Standing tall like trees, with arms circled in front like an imaginary trunk, Paul White and his students at Pine- Strawberry Elementary School prepared for their qigong and t’ai chi chuan routines.
They held the tree position for about a minute before floating their hands down, embracing the time of relaxation during an otherwise hectic day.
“Smile because you’ve just opened your heart,” said White.
White, a soft-spoken man with black-frame glasses, wore soothing neutrals that day — a white, untucked shirt and pair of khaki pants.
This year at the Pine-Strawberry School, teachers were asked to pick topics they could teach for once-a-week enrichment classes. White, who has practiced t’ai chi since 1996, decided to pass on his knowledge to students, along with a newly acquired love for qigong.
From the start, White loved the meditative practice. T’ai chi and qigong are both Eastern practices of moving meditation. They aim to invigorate the body’s energy, which the Chinese call qi (pronounced “chi”), and unblock stopped energy. Practitioners say the movements relax the body and the mind, as well as promote physical health.
Modern researchers are finding the practices help with depression, anxiety and stress, along with a host of physical ailments.
Qigong features specific, repetitive movements. For instance, you might stand with your hands outstretched to the side, move them to the center, and then back out to the side for several minutes. T’ai chi chuan, however, organizes patterns of movements like in a dance.
White said he loved t’ai chi chuan from the start.
“It was just amazing and I haven’t stopped since,” White said.
“I felt an effective workout after just one day.” He thought to himself, “Imagine what a week, a month could do.”
The practices build strength, balance and flexibility through holding poses, while engaging and strengthening core muscles. T’ai chi poses come with names like “wave hands like clouds,” and “dragons stirring up the wind.”
White said that six or seven students usually come to his once-weekly, 45-minute class.
However, a series of activities took some students away the day the Roundup visited, and just two students attended the class.
Students Armondo Chambers and Alex DeHart said that they first thought the practice strange, but they now enjoy it.
“It’s relaxing,” said Chambers. “It’s like a moving form of meditation.”
DeHart said, “I don’t like being still, so it was kind of ‘uh-oh,’” at first. But now she finds the movements calming.
White led the students through a warm-up, and then turned on a t’ai chi video he uses at home, occasionally pausing it to explain the sometimes complicated movements.
The practices basically involve defined arm and leg movements, shifting and extending in a flowing pattern.
White said after grasping the video’s movements, the entire routine of 19 movements takes just six or seven minutes.
Different patterns of t’ai chi exist, and some include a more lengthy practice.
“The movements are so slow and controlled that, over time, your body gets used to the patterns,” said White. They become easier to execute, more readily flowing.