Taoist Tai Chi: one way to avoid wheelchairs and find balanceWednesday, September 25, 2013 by: Steffanie Petroni
Pat Buck is a member of the Taoist Tai Chi Society.
In 2001 a medical specialist gave Buck a diagnosis of arthritis severe enough to warrant his suggestion to begin making her living environment wheelchair accessible.
"He actually gave my husband blueprint plans to put a wheelchair ramp on our house,” Buck told SooToday.com.
She traveled from New Liskeard to take part in a regional workshop for Fung Loy Kok Taoist Tai Chi Society hosted by the local Taoist Tai Chi Society.
“We in the north, and that includes Timmins, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay and New Liskeard, feel that we are all part of one family. When either area is hosting something special we’ll try to come out to support it.”
Buck has been practicing Taoist Tai Chi since 2000.
Twelve years later, Buck is a tai chi instructor in New Liskeard.
“Well, I’m definitely not in a wheelchair but I do work very hard at Tai Chi. I practice an hour every day on my own and go to classes when I can. Some days I am in pain but I continue to do it and work through my discomfort. And working as an instructor helps me because I’m helping others.”
Judith Milne, international director of Fung Loy Kok Taoist Tai Chi Society
Judith Milne was an early student of Master Moy Lin Shin, founder of Taoist Tai Chi.
She has since become an international director of the non-profit organization ‘Fung Loy Kok Taoist Tai Chi Society’.
She is an instructor and is qualified to teach all over the world.
Milne was in Sault Ste. Marie this past weekend offering a special workshop to about 50 members of the local Taoist Tai Chi Society.
As is customary in all locations around the world, any member of the international society was welcome to attend.
“There are lots of different styles of tai chi but we connect definitely to the Taoist arts. There are a banquet table of offerings. Nobody has to do anything because there is no compulsion. I came in doing Taoist Tai Chi but now I chant, I meditate and I am often part of the temple rituals and ceremonies. But I am also Jewish. So it’s not about fighting with things.”
Milne elaborated that the Taoist arts are for all faiths.
“The only barrier would be on the other side. Some orthodoxy’s aren’t so keen on it. Many people of faith would say and for myself as a Jew I actually pay more attention to my Judaism as a result of being a part of Taoism. There’s no competition, no proselytizing to get you to change to one thing. It’s a multi-faith approach. It can accommodate so many things. For a number of us that are not tied so tightly to believing in a God find it refreshing that a lot of things are read metaphorically rather than literally. And for those who read it literally that’s fine too.”
What is Taoism?
By Milne’s explanation, Taoism is an ancient spiritual practice.
“Some people think of it as a philosophy. It’s very close to Buddhism or Confucianism. It’s about openness, it’s about not being closed to change. It’s about being a part of a natural cycle but in Taoism we try to return to our original nature and our original bodies. So in and ideal way we would like to be just like babies again -that softness, not fighting the world. In terms of the physical and in terms of the spiritual, we would like to be good people.”
There are about 5,000 instructors in the Taoist Tai Chi Society.
“Every instructor in the international society does not get paid to do this. We’re a registered charity in this country," said Milne. "We’re working on reformulating that to become an international charity. Our charitable act is teaching the Taoist arts because they are associated with a Western form of good health.”
The Taoist Tai Chi Society is moving towards taking the name ‘Fung Loy Kok’. The name means the ideal island - a place where immortals went when they were enlightened.
“It is a metaphor for ideal life.”
The Banquet Table that Milne referred to earlier offers up the Taoist moving arts as well as chanting, meditation and scripture study. For those who are just interested in Tai Chi that’s ok but Milne emphasises that even that one component of Taoism is spiritual.
“Tai Chi is in itself a spiritual practice. It becomes meditative. At the initial stage you would hear a lot of people say that they’ve changed. A lot of things happen where you calm down and fell less stressed by the things that used to create stress.”
Tai Chi can be practiced alone but Milne commented, “Most of us would tell you that while we are doing this or that or chanting, doing it alone doesn’t have the same feel to it. One of the big pieces in what we do is about harmony.”
What are the benefits of Taoist Tai Chi?
In Milne’s opinion, myriad.
“In terms of the West the benefits are multiple. Every tendon, ligament and muscle gets stretched through your body so the body opens and circulation improves, and energy levels go up. People with headaches stop having them, arthritis is challenged and pushed back. Flexibility, mobility and range of motion all get better.”
When done properly the practice of tai chi can lower one’s centre of gravity.
This has been a note benefit for older people.
Milne expanded, “It is documented that seniors fall less and if they do fall, they hurt themselves less. Most of us hold ourselves up with our diaphragm, shoulders and chest but the more you practice tai chi, the more you let the elastic expand and contract- not bunch up, and that means that more of everything naturally drops. But we’re really used to holding ourselves up however, in our best practice the best posture is through your skeleton.
"They are some ‘back institutes’ that tell people that they have to get the back muscles and the stomach muscles all tight and balanced out. Well, we would say ‘no, what you need to do is let them go so that the bones can hold you up’. But it’s a tall order because we’ve [western society] have been taught to do everything by clenching muscle.”
According to Milne the benefits don’t stop with physical improvements.
Taoism is a holistic practice that brings together the body, mind and spirit.
“When you attach to the East the benefits become inner as well. People feel more tolerant, less stress. They feel more open. But the key thing is that people open up to giving. So now you are accessing your better nature.”
Sault Ste. Marie Taoist Tai Chi
Barbara Patriquin (above) is an international member of the international Taoist Tai Chi Society and the location leader for the Sault Ste. Marie branch of the Fung Loy Kok Taoist Tai Chi Society.
She was a registered nurse when she first became acquainted to Taoist Tai Chi.
“I was involved in a pilot project about fall prevention, osteoporosis and that kind of stuff. The gerontologist that came to town to talk to our group mentioned that tai chi was such a good thing for seniors. But at the time my job was stressful and that was really the main reason why I did it. After a few classes, I noticed a change in how I felt and I’ve been going ever since.”
For those interested in checking out the local Taoist Tai Chi Society the group will be hosting registration next weekend on Saturday, September 28 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“Everyone is welcome to come by and tour our building and gather more information and there will be members practicing their sets,” said Patriquin.
Perhaps because of her first introduction to tai chi through her health background Patriquin is quick to reinforce how tai chi is accessible to all people.
“Our health recovery classes are quite wonderful," she said. "We have people that come who have Parkinson’s, paralysis, multiple sclerosis, people who have had strokes, severe arthritis, head injuries - we can accommodate anyone!”
Patriquin reinforced that she would like to see more young people join the local group.
“This isn’t just for older people. After I give out information to someone a lot of people will say that they’re going to pass the information on to their mother. And I often say back to them ‘well you know it would be good for you too’. In fact I wish I had started this when I was much younger. For me now, it’s a lifelong thing now. I can’t imagine not doing it.”
Master Moy Lin-shin, founder of Taoist Tai Chi
The Fung Loy Kok Institute of Taoism was founded by a Taoist monk, Master Moy Lin-shin.
As a young boy in China he was quite ill. His parents brought him to the Temple where the monks guided his healing, teaching him Tai Chi, Lok Hup and Taoist meditation.
In 1970 Master Moy immigrated to Canada and vowed to share the healing art of Taoism to Westerners.
He began his teaching in downtown Toronto with just a few students.
He passed away in 1998 but his legacy lives on in the 40, 000 practitioners of Fung Loy Kok in twenty-six countries.