Striking a baalance
By Megha Pai
Friday, May 18, 2012

Tai chi is about harmonising body and mind, yin and yang, movement and stillness


Those who know me well have a funny — and fail-proof — way of locating me in a crowded room. They simply look (or rather listen) for a breaking vase, a crashing food tray, a shattering ashtray… and not one to disappoint, there I am bang in the centre of the mess. So when I was invited to try Tai Chi for five days, the benefits of which include reducing stress and anxiety, increasing flexibility and stamina, improving balance and coordination, reducing number of falls — the last bit caught my attention — I thought it couldn’t hurt to try, at least not as much as my regularly bruised shins and scraped knees and elbows.

And that’s how I found myself at the Golden Eagle Martial Arts class where Master John Duval, who is a sixth Dan Black Belt from the Shaolin Temple in China, Chinese Wushu Federation Ambassador and a two-time Gold medallist at the Annual International Martial Arts Championships, teaches Kung Fu, Tai Chi and Qigong.

Day 1:

Trying not to fall on 
my butt

For the uninitiated, Tai Chi is not a kind of Chinese dish, although it may sound like one, nor does it have anything to do with a massage. Tai Chi is both a high-level martial art form and a set of meditation movements developed in China about 800 years ago.

Master John instructs the class to take the first position — standing with one leg firmly rooted to the ground and the knee slightly buckled, with the other leg raised up in the air. Everyone stays in this position still as a statue. For someone who has trouble balancing on two legs, this is an exercise in futility. Despite my efforts, it’s all I can do not to fall on my butt. After what seems to me like eternity, the group is instructed to move on to the horse stand position and begin the slow, continuous, circular, smooth, flowing movements of Tai Chi that are good for chi (or life energy) to flow through the body, healing any damage and balancing any imbalances in the process.

On the outside it may seem very simple, but trust me it isn’t. Although the movements are repetitive, and very “wax-on-wax-off”, they are hard to follow accurately every time. I feel the pressure building in my body and my arms and legs turn into jelly, shaking uncontrollably. Luckily, there is a break every 10 minutes to “shake it off”. At the end of the hour, I’m thoroughly exhausted and I sleep like a baby that night.

Day 2:

The aches and pains in my body

Horse stand, like the exercise that it gets its name from, is strenuous and takes getting used to. After the previous day’s workout, the aches make me aware of parts in my body that I didn’t realise existed. I reach the class stiff as a board, but I’m promised it will get better. And it does. The best way to relax muscle sore from a workout is to work out some more. I find it easier to stand lower and longer in the horse stand position.

Practice your horse stands,” Master John tells me, before I leave. “Practice it while brushing your teeth, when washing dishes, or when answering phones at work.” I only hope he was joking on the last one.

Day 3:

Miss coordinated, not!

“Over time you will realise that the fluidity of your movement reflects your state of mind,” Master John says. If that is a measure to go by, my state of mind is not very good today. I’m twitchy, restless and all over the place. Master John asks me to go on anyway. Halfway through, I am taught the Tai Chi walk, which is a series of movements aimed to mimic animals, whilst practicing the Tai Chi hand actions. Afterwards, he demonstrates how to use your chi to deflect a greater force and asks all the students to form a train in front of him and collectively push. As expected, the 15 of us are able to push him back. Then he collects and focuses his chi and asks us to try again. This time, we collapse like Lego blocks without being able to displace him an inch. Impressive!

Day 4:

The day it rained

Master John tells me that I am required to practice the Tai Chi walk today, but there’s a twist. And I need to do it while balancing a glass of water on my head. Meant as an exercise in self-awareness, this should improve my concentration and balance. Needless to say, I feel like little Daniel in Karate Kid, lugging it out on a boat and failing miserably. It doesn’t help that my partner in exercise is a tall, slender Russian with the grace of a ballerina. I am soaking through by the end of the hour, but at least I didn’t have to go too far in case I needed a drink. Cheers!

Day 5:

Finding my chi

On the last day, I’m able to complete the challenge I took on in the previous class sans the rain, an achievement I’d have thought impossible five days ago. The repetitive motion begins to set in and my hands begin to move more naturally, a sign that my body is sinking into the rhythm. And for a very fleeting moment, I’m able to experience a state of Sung (pronounced soong), completely relaxing mentally and physically. In order to experience this, all the muscles in the body must be at ease. Equally, the mind also must be ‘sung’, whereby there is no thought.

In Tai Chi, the objective is to become aware of and unify the different aspects of one’s being with the aspects of the external world. This is achieved when all of the correct Tai Chi postures, the correct internal principles of Tai Chi, and the methods of Tai Chi practice have been learnt and absorbed. I do not claim to have mastered or fully understood Tai Chi in just five days. On the contrary, I’ve barely managed to scratch the surface. Like most other ancient art forms, Tai Chi takes time to really transform, but I did get a glimpse of the world of good it can do — and I can barely wait for it.

Golden Eagle martial arts

In 7 words: Find calm and  balance in your life

  1. What we liked: The no-sweat workout is suitable for UAE weather
  2. What we didn’t like: It takes time to achieve results
  3. Cost per person: Dh750 per month with three classes a week
  4. Best for: A healthy mind-body complex
  5. Time needed: Each class is an hour-long session
  6. Did you know: 
Research carried out in Taiwan recently found that a combination of Tai Chi along with medication may be beneficial both to metabolism and immunity in type 2 diabetics.
  7. Rating: 7/10

Contact: For details visit:


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