Interviews with Taiji Practitioners

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Do the health benefits of Taiji apply to all ages

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Geoff Leversedge, 45; college manager and part-time Chen Style instructor based in Norwich
Q : When did you start Chen Style Taiji?
I have been doing Taiji, and supposedly Chen Style, for about twelve years. But, I have now been with Liming for the last four years. And I have got to say, that was when my proper Taiji learning started. Basically, I had been wandering in the wilderness for a while looking for a good teacher, then Liming came along.

Q: Why has learning with Master Liming proved significant?
It is the same with everything, there are going to be better and poorer quality in terms of the teaching that is going. Now, I have always believed that the closer you are to the source of the family side of things then the better chance you have of actually getting the authentic teaching. Master Liming has been trained by Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei and others, so what we get from Liming is very close to the source. And that is important because things do get diluted as with all the martial arts. Click here to read Acute Epiglottiditis in TCM.

Q: What has been your general experience of the health aspect of Chen Style?
Very positive. Before I started Chen Style I was very fit. I played squash and football. I thought Taiji was going to be a doddle. But, it was actually one of the hardest things I ever started to learn. Because I realized, very early on, that I was not flexible. That I was not as fit as I thought I was.

Q : Do you have a specific insight into the health benefits?
I had a football injury before I took up Taiji. It was my lower spine right on the coccyx. I could still play football but as soon as I started to bend in the waist I seized up, I could barely get my hands to about knee height. With regular stretching and everything else with Taiji, palms are now flat on the floor. You see, half the time you do not realise that you are carrying injuries or aches and pains. I had been getting these football injuries which did not seem to be good things to take into my old age. I took up Taiji, not knowing what it could do and found that, even though I did not seem to be working as hard, I was getting a lot more benefit from the type of exercise. Click here to read Acute Rhinitis in TCM.
Q : So what do you see as distinguishing Taiji exercise?
I see the difference between West and East. There is an awful lot of compression of muscles and joints in Western training like weight lifting and not so much of the stretching aspects which really do come out in things like Taiji and Yoga. The stretching seems, from a physical point of view, to have an enormous benefit in terms of getting rid of the aches and pains and everyday things like bad posture or not being able to touch your toes which sound silly but the knock-on effects are quite profound.

Q: What kind of knock-on effects have you noticed from practicing Chen Style?
Energy wise, enormous increases. As time went on and the practice became better, a good session of Taiji would see me, say, clubbing into the early hours of the morning when my colleagues had given up a few  hours before I mean, those are the silly anecdotal things which come to mind.
Q : Given that you also teach Chen Style, how would you summarize it?
An awful lot of people believe that Taiji is all gentle, the soft" gentle movements in the park stuff. So, the shock to the system for a lot of people is that is only one aspect to the training. There is a huge amount to the training. Through Taiji, you will become much more analytical about your own body. I mean we do not Ypay much attention in the West to what we do with our bodies. We tend to be really bad at putting our bodies into uncomfortable positions and so on. With Taiji, you will learn about how your body works and its functionality and will therefore be able to do things to help it.

Q : What are the everyday benefits of practicing Chen Style?
Through working with the body in Taiji, you get to know your own body very, very well. Because you are inwardly analyzing what you are doing, you tend to be able to pinpoint, after a while, exactly where a particular problem might be focused. And, as a result of using your Taiji training and exercise daily, you can work on that particular area to actually improve it. Click here to read Allergic Rhinitis in TCM.

Q : What of the longer-term benefits with Chen Style?
A lot of people come to my classes because they have heard that it is good for health, but do not really have a clue what is involved. It is the same with anything that you do: you need to put in the practice in order to get the benefits. And nobody should be under the illusion that it is going to be a quick fix. It is not like these adverts that say something like tummy trimmed in two months or whatever. Benefits you will get, but only if you put the effort in. And the benefits with Taiji seem to last longer because it is stretching. If you stretch a tendon, it tends to stay stretched longer than a muscle which, once it has been worked and then relaxed, tends to turn to fat quicker.

Q : Do the health benefits of Taiji apply to all ages?
They do apply to people of all ages. I firmly believe that.... I have one class of old ladies in sheltered housing. The oldest one is 92. I have only been with them about six months but, now, all of the ladies come into the room with a spring in their step. They are very chatty, lively, very keen on it. Their practice is obviously limited given their ages and bodies, but they are getting something out of it even at their age. Whilst the Taiji is tempered for what their bodies can actually take, they are experiencing benefits out of it. In terms of their dedication, their interest, and how I can see the benefits are hitting them, I have to say that they are a remarkable group. It is proved to me that it does not matter what age you come to this. Even if their mobility is not hugely improved, their minds are more active. It really has given them a new lease of life, if you like. Click here to read Peritonsillar Abscess in TCM.

Q : In your overall estimation, what is special about Chen Style?
I have got to say that Chen Style Taiji is one of the most mentally demanding things I have ever undertaken. It is intellectually challenging because of your battle with your body. You make your body do things that it is not used to doing. And there is quite a big mental challenge to this. So, from a holistic point of view, it is that never-ending mental challenge along with the physical challenge which gives the complete picture, and makes it special.

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