as Qi, Prana, Ki… depending on different cultures and practices). Regardless of the name, ‘Chi’ is best described as living energy (both Chi and Qi are pronounced chee). It flows all around us and within us and this ‘flow’ keeps us healthy. We can absorb Chi from natural food, the air (breathing), the ground and the sun. Things like gentle exercise, heat treatments (steam, saunas) and massage can help Chi to flow unhindered through the body. Conversely, Chi can be depleted or blocked (potentially leading to poor health) by too much sitting/poor posture, processed foods, extreme exercise, pollution/poor air quality….. all major factors of the western lifestyle!!
OK, so I understand what Chi is and why it is important to health but I headed over to Anne’s website to find out a bit more about the class and about the practice of Tai Chi/Qi Gong. Although Tai Chi and Qi Gong originate in China, the practice was passed down from master to student and this created different ‘schools’ or ‘branches’ with varying approaches. My instructor for the night, Anne-Claire trained with Laurent Haquin in Edinburgh and practises Tai Chi following the Art of Chi School (L’Art du Chi) method, founded in France in 1988 by Vlady Stévanovitch, a Master of Chi.
Anne describes her class as “the practice of gentle and precise movements, we work on the suppleness of the joints and aim to reach a state of muscular and nervous relaxation. Our posture, stability and mobility are improved while our vital functions are stimulated. We learn breathing techniques along with our precise but relaxed movements allowing us to develop focus and inner calm”. The slow, fluid sequence of movements of Tai Chi originates from martial arts and helps to improve balance and create and circulate chi, the body’s vital energy. Qi Gong provides a complementary series of Chinese exercises for health and focus on improving core stability.
What are the benefits of Tai Chi/Qi Gong
Anne believes “… regular practice helps maintain good mental and physical health and vitality in our fast moving world” and is therefore particularly suited to all those who seek a good body/mind balance. The relaxed atmosphere is suitable for all ages and levels of fitness.
Other benefits you may experience include:
- Improved concentration and focus
- Better co-ordination and balance
- Increased core-stability
- Relaxed body and mind
- Improved strength in the lower body
- Reduced stress, tension and anxiety
- Overall sense of well-being and general health
What does a class involve?
For the beginner’s class at Palmerston Place, all I needed was to wear comfy clothes that are easy to move in, and bring a mat and a blanket (which I forgot but I was warm enough in my hoodie). No previous experience nor particular level of fitness are needed to attend Anne’s beginner classes as they are perfect for the complete novice as well as those who have practiced for a few years. Anne has designed these classes “to support you wherever you are in your practice and in your life”.
Instead of 5 or 10 minutes of relaxation at the end, this class started with 40 minutes of relaxation; like a yoga class in reverse! We began the class lying on the floor (this is where a mat or blanket would come in handy) with a guided meditation that focused on techniques for breathing, relaxing, working with the Tantien (the core) and connecting with our vital energy. This may be done standing or lying down but happily for tonight, Anne decided we looked like we needed a nice lie down :D. As I relaxed lying on my back, all I was aware of was Anne’s voice directing my breathing; using my inward breath to draw energy into each part of the body and exhaling away any tension. From the tips of my toes to top of head, I became more relaxed, the muscles became heavy as I let the floor and gravity take all the stress. By the end, my muscles were doing nothing and felt warm and slightly fatigued (I guess it is hard work to begin to let go). Slowly, slowly we began to energise and awaken our toes, ankles, fingers, legs, arms…. until finally we were ready to stand for the next half of the class.
For the second part of the class, Anne took us through the Qi Gong standing exercises. These are designed to heighten our Chi awareness, strengthen our core and improve concentration and balance.
We used a technique similar to one I’ve used in massage and Reiki to awaken our hands, fingers and wrists so that we could feel the Chi flowing through our bodies, culminating in an ‘invisible ball of energy’. It sounds odd, but it really does work! When properly energised, as you bring your hands closer together at some point you will start to feel the energy opposing the motion – like bringing two magnets together. Anne helped us to visualize this as a ball of energy. Throughout the exercises we ‘held’ the ball, moved it from side to side, up and down. (Aahhh, so this is what the people in the park were doing!!) ‘Holding’ the ball helped keep us focused and controlled our alignment and movement. If we moved erratically we would have dropped the ball!!
The movements were synchronised with our breathing; our bodies flowing left or right, depending on if we were breathing in or out. Sounds and ‘chants’ helped keep our breathing controlled. Yet as serious as it sounds, through it all Anne kept us smiling, another great relaxation technique. By the end of the sequence I could already feel the benefits of these movements. My muscles were warm and stretched, I felt a greater range of movement in my joints; mentally I was calm, connected and grounded.
If you are inspired to give Tai Chi a try, everyone is welcome at Anne-Claire’s classes. You can join a block or drop-in and pay per class.
For Class Information and Booking, contact:
Tel: 07740 564 940
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