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Graceful Gestures a Calming Influence
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Every day in community centers, parks and gyms around China, people are practicing tai chi. It looks as though they are performing some kind of dance as they move together through a series of slow and synchronized postures.

It is hard to imagine, however, that the slow, circular movements of the arms can really be exercise. But actually, the controlled movements provide healthy benefits for both mind and body.

Tai chi is a peaceful alternative to the wild antics of aerobics and is attracting new followers each day. Due to the increasing demand, Shanghai JC Mandarin Fitness Center is offering tai chi classes on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings.

Instructor Ding Zhonghua, who has practiced tai chi more than 30 years, said the exercise isn't just a feel-good workout.

"Tai chi with its focus on breathing and flowing gestures, is often described as 'meditation in motion,"' Ding said.

Its ancient roots are in the martial arts, but tai chi movements are never aggressive. They are based on shifting body weight through a series of light, controlled movements that flow together rhythmically into one long and graceful gesture.

"When people move through the tai chi postures, they are gently working muscles and focusing concentration," Ding said. "And according to Chinese philosophy, it improves the flow of Qi, the vital life energy that sustains health and calms the mind."

However, Ding mentioned every seemingly graceful move is a shrewdly conceived martial art step. The moves might look easy when performed by an expert, but the road to that seeming effortlessness needs great diligence and application.

Enthusiastic and patient, the 53-year-old makes a fine ambassador for the sport. "It appeals to people of all ages because it's not intimidating. Old people particularly like tai chi because the slow, synchronized movements are easy to learn and to perform," he said.

"It can be practiced almost anywhere at anytime, with no special equipment or clothing. But the best time is early in the morning."

Ding recommended people practice tai chi at least three times a week for a maximum of 45 minutes a session.

Tai chi takes the joints gently through their range of motion, while the emphasis on breathing and inner stillness relieves stress and anxiety. "Office workers can practice during lunch and short breaks. Even a few minutes can help dissipate stress," Ding said. "With the practice of tai chi, most office workers become revitalized, relaxed, tolerant and stronger in both mind and body."

Tai chi has stepped into the global spotlight with its gentle swirl of philosophy and well being. Its circular Yin/Yang symbol has gone on to become one of the most popular icons of our age.

Tai chi's flow-like movements have come to symbolize a lifestyle that is serene, centered and supremely balanced. Step into the tai chi tradition and you will find that the story of its origins is incredibly fascinating.

(Shanghai Daily December 13, 2006)

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