The World Health Organization defines wellbeing not just as the absence of unhealthy symptoms, but as the presence of positive emotions, high quality of life, and a sense of happiness. Given the growing number of people battling stress, depression, and anxiety in their day-to-day lives, we could safely say that not all is well when it comes to the wellbeing of people at large. These invisible diseases don’t harm the body as much as they harm one’s mind—the nerve centre, responsible for our happiness and wellbeing. People often take recourse to the ancient practices of meditation and yoga to create synergy between mind, body, and spirit. But what about old or disabled people who have restricted body movements due to age or a physical condition? The answer lies in Tai Chi, an ancient form of exercise that can be performed by anyone, irrespective of their age or disabilities.
Originally developed as an art of self-defense by the Chinese, Tai Chi has evolved into a wellbeing practice that offers a lifetime of rewards. It involves a series of gentle movements, focus, and breathing that stimulate life energy to heal the mind. Today, countless people around the world have adopted this ancient Chinese tradition to be healthy, not just from the outside but inside as well. To explore Tai Chi and its way of working, Soulveda spoke to Sifu George Thomas, founder of Fu Sheng Yuan, a Tai Chi training academy, who is on a mission to share this ancient art form with the world after learning it from the pioneers.
Tell us about your journey in the realm of Tai Chi? What motivated you to walk this path and learn this ancient practice?
My journey in Martial Arts started in 1977 when I joined a karate school and advanced to the level of sixth-degree black belt. During this journey, I participated in some international tournaments. On one such visit, way back in 1983, I happened to witness people practicing Tai Chi. I was curious to know more. After nearly a decade of exploration, in 1995, a Grand Master in the Yang style made me his disciple and trained me in Tai Chi. Since then, I have been devoted to this wonderful art, practising and teaching it simultaneously. What started as a passion has turned into my profession and I am enjoying every bit of it.
Can you explain how Tai Chi works? How do the gentle movements of the body produce a lifetime of benefits for people?
Tai Chi is a combination of physical exercise, breathing techniques, and meditation, which simultaneously makes an impact on the mind as well as the body, and helps us evolve spiritually. Tai Chi harnesses the Chi (prana) and channelises it to all the energy centres of our body. It opens up blocked areas and supplies Chi to revitalise and rejuvenate us.
Tai Chi takes time to show its effects, but when practised every day for about five to 10 years, it manifests the same results as any other martial art technique. The Chi it releases directly impacts the mind, keeping us mentally strong and alert, enough to cope with the day-to-day pressures of life. That is why many sportsmen practise this ancient art form to remain calm at crucial stages of their game. Furthermore, Tai Chi tones up muscles, strengthens ligaments, tendons, bones, and nerves, which not only makes the practice a boon for athletes but old and disabled people as well.
Tai Chi works on the cardiovascular and digestive systems too, strengthening the heart, lungs and other internal organs. Overall, it strengthens the immune system, slows down ageing process, and keeps our mind healthy. If we fall ill, Tai Chi helps us to recover faster.
There are some forms of Tai Chi that are also known as Meditation in Motion. Tell us how a practice that involves body movements helps people focus and meditate, and enhance life force?
Yang Family Tai Chi movements are like the flow of a river without any break for 21 minutes, in which one performs about 600 to 700 movements. While one practices it, the pulse rate remains constant and so does the breathing—though at times it does slow down. One must move from left to right, forward and back at the same speed and the spine, too, must remain straight without being strained. However, the most important factor is that the mind must stay in the present moment. When the mind does not wander to the past or to the future and is in the here and the now, it is meditation. The combination of all this is “Meditation in Motion” or “Moving Meditation”. I am describing the Authentic Yang Family Tai Chi and not the other styles, which may not follow the uniform pattern popularly known as “Moving Meditation”.
How is Tai Chi different from its counterpart practices like Yoga and Qigong?
Yoga and Qigong are static. Tai Chi is a combination of physical exercises, breathing techniques and motions, performed in a slow, yet graceful and sophisticated manner. When you practice Tai Chi, you don’t feel exhausted or tired, but fresh and rejuvenated. The biggest difference, however, between Tai Chi and other practices is that it can be learned at any age irrespective of your physical abilities. Even people with disabilities can learn and practice this art. It is a complete exercise for both the body and the mind.
How have you used Tai Chi as a means for your spiritual evolution?
As a living being, I have learned that each and every one of us is born with a purpose and only with a calm and composed mind can we realise our role on this planet. Tai Chi has helped me understand my purpose in life. We need to respect our fellow beings as they too have a role to play in this evolution. We need to mutually understand that we need each other to improve the quality of our lives here. Where does the question of superior and inferior arise then, if we can co-exist as equals, no matter what role we play?