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North Hills Monthly

Focusing the Mind and Body through Tai Chi

Jan 01, 2017 02:24PM ● By Shelly Tower Rushe

Photo courtesy Helena Trent

The connection between the mind and the body can be a very powerful one. If your body is in pain, often your mental health suffers and vice versa. Excessive stress can also cause both physical and mental symptoms. For some, the answer is traditional medicine; for others, it’s Tai Chi.

Tai Chi, explained simply, is a series of 108 movements that help focus your mind to connect to your body. The movements are taught a few at a time, and it takes approximately three months to learn the entire series. Ernest Rothrock owns Rothrock’s Kung Fu, located in Wexford, South Side, West Mifflin and Butler. He starts all of his Tai Chi students with the 24 Yang style, which he describes as the most popular form in the world. 

“The 24 means that there are 24 postures to learn and they are done together like a dance routine,” Rothrock explained.  

Helena Trent has been teaching Tai Chi for over a decade. She moved to the Pittsburgh area from San Francisco and started a McCandless branch of the nonprofit Taoist Tai Chi Society. Trent explains that Tai Chi is considered a moving mediation, practiced as both a physical exercise and spiritual process.  

“Tai Chi benefits include reduced stress, increased strength, and physical and mental balance,” said Trent.

Rothrock concurred. “It’s performed in a slow and gentle manner,” he said. “In every movement, the entire body must be light and comfortable.”

Trent got involved in Tai Chi in her early 30s. She had a 1-year-old, owned a business, and just needed peace and quiet. 

“Meditation annoyed the heck of me!” she laughed. “I couldn’t keep my mind still. I kept thinking of everything I could be doing instead of just sitting.”  

Trent explained that the practice is about yin and yang: balancing stillness and movement and movement and stillness. “When you are sitting, your mind is moving and when you’re moving, your mind is still,” she explained. 

Often lumped in with martial arts practices such as karate, Tai Chi is considered a “soft” martial art and is not practiced for self-defense specifically. 

“Tai Chi means ‘the Supreme Ultimate’ in terms of martial arts,” explained Trent. “It’s the highest level of perfect stillness and balance, which is important in being able to respond to your opponent.” 

There are no belts in the practice and it is not achievement-oriented. “It’s peace and quiet oriented,” said Trent. 

According to Rothrock, there are forms of Tai Chi that are meant to assist with self-defense but the majority of instructors do not teach them. 

Trent and Rothrock agree that Tai Chi is perfect for all ages and all physical abilities, with Rothrock adding that personal care homes are using Tai Chi as a replacement for physical therapy exercises because of its benefits for those with balance issues. As for the physical challenge, “Even if you can’t walk, Tai Chi can be done in a chair,” said Trent.

“Our body is extremely intelligent; we are born into this body for a reason,” she continued. “Tai Chi brings us in tune with our internal intelligence that allows us to be present. The physical body becomes a gateway rather than an obstacle.”