Classes in Tai Chi
He’s amused by the perception that primarily slow-moving people of a certain age study Tai Chi, as though its emphases on improving body strength, flexibility and energy apply only to those who on doctors’ orders are watching their blood pressure, bone density and waistline – all of which are positively affected by studying Tai Chi and related martial arts. Indeed, besides continuing his own eleven-year love affair with the discipline, John Van Wettering, an assistant professor of psychology at Hunter College, has been expanding his teaching of Tai Chi at the college, in conjunction with Master CK Chu’s New York center. As a faculty member at CUNY, Dr. Wettering is particularly impressed by the number of men and women, from 17 to 80 and of all ethnicities, expressing interest in Tai Chi, given the “unfortunate” fact that recreational activity or physical education is no longer a requirement at most universities, and health science majors have all but disappeared. The irony does not escape him that less opportunity has been the response to growing need, as scientific studies argue for more efficient exercise of the kind that Tai Chi provides. This Saturday, April 28th – on World Wide Tai Chi Day – Prof. Wettering hopes to help educate those who show up at Bryant Park or Central Park about the benefits – and joys – of Tai Chi. There will be free lessons, demos and literature. He’s thrilled that the event will be taking place at approximately the same time as people all over the world will be holding their own Tai Chi teach-ins.
Dr. Wettering, who earned a Ph.D. in Bio-Psychology from The CUNY Graduate School and University Center, is quick to note how much Tai Chi relieves his own stress. When he’s not teaching, he is helping to manage programs at the Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center, a maximum security hospital for the criminally insane, on Wards Island. He recalls that he was initially attracted to study Tai Chi right after completing his doctoral work, and he came to see how effective it was in reducing tension. Wouldn’t any exercise claim as much? His answer is a sympathetic No. So many gyms, with their bright lights, pounding music and fancy technology actually increase stress levels. He’s pleased that much of his involvement with Tai Chi is offered to the public for free. The nonprofit Tai Chi Chuan Center of New York, for example, a community outreach program with venues all over the city, attracts a growing number of seniors and retirees. As for working people who say they have no time --what’s burdensome about setting aside a brief period of time in your own home, with low lights and no distractions, in the early morning, when energy surges really count? Such a routine would be of particular importance to college students, many of whom have to work as well as attend classes. No expensive fitness centers, no fancy equipment, no gimmicks, “just you, and you can’t get hurt,” a fact obviously appreciated by medical personnel who recommend Tai Chi as part of rebab and physical therapy.
So why aren’t more people involved? Could the term “Martial Art” be responsible? Yes, says Dr. Wettering, the discipline can involve swords and sticks (ironically, an attraction perhaps for the young), but the idea behind “martial” part is being non-aggressive: “you learn to fight so that you don’t have to.” You learn how to yield, not a bad lesson for life in general. His new goal is to attract children to Tai Chi by way of “Eternal Spring” classes and to educate parents and caregivers about the short and long-term benefits for the classroom. Does Tai Chi work? Dr. Wettering laughs, noting that one new devotee, after just the first lesson, exclaimed, on leaving, that for the first time in a long time he “felt like a million dollars.”
Further information can be found by googling Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Nei Kung, the Tai Chi Chuan Center, or simply by writing to Prof. Wettering, c/o Hunter College, Department of Psychology.#