The YMCA of Central Kentucky has been offering Tai Chi Meditation classes for over 20 years, primarily taught by the Central Shaolin group led by Master Hiang Kwang Thè & Master David Cubine. Tai Chi is a meditative art and exercise system developed in China hundreds of years ago often described as “meditation in motion.” Tai Chi combines mental concentration, slow physical movements, and focused breathing techniques to improve overall health, as well as manage stress, increase strength, cognition, and improve balance and flexibility.
Master David Cubine, who co-authored the book, “Lee Family Tai Chi: The Ancient Art for Ultimate Health,” with Master Thè, offered the Y more information and answered some frequent questions about practicing Tai Chi:
Q: What are some of the benefits to practicing Tai Chi?
A: The benefits are many. Many of the leading medical and scientific institutions such as Harvard Health, the New England Journal of Medicine, UCLA, and the Veterans Health Administration employ Tai Chi or have published recent research on the benefits of Tai Chi and meditation, including improvements in balance, core strength, joint health, and added flexibility on the physical side. They also cited improvement with mental and emotional issues such as memory, dementia, and depression. Studies have also cited successful treatment of diseases like Parkinson’s, arthritis, and other conditions.
Tai Chi certainly does not replace one’s physician care or medical treatments, but it has been shown to provide a very useful and complementary addition, integrating with that care. Anecdotally, we had a student walk into her first class with an oxygen tank in tow, then walk out of the last class 12 weeks later without it. Another particular student went through multiple rounds of cancer chemotherapy off and on over a 12-year period. She amazed her doctors with her resiliency to keep coming back and regaining her strength to fight another day. And her oncologist even joined the class.
Tai Chi practitioners often notice improvement in everyday activities like lifting groceries, pushing doors open or catching things that fall. And they most definitely find their overall breathing and respiratory system has improved, a key to good health.
Q: Can anyone practice Tai Chi? Do I have to have any special type of training or skills? Is it karate or similar martial art?
A: Tai Chi can be practiced by anyone, regardless of their current physical condition or age. We have women, men, and teens from age 16 to some in their 80s that participate. Tai Chi is low impact and the postures are more upright and less demanding than many in yoga, for example. Yes, Tai Chi began as a more traditional martial art and we do use Tai Chi’s principles of sensing force and the concept of “soft” and “hard” in our higher level martial arts classes for self-defense training and sparring, and we almost always do Tai Chi at the end of our 2-4 workouts as a way to recover and re-energize. But the health aspect of Tai Chi is the emphasis of the specialty Tai Chi classes that are open to the public, and not the combat or fighting aspect. No kicking and punching required!
Q: Can Tai Chi be beneficial for senior practitioners or others who may not be able to perform all of the postures fully?
A: It’s definitely a good practice for seniors. Tai Chi is great for improving your balance to prevent falls, is gentle enough to be easier on the body than many higher impact exercises, and has been found to help slow the aging process. And yes, certain postures can be modified to allow for those with physical limitations. The main adaptation is for postures where you raise up and balance on one leg. You can modify those postures by placing the raised leg so that the ball part of that foot lightly touches the floor next to the other leg. You can reduce the amount you bend the knees and lower the body on many of the deeper stances. You can also use a chair for support. We’ll practice with setting a chair near you and hold on with one hand while moving normally with the other hand. We cover all of those options in class.
Q: Can Tai Chi also be used to improve athletic performance?
A: Yes, Tai Chi practice can greatly benefit athletic performance. It not only improves the physical attributes of balance, flexibility, and core postural strength that are important in almost every sport or physical activity, but real gains can be made on the mental side, especially with the mind-body connection, heightened awareness, and reducing stress and performance anxiety.
Q: I’m not sure Tai Chi is for me. Is there a way I can try it without a long-term commitment?
A: We divide our Lee Family Tai Chi course at the YMCA into eight-week increments, so it’s excellent for “dipping your toe in the water,” so to speak. Just one class meeting is usually not enough to get a sense of the benefits or your ability to perform the techniques, so we encourage you to give the practice at least one full eight-week session. You are also welcome to come and observe a current class to get a sense of what is involved and what we do.
Q: What is your background and experience with teaching Tai Chi?
A: I have been studying and teaching martial arts, including advanced training in Tai Chi, Chi Kung and other “internal” arts for over 45 years under the direct supervision of Grandmaster Hiang Kwang Thè, achieving the level of 9th Degree Black Belt. I am also an American Tai Chi and Chi Kung Association Certified Master Level Tai Chi Instructor, their highest level of certification.
Master Cubine has a new Beginner Tai Class starting on Saturday, March 2 from 11 a.m.-noon at the C.M. Gatton Beaumont YMCA. This session is a Part One Beginner Level. You will learn the first half of the Lee Family Tai Chi form as well as Chi Kung breathing techniques and exercises to enhance your practice. You can enroll in person at your local Y or online here. For additional questions, Master Cubine can be reached at email@example.com.