Karen’s Blog

Health Benefits of Tai Chi

So why do we practice Tai Chi and Qigong?

Here are some good articles that answer the question ...

Harvard Health Publications - Health Benefits of Tai Chi

PubMed - A Comprehensive Review of Health Benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi 

Anti-Aging Benefits

Oh yes, and it’s fun!

Tai Chi - Fascia and Staying Balanced

Some very interesting blog posts written by Sam Moor, a fellow teacher of Chen style Tai Chi. 

A key outcome of Sam’s research into fascia and its role in human movement is an appreciation of the value of a ‘contemporary and scientific approach to anatomy and movement’ … click here for full article.

And click here for another of Sam’s articles about Staying Balanced.  An insightful article on Tai Chi and its essential element – balance!

What a Student!

I’ve only been teaching 14 year old Mac for 6 months and he now knows the whole Laojia Form - what an amazing achievement … well done Mac!
He’s going to learn the Sabre next.
So here you go Mac … some inspiration for you ...

Watch Your Teacher


At first you can only copy the moves of your teacher.

Don’t stop watching them - observation is key!

Keep checking that you are doing the same move as them, in the same way.  

After a while you will increase your awareness of the way that your teacher moves.

Try to notice the differences between your movement and theirs … the positioning of their foot, where their weight is, the fluidity of their movements, the speed of their movements etc.

Become very aware of the teacher's physical movement, the quality of their movement, and the essence of their movement … what are they doing, when are they doing it, how are they doing it, why are they doing it … and then try to imitate.  

Keep watching … and watching … and watching some more!

Relax and Enjoy

Tai Chi performed well can look so easy and effortless, but it can take much patience and effort to achieve the fluid, smooth and relaxed movements.

Many students get concerned that they are not doing the movements correctly.  But just stay relaxed and enjoy your practice, rather than trying to do it perfectly.  

Try to do Tai Chi and Qigong regularly, even if that is just a few minutes everyday.  It’s the consistent and regular practice which makes for steady progress. 

Try to focus on relaxing your fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, the whole body throughout your practice.

Attending a weekly class is the best way to get into a regular rhythm and it starts to build your confidence so that you can perform the movements on your own.

So practise, practise, practise ... just relax and enjoy!

F is for Fajin

Sometimes people ask me how can Tai Chi, with its slow, soft, graceful and dance-like movements, possibly be effective as a martial art?

The martial aspect is unmistakable in the external styles such as Karate, Kung-Fu, Jujitsu, Capoeira, and Judo; where the focus is on fast and explosive movements, physical strength, speed and agility.  However, in the internal styles such as Tai Chi Chuan, Xingyiquan and Baguazhang the focus is on the spiritual, relaxation of mind and body, cultivation of calmness, and the development of a clear sense and awareness, of our body's subtle energy flow, or Qi.   

As an example of Tai Chi’s martial application, let’s explore Tai Chi's sudden release of energy which is called fajin (fa jin or fa chin).  Fajin means to issue or discharge power explosively or refining the explosive, internal power or jin. This explosive power of a fajin release of energy is similiar to a sneeze, where the entire body opens and closes in an instant.  Let’s watch Chen Xiaowang demonstrate fajin ...

… inspirational!

You can see how the fajin type strikes require very short distance in which to generate power and this is because of the way that the muscles of the body are sequentially engaged from the heel to the hand; it requires the relaxed and coordinated movement of the entire body.  

The punch or kick does not have to withdraw from its target first because muscular softness allows the whole body to crack like a whip along the path through the body.

To do this you need to be:
- rooted so that you remain upright!
- sunk low into your legs so that you are able to use your waist or dantian properly
- relaxed, loose and fluid, emotionally calm and collected so that you have access the power of the whole body

To train fajin you need to practise silk reeling.  These are exercises that mimic the twisting and spiralling movements of the silkworm larva as it wraps itself in its cocoon.  Silk reeling is trained in solo exercises and forms as well as in pushing hands with a partner; with the focus on the movements being smooth, continuous, cyclic, spiralling patterns performed at constant speed with sufficient sensitivity so as not to 'break the silk as it’s pulled gently from the cocoon'.  Let’s listen and watch Chen Xiaowang describe silk reeling ...

So that’s it then … now you know … easy eh :-)

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And G is for …  to be continued

E is for Energy

When I’m not practising or teaching Tai Chi and Qigong the other things I love to do are being with friends and family, walking, gardening and photography.  All of these activities recharge my batteries, improve my overall sense of wellbeing, and increase my energy levels.

What do you think of my new photo above?  It was taken on the 2nd January 2014 while I was recharging my batteries, and walking off the holiday excess food and drink, near Bottom Wood, Whitchurch-on-Thames, overlooking the river and Purley-on-Thames.  

The views from the top of the hill were amazing.  The flooding, the sky, the colours, and the light … it was just so energising being up there.  Maybe in the good weather we could take a picnic to the top of the hill and do our Tai Chi and Qigong - anyone up for it? 

I’ll get back to the subject matter … so what is the ‘energy’, Qi, Chi thing all about ...

Qi is pronounced chee and is usually translated to mean the life or ‘energy' force, the vital-energy that flows through all things in the universe.  The concept of Qi energy in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is believed to be over 2,000 years old.  Concepts similar to Qi can be found in many cultures, for example, mana in Hawaiian culture, prana in Hindu religion, lüng in Tibetan Buddhism, ruah in Hebrew culture, and ‘vital energy' in Western philosophy. 

The word Qigong (or Chi Kung or Chi Gung) is made up of two Chinese words; Qi (or energy) and the second word, Gong, pronounced gung. Gong means accomplishment, or skill that is cultivated through steady practice. Together, Qigong means energy work or cultivating energy, and it is essentially a system practised to promote health, healing and vitality.  The aim of Qigong is to help relax the mind, and to mobilise and promote the smooth flow of this energy along our energy pathways or channels.  

Tai Chi is a type of Qigong, and by performing the movements of the Tai Chi Form with a relaxed body, natural breathing and the application of Yi (the intent or focus of the mind), we help to keep the Qi moving smoothly through the channels and aid the free flow of our internal energy. 

Regular practice of Tai Chi and Qigong has been found to improve cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic and digestive functions.  These exercise systems can be be used to reduce stress, improve blood circulation, enhance immune function and treat a variety of health conditions.  They are both great for boosting health, vitality, internal power, mental clarity and increasing our energy levels … I’m off to do some more practice ...

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And F is for …  to be continued

D is for Daily

You should practise daily!  A little once a day is much better than hours once a week …

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And E is for …  to be continued

External Event - Pushing Hands for Women Workshops

- Fridays from 13:00 to 15:00 on 21 February, 21 March, 18 April, 16 May, and 20 June
- The cost is £20 per session (for all) or £70 for five sessions (CIAA members only)
- The workshops will be held in Swallowfield, Berks
- Please contact Eva Koskuba Tel. 0118 988 9856 if you are interested

C is for Chen Style

Chen style Tai Chi is a comprehensive system of self-defence and a valuable health exercise; combining power, agility and grace. It is characterised by silk reeling exercises (chan si gong), fast and slow movements, and bursts of power (fajin).  Tai Chi emphasises whole-body relaxation, with the training of the mind taking precedence over use of our muscles!  

The history

It is believed that the Chen family settled in Chen Village (Chenjiagou), Henan Province, in the 13th century.  It is not clear how they came to practise their unique martial style, but according to family history, it was Chen Bu, a skilled martial artist who started the martial arts tradition within the Chen Village.  

Chen Wangting (1580–1660), a Ming Dynasty general, devised Chen style Tai Chi when he retired to Chen village following the fall of the Ming Dynasty, and it was Chen Changxing (1771-1853), 14th generation of the Chen family, who synthesised the forms of his ancestors and created Laojia (Old Frame).  

It was also Chen Changxing, who contrary to Chen family tradition, took the first recorded non-family member as a disciple, Yang Luchan (1799-1871).  Yang Luchan went on to popularise the art throughout China, but as his own family tradition known as Yang style.  Most modern styles (Sun, Wu, Woo and Yang) trace their teachings back to Chen village in the early 1800s.  

Until 1928 the Chen family system was only taught in and around the Chen village.   

Chen Fake (1887-1957) was responsible for the next major development in Chen style; the creation of Xinjia (New Frame).

More recently

The Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) resulted in a period of Chen style decline. To the credit of the Chen style practitioners, training was continued in secret and at great personal risk ensuring the continuation of the tradition.

During the Era of Reconstruction (1976-1989), the policy of repression of traditional Chinese culture was reversed. Under this new climate, Chen Tai Chi was once again allowed to be practised openly.  The start of the internationalisation of Chen style can be traced to 1981. 

In 1983, martial artists from the Chen village received full government support to promote Chen Tai Chi abroad. Some of the best Chen stylists became international 'roaming ambassadors' known as the 'Four Buddha Warrior Attendants’.  

These four Chen stylists Chen Xiaowang (Chen Fake’s grand-son), Chen Zhenglei, Wang Xian and Zhu Tiancai have travelled relentlessly giving global workshops and creating an international group of Chen-style practitioners.

What next

Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang is the 19th generation lineage holder of Chen family Tai Chi.  And my teachers, Karel and Eva Koskuba, are 20th generation lineage holders.

Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang's outstanding Tai Chi skills, and his personal characteristics make him highly respected around the world. He is the most outstanding Chen family Tai Chi master of his generation and a world-renowned martial artist.  Grandmaster Chen teaches in Reading May-June each year - I’ll let you know workshop dates as soon as I have more details.

I will start by teaching you Chen style Laojia (Old Style) which is traditionally the first Tai Chi form that you learn, and you will probably work on this for some years before moving on to any other forms.  

I can only hope that you enjoy learning Chen style Tai Chi as much as I enjoy teaching it!

See Wikipedia for more details.  

This is a really good book - Chen Style Taijiquan

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And D is for …  to be continued

B is for Balance

Tai Chi and Qigong can help to balance your thoughts, emotions, and body.  Regular practice can also help to rebalance your body's own healing.  

The health benefits of both these exercise systems are well known and widely researched, see this Harvard Medical School article for further details.

Tai Chi and Qigong to help balance your mind

Anything that upsets the balance of our mind, body or energy can cause stress.  Tai Chi and Qigong can help to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and can enhance your general mood and self-esteem.  There are various research papers and reviews suggesting that psychological well-being can be improved with regular Tai Chi and Qigong exercise.

Tai Chi and Qigong to help your physical balance

Our proprioception is our ability to sense the position of our body in space.  It’s this sense which declines with age, and with certain medication and medical conditions.   Tai chi and Qigong can help to improve our proprioception by increasing our awareness of our posture and the movement of our body, muscles, tendons and our joints.  Furthermore, the exercises help to improve our balance by improving all the physical components needed to stay upright e.g. leg strength, flexibility, range of motion, and reflexes.

Tai Chi and Qigong are especially useful for reducing falls - a major concern for older people.  The Department of Work and Pensions stated that “Falls affect a third of those aged 65 years and over, rising to over 40% in those aged 80 years and above".  The good news is that studies suggest that Tai Chi can help to reduce falls by up to 45%.  

Young people can also benefit.  A recent study describes the improvements in young, healthy women after practising Qigong for only 8 weeks!  

The exercises can also help people with neurological problems.  For example, they can help to improve balance for people with Parkinson’s disease.

Finding your balance

Tai Chi and Qigong are exercise systems used to promote health, healing and vitality.  Both help your mind and body relax, helping to combat the stresses and strains of modern living.  With only a small amount of regular practice, you will find your health, fitness and balance improve.  

It’s never too late to start!  See other pages for our calendar, more details on classes and fees, and information on your first class.

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And C is for … to be continued

New Saturday Morning Classes

Our new Saturday morning classes start on November 9th in Goring Heath Parish Hall

10:00 - 11:30 Tai Chi and Qigong for All 
11:30 - 12:00 Tai Chi Advanced

Other November dates are the 16th and 23rd, but no lesson on the 30th.  Always check our Calendar for up-to-date class information.

Don’t forget, if you already attend on a Thursday evening you can still come on a Saturday, anyone can mix and match classes as they need to.

I hope to see you there.

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A is for Awareness

Our Tai Chi and Qigong practice should be performed with mindfulness, with our awareness on the present moment.  Awareness is the essential ingredient in relaxation, and relaxation is simply a matter of paying attention and not doing.  When we practise our attention should be focused on both the position of the body and the feelings within the body. 

Where we place our conscious attention, our awareness, is where our Qi (energy) will flow and gather.  Integrating mindfulness with physical and mental relaxation, and with simultaneous awareness of all parts of the body, requires that we are both calm and alert at the same time.

Why not try this right now … sit comfortably, place your hands palm up in your lap, close your eyes, take a couple of deep breaths, and now put your attention (awareness), your mental focus, your concentration, into one of your hands.  Hold your awareness there for thirty seconds to a minute, and notice what happens. Anything interesting?

Many people hold their breath while concentrating.  But our breathing should not be forced, or held, and Tai Chi and Qigong help to train relaxed, natural breath awareness with movement.

Our continued practice increases our focus on the movements and starts to bring our awareness inside; how do we feel with our feet firmly placed on the ground, is our body aligned, how do the joints open and close, how can we improve the feeling of relaxation through the body.

We also need to focus and become aware of our postural alignment; ensuring that our body is upright, the head erect, spine comfortably aligned, and that our shoulders are relaxed and aligned over the hips.  

This focussed attention and awareness not only improves our Tai Chi and Qigong, but can help us to remain centred and grounded throughout the day. 

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And B is for … to be continued

What is the Dantian?

The dantian (or dantien) is loosely translated as 'energy centre’.  Our dantians are important focal points for both Qigong and Tai Chi.  

There are three dantians:

  • The lower dantian is located below the navel (about three finger widths below and two finger widths behind the navel), associated with cultivating qi or chi (energy).  Taoist and Buddhist teachers often instruct their students to center the mind in the lower dantian as this is believed to aid control of thoughts and emotions.
  • The middle dantian is located at the level of the heart, associated with storing life energy (qi) and with respiration and health of the internal organs.
  • The upper dantian is located at the forehead between the eyebrows or third eye, associated with the energy of consciousness and spirit (shen).

If you hear me say “dantian" I will usually be referring to the lower dantian.

Training Tip - When you are practising, remember that your legs give the power, your lower dantian provides the direction and the movement is expressed through your arms and hands.

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So how was your first class?

Our first Goring class started a few weeks ago, so I thought I'd check in with how you were feeling about Tai Chi, and give you a few hints and tips about the early days of your practice.

Most importantly this is not a race!  Take your time, enjoy the movements, don’t get hung up on whether or not you’re doing it right or wrong … you’re learning, it’ll take time … just become aware of how your body feels, play with the movement, and just focus on the smooth and relaxed movements.

That said, if you’re not new to Tai Chi and would like reminder of the Chen Style form movements - then click here to watch Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang performing the Laojia form.  It’s inspirational and a great training aid!

I'd love to hear how it is for you … so if you’ve got any comments or feedback then just drop me an email or give me a ring.

That’s all for now.


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Class Changes

Class dates have been updated and there’s also a new Saturday morning class starting on November 9th - alway see Calendar for up-to-date details.  

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Dates for your diary

Tai Chi in the Park 2014  

On Sunday 29th June 2014 at 14:30 Tai Chi Union of Great Britain (TCUGB) instructors, from all over the UK, will be running Tai Chi in the Park events to promote Tai Chi andother internal martial arts in the local community. Instructors, students, practitioners, friends and family will meet in various parks in Great Britain to enjoy an afternoon of Tai Chi, just as it is traditionally done in China. I'll be holding a Tai Chi in the Park event in Goring-on-Thames and will provide more details nearer the time.

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Keep up-to-date with class and workshop information, training tips etc …

© Karen Pounds BSc (Hons), PG Cert (Clin. Hyp.), BSCH (Assoc.) 2017 | Site Map |📱  07867 954 786 📧  info@karenpounds.co.uk