Slow motion: Tai chi class keeps you moving without sweating

  • By Sarah Jackson Herald Writer
  • Friday, December 30, 2011 3:09pm
  • Life

In a fast-paced world dominated by busy schedules, seemingly constant noise and inescapable stress, Phyllis Bagwell is most grateful for tai chi.

When she practices the slow, meditative movements, she always feels better.

“Everything is calmer. I move slower,” the retiree said. “It’s a sense of peace that I get. Joy.

“I wish I would have known about this when I worked.”

On a recent Wednesday morning at the Marysville YMCA, Bagwell, who lives in Granite Falls, was among 20 students who seemed to feel the same.

Moving under the calm direction of instructor Beth Preston, they looked like choreographed dancers, reaching, swaying and pausing in slow motion together.

“Everyone moving in the same way, I love that,” Bagwell said after class. “It’s just beautiful.”

Preston, 61, who lives in Snohomish and teaches around the county, is an accredited teacher of tai chi chih, a series of 19 movements and one pose.

Unlike the more common martial arts form of tai chi known as tai chi chuan, tai chi chih is a relatively new form of the practice developed in 1974 by Ohio native Justin Stone.

Both are forms of qigong, the ancient Chinese practice of using breath, movement and awareness to balance and circulate the natural energy in and around the body, known as qi or chi.

But tai chi chih, Preston said, is not a martial art or a self-defense discipline. It doesn’t require balancing, lunging or squatting moves, just slow, fluid movements of the arms and simple side to side and back and forth shifting movements with the feet.

Stone, a former Wall Street broker, poet and musician, mastered tai chi chuan after many years in Japan, India and China.

He created tai chi chih so everyone, including older adults, could take up the practice through fewer and simpler movements.

Seven years ago, Preston was a skeptical student of the practice.

“But right from the beginning, I felt a wonderful difference,” Preston said. “Tension just seemed to melt away. I had more energy.”

Preston soon became a teacher. During the past three years, she has built a dedicated group of students at the Marysville Y.

Willow Williams of Arlington, 64, said she tried numerous tai chi classes before finding the right fit with Preston’s tai chi chih, pronounced tie chee cha.

“I only have one complaint,” she said. “It isn’t every day.”

Though Preston’s class happens at a gym, it doesn’t involve profuse sweating, straining, stretching or holding poses.

Preston spends the first half of class teaching the intricacies of certain moves, such as a gentle push-pull motion with the arms while rocking slowly from one foot extended forward and one set back.

“These are small movements,” Preston told the class. “We’re not reaching out to the next county here. ” Students don’t have to coordinate their inhaling and exhaling with their movements. That rhythm comes naturally with practice.

“I’ll remind you to breathe,” Preston said.

In addition to offering stress relief, tai chi has been linked to improved physical health.

Major medical journals and scientific studies have linked consistent tai chi practice to better balance, flexibility and strength, fewer falls in older adults, better sleep and reduced pain caused by arthritis and other illnesses.

Preston spends the second half of class doing the flowing practice of tai chi chih. She turns lights down low, puts on soft background music and then moves methodically through various movements.

Though exceptionally graceful and calm, Preston is surprisingly easy to mimic. She announces the moves by name — Bird Flaps Its Wings, Around the Platter, Bass Drum and Daughter on the Mountaintop.

Afterward, Preston and her students sit in a circle of chairs set up before the start of class.

They plant their feet on the floor and close their eyes while Preston shares inspirational words and ideas for more balanced living.

It’s an experience Williams said she can’t get anywhere else.

“I feel a calm on the deepest level,” she said. “There’s nothing that calms like tai chi.

“Yoga is good, but tai chi is excellent.”

Resources

Find a class: Beth Preston of Snohomish teaches weekly tai chi chih classes at the YMCAs in Marysville (360-653-9622) Mill Creek (425-337-0123; www.ymca-snoco.org), at the Laughing Buddha Yoga Studio in Mill Creek (206-617-1672; laughingbuddhayogastudio.com) and through ArtsNow in Edmonds (425-640-1243; edcc.edu/artsnow). Go to harmony-arts.com to learn more about Preston.

Learn more: Go to www.taichichih.org to learn more about the practice of tai chi chih and to find other local accredited instructors.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Life

Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

This weekend, enjoy live music by the beach in Mukilteo, see a free movie in Everett or take in short plays in Edmonds.

Pleasant and progressive, Oslo puts its people first

Every time I come to Norway, I’m fascinated by their experiment in big government, and how little people are bothered by high taxes.

My Apple Vacations voucher doesn’t work! Can I get a refund?

A travel advisor offers Cathy Balsewich an expried $200 credit at a hotel in the Turks and Caicos. Who is responsible?

Dresden detour: Spend a day strolling this vibrant, historic German city

While its streets paint a portrait of its highest highs and lowest lows, Dresden today is in an era of cultural rebirth.

Show, don’t tell: Mindful parents set kids up to learn through experiences

How might the decisions I make for my children today set the stage for their skills, knowledge and attitudes as adults?

Homeowner Ryan Anderson sits on the bunk beds in the ferry quarters at Ferry Cove, the latest feature in the 5-bedroom waterfront vacation rental in Clinton. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
This Whidbey rental is like walking onto a state ferry

This 5-bedroom beachfront Airbnb has rooms patterned after “The Parent Trap,” “The African Queen” and the ferry Tokitae.

Photo Credit: Erik Kabik Photography/ erikkabik.com
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Everett’s Music at the Marina kicks off with Nite Wave tonight, and Harry Connick Jr. comes to Chateau Ste. Michelle this weekend.

Snohomish County PUD takes risk of wildfires seriously. You should, too.

Already this summer, wildfires have burned acres of timber in Spokane, Yakima, Chelan and British Columbia.

A real moose would gobble up your garden. Not this life-sized replica.

This zinc figure, which sold for $3,328 at auction, might even spook other wild creatures keen on eating your plants.

Great Plant Pick: Smooth hydrangea

known as smooth hydrangea or hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’… Continue reading

Beautiful Pink and Blue Hydrangea Flowers in the Garden on Sunny Summer Day
Take your summer garden to new heights with long-blooming hydrangeas

Old-fashioned mopheads and lacecaps abound, but newer cultivars bloom more and longer. Here’s how to shop for these shrubs.

Fallen soldiers are remembered during the Fourth of July parade in downtown Everett, Washington, on Tuesday, July 4, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Take in the Fourth of July in all it’s star-spangled glory, then catch country artists in Monroe and a boys chorus in Edmonds.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.