Health Tai Chi in Devon


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Mental health and tai chi

Today, one of my first students ever sent me a lovely email from Canada, where she is now based. She shared a video with me in which the link between martial arts and mental health is discussed. I have been wanting to write a post about this link for a long time. This video has inspired me. Here are my reflections and the youtube video.


  • Tai chi helps reconnecting mind and body: The link between body and mind seems to have been lost after centuries of scientific discoveries. Nowadays, research is starting to make this link and scientists all over the world are embracing the fact that mind and body are connected. If you treat the body, the mind will improve. If you treat the mind, the body will improve.
  • Flowing energy with tai chi: In Chinese medicine such separation does not exist. Doctors talk about yin and yang balance or qi flow in the body. If the energies in the body are flowing normally and there are no blockages, a person is considered to be healthy. If there are blockages in the energy flow, a doctor will treat the patient to prevent illnesses, mental or physical. Tai chi can help unblock and balance a person’s energy, benefiting one’s physical and mental health.
  • Mindfulness and tai chi: Mindfulness seems to have become a very fashionable word that many mental health practitioners are adopting to treat depression and other mental conditions. Focusing on the now, being present. A full range of exercises has been adopted to help a person with mental health issues. Mindfulness and tai chi have a lot in common. Tai chi is a mindfulness practice because a tai chi teacher will help the student to focus on the present moment.
  • Learning from experience: A good tai chi teacher is able to stay present while teaching so that students can experience for themselves what this means, as opposed to learning it in a book or through exercises. Mindfulness doing tai chi is felt by the students, who leave the classes feeling much better, not knowing exactly how. If mindfulness can be beneficial in the treatment of mental health conditions, and I believe so, then tai chi can also be useful to improve one’s mental health. And also physical health. Remember there is no separation.

Now, I leave you with the video so that you can listen to it for yourselves.

“Martial art is not a sport. Martial art is a way of life.” Sia Alipour, Taekwondo Practitioner

“It is a lifelong practice of self-development.” Dr. Tamara Russell, Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London

“What it helped me do is actually be present.” Athos Antoniades, Kenpo Taiji Association.

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Free tai chi classes in Devon 2014

Here I am, based in Devon, living in beautiful Teignmouth and looking forward to start teaching in this amazing region. At the moment, I am actively promoting my qi gong classes in Exeter city centre starting next Monday at 12pm. Tomorrow, my classes will kick off as I’m starting to teach qi gong in Totnes at 11.30am. The list is practically full, and my excitement is growing as the day goes by. I will also teach tai chi in Totnes at 12.30pm. If you haven’t booked your place in one of my courses, please do so, as there are no many spaces left. 

My other tai chi courses will start next week: in Teignmouth and Dawlish. These courses will be very similar. Because Teignmouth and Dawlish are very close, I am offering free tai chi classes to anyone who wishes to train more than once a week. That means that if you join the paid Dawlish course for Tuesdays at 6pm, you can go to Teignmouth for free tai chi classes on Thursdays at 6pm. Or if you join the paid Teignmouth course, you can go to Dawlish for free tai chi classes on Tuesdays at 6pm. If you only want to do tai chi once a week, that is perfectly okay too.


Having free classes to complement your paid classes can be useful if you are not too good at practicing at home and would like to make tai chi an important part of your healthy lifestyle. Some of the exercises that you will learn in my tai chi and qi gong classes, you will be able to incorporate in your daily lives, as you learn about body awareness and mindfulness. But if you wish to improve your movements, posture, or simply move more regularly, do come along to two days a week. The price will be the same.

So no excuses now. Time for tai chi classes. Time for qi gong classes. Time to come along and start moving. Remember that every movement counts. Call 07437 332032 and book your course.



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The Tai Chi Sphere

By Sorcha Hegarty

Tai chi seems to be full of circles. We have already talked about the symbolic connection to the Taijitu symbol, but that seems rather an esoteric point for what is, fundamentally, a martial art. And yet, circular motions are at the heart of practicing tai chi. The circularity of the movements is there by design. Movements on a curved line are efficient, conserving energy, and if the curve is shortened suddenly, that energy is condensed into tremendous force. The ancient masters who developed tai chi knew what they were doing, and graceful as the form is, the martial application is never out of sight!

Tai chi symbol

Some tai chi teachers talk about the tai chi sphere. This is a way of visualizing your personal space, getting to grips with the way that qi extends beyond skin and bone, and understanding the underlying structure of the movements. When practicing tai chi, picture a sphere that extends down to the floor, resting on one spot, with its centre point at your centre of gravity (the dantian). This sphere moves with you, its outer surface is the reach of your arms, but it is symmetrical, extending above your head and behind your back where you can’t see.

Visualizing the sphere also draws you focus to which foot should carry the majority of your weight. In the form, aside from the opening and closing stances, there are few moments when the weight is evenly distributed on both legs. Usually, one leg bears at least a little bit more weight. A sphere only connects to the ground at one point, and so it’s ready to roll or bounce in any direction. Try to visualize the sphere moving with your weight, with the point that connect to the ground passing from left foot to right as you move through the form.


Another property of a sphere is that the outside rotates, while the centre is still. When practicing tai chi, we know to try and let our movements flow from the dantian. A sphere also has a straight axis going right up through the middle. Let your spine become this straight axis. As you move your body through the tai chi form, it stays straight and relaxed, never bending or leaning, while the arms, legs and hips rotate around it. The centre is held straight while the movements in flow around it.

In combat between opponents, the tai chi sphere helps you to stay centred, and to find the best way to counter their movements: with the precision, balance, and “spring” of a sphere.

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2014

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Yin and Yang – Complementary Opposites

By Sorcha Hegarty

In Western culture, we’re used to thinking of opposites as being in conflict with one another. A lot of our stories are about Good vs Evil, Light vs Dark, Hero vs Villain. These opposite forces are in opposition (see, it’s right there in the language!), and each one has the goal of completely annihilating the other. They are framed in such a way that we understand that one is better and the other is worse, even if it isn’t immediately apparent which is which. We expect it to be so. Good, after all, is just better than evil!


 We aren’t used to thinking about opposites as being in harmony, or needing one another to exist. And yet, without understanding their fundamental interconnectedness, the concept of Yin and Yang is difficult to grasp.


Yin and Yang are opposites, and they constantly consume one another. We can see this in the famous Taijitu symbol, which looks as if it’s in motion even when it’s still. Yin, the dark half, is still, passive; associated with night, the moon, and the feminine. But in its centre, Yin creates a little point of Yang. Yang is dynamic, active; associated with daytime, sun and the masculine; but in the heart of Yang, it activates a little seed of Yin. Neither one can exist without the other. Imagine if you had to choose between never being still or never resting: you couldn’t do it. And even if you could, whichever option you chose would quickly become unbearable. The two principles have to exist in harmony, in balance.

yin & yang

There is a regular progression in the world where Yin takes over from Yang and Yang from Yin. At this time of year, in Ireland, Yin’s deepest point, midwinter, has passed, and a little bit of Yang is coming back into the world. We can see it in that slight stretch in the evenings, a little bit more sunshine seeping into the wintry days. The cycle of the seasons; like the cycle of days; follows the pattern of Yin/Yang, in stately harmony. Yin and Yang goes beyond the subtle energy, or qi, that we discussed in previous posts; Yin and Yang is the interplay of all the opposite elements that make up existence (though of course, qi has a Yin/Yang aspect to it, too.)


Taichi can be seen as a way of applying the principles of yin and yang to the human body. It balances movement (Yang) and stillness (Yin); attack (Yang) and defence (Yin). The circular patterns of tai chi movements are said to be based on the Taijitu symbol itself; so that every motion made echoes the harmonious duality of the universe.

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2014

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4 tips to choose a tai chi teacher

If you wish to start a tai chi class, sooner or later, you will have to face this decision. So what to do? Will you choose the first one on google search list? Maybe the 3rd or 4th because they are probably less expensive? Will you pick up the name that resonates with you or perhaps have a quick visit to each website and see which one you prefer? It is not easy to choose a tai chi teacher and here are a few tips that may help you:

1) Check the teacher qualifications

There isn’t a standard accreditation for a tai chi teacher all over the world, but most qualified tai chi teachers will be able to tell you who they train with and explain their Chinese lineage. This may also appear in their website. If it doesn’t show in their website, ring a tai chi teacher and ask.

It may also be wise to check their masters’ website. They would generally have a list of current qualified tai chi instructors.

2) Asses your availability and willingness to commit

If this is your first time approaching a tai chi class and you don’t have much time available, it would probably be better if you choose a local tai chi teacher. What you wish to create is a habit of becoming healthier. If you need to make too many efforts to go to a tai chi class, you’ll end up finding lots of excuses for missing them.

If you have done tai chi before and are looking to seriously commit for your health or personal interest, look for what you consider the best.

3) Choose the approach you prefer

Most tai chi teachers will mainly focus on one, two or three of these approaches: martial applications and self-defense, health and spirituality. Pick the one you are more interested in. Most tai chi instructors will touch on the three approaches, but emphasize one or the other. Choose the approach you prefer and your teacher accordingly.

4) Select a teacher you like and trust

An American tai chi instructor told me once that he had done many martial arts in different places in the USA and he had gotten to one conclusion: it is not the martial art you do; it is the teacher who teaches it who is going to influence how you learn. There are many good tai chi teachers in Dublin, so pick a tai chi instructor that you resonate with. If you don’t like or trust your instructor, it doesn’t matter how many qualifications s/he has, you will not be embracing his or her teachings.

So choose tai chi instructors that you like and make you feel good while you’re learning.

Tai chi can be very rewarding, so choosing the right teacher is important. Check how committed you are to tai chi, check your local area for teachers, find out about their qualifications and approach, and make sure you will have fun with your new teacher.

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Dantian: The Powerhouse

By Sorcha Hegarty

In the last article, Qi – Small Word, Big Concept, we talked about qi, the life force and vital energy that underpins the basis for tai chi and qi gong practices. Qi comes in many forms, and is stored in the body in the dantians.

Dan_tiansThere are three main dantians in the body: the Shang Dantian in the forehead, connected with consciousness and spirit, the Zhong Dantian at heart level, is where the Gu Qi (from the food and drink we consume) and Kong Qi (from the air we breathe) mix together into a form that the body can use, and the lower Xia Dantian, about three fingers below the navel, is where the acquired qi is combined with the Yuan Qi (the life essence inherited from our parents) to form True Qi.

Usually, in tai chi and qi gong, when someone mentions the dantian, it’s the Xia Dantian that they’re referring to. This is also known as the “golden stove” of the body, and in terms of cultivating qi, it’s the most important one to focus on.

In purely physical terms, the Xia Dantian is located three thumb-widths below the navel, and about two thumb-widths in. This is the human body’s centre of gravity. When we’re moving, fighting and trying to keep our balance, focusing on moving from this point and maintaining an awareness of the centre of gravity helps keep us stabilized, and makes it harder for an opponent to unbalance us.

The dantian is so important to qi, though, that the emphasis on it goes far beyond the fact that it’s the centre of gravity. The lower dantian is the body’s powerhouse – where all the vital energy is stored. When we focus on the dantian in meditation, breathing, standing, and during the movements of tai chi and qi gong, it doesn’t just keep us physically rooted. Cultivating a strong store of qi helps keep us emotionally grounded throughout our lives. It’s very easy to be derailed by other people’s stresses and dramas as we go through life. That sense of calm that we can feel during qi gong or meditation is quickly lost in the hustle and bustle. The dantian is like the roots of a tree, holding us steady against life’s buffets and blows.

In traditional Japanese culture, the dantian is called the “hara”, or belly, and masters of calligraphy or martial arts are said to be “acting from the hara” – what we might call being “in the zone”.

LeafTai chi emphasises being both hard and soft: being strong and flexible at the same time. Think of a tree with deep roots and very flexible branches: the branches can move freely, responding to whatever the wind blows their way, but the connection with the ground is never lost: the tree stays firmly placed and strong, bending but not breaking. Energy follows attention, so keep your mind on your dantian, and watch your qi grow.

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2013

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Body awareness

by Sorcha Hegarty

It’s surprising, how easy it is to ignore our bodies. You’d think that would be hard to do: there they are, after all, with us all through our lives. But did you know you can always see your nose? It’s true! No matter where you look, your nose is in your field of vision, and I bet you’re noticing it now. It just goes to show how efficient our minds are at “editing out” information.


Some of us are better at ignoring our bodies than others, but we all do it to some extent. We stay up late even though we’re tired, forget to eat when we’re hungry and then eat far past the point of fullness, and drink things we know we’ll regret in the morning. And then we punish our bodies for not being the right size or shape, putting them through crash diets and strenuous exercise regimes that can often do more harm than good.


As we lose the connection with our bodies, we lose the connection with our health. Ignoring small signals like appetite or tiredness makes it easier to ignore more significant symptoms. Prolonged fatigue and stress leave our immune systems ravaged and wide open to colds and flus, especially at this time of year. With the winter months closing in, taking care of our bodies isn’t an indulgence: it’s a necessity.


Body awareness is a habit, and like any other habit, it takes practice in the beginning. Tai chi can help with this enormously, as it grounds us in body awareness and mindfulness. Each tai chi class sometimes includes a few minutes of standing. The instructor offers guidance so that students connect to their bodies, including checking different parts of the body, releasing tension stored in the muscles and really sinking into connection. Tai chi class also incorporates qui gong warmup exercises, which connect the movement of the body strongly with the breath. Silk reeling is an integral part of tai chi class, and the repetitive, slow, focused movements bring the mind and body into even deeper communication.


The graceful movements and meditative pace of tai chi lets us appreciate the wonderful things our bodies are capable of, and see our physical selves in a new and beautiful light.  Your body is your only home for the whole of your life, and taking care of it through tai chi will ensure it’s a home you’re happy with for many years!

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2013

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The best way to practice tai chi

Alda Gomez summarizes Grand Master Chen Zheng Lei post in Facebook

Grand Master Chen Zheng Lei posted a very interesting Facebook explanation about the best way to practice tai chi. GM Chen focuses on four major points for an appropriate tai chi practice. Here I detail my understanding of what Grand Master Chen Zheng Lei is saying.

Grand Master Chen Zhen Lei

1st point – Practice the principles, don’t focus on strength

Tai chi is based on the theory of yin and yang and, as such, on alternating yin and yang movements. By focusing the mind on a specific movement, qi is being carried to the whole body because in tai chi, when one part of the body moves, the whole body moves. GM Chen is talking about integrating body movements.

2nd point – Cultivate internal qi, don’t worry about the external

GM Chen tells us to bring attention to the “ancestral qi” (inherited from our ancestors) stored in the kidneys. The kidneys are the body’s source of qi, so if there is enough qi stored in the kidneys, the five main internal organs (lungs, heart, spleen, liver and kidneys) will function well. To the ancestral qi, we can add qi to our bodies by breathing qi into the Dantian area or the Yong-quan points in the sole of our feet, keeping a relaxed body. By cultivating internal qi, a person will feel energetic, with power and body coordination. The external, on the other hand, focuses on exercising hardness and power in different parts of the body. Tai chi aims at fostering the internal qi, enhancing the roots to let the branches flourish, having a steady lower body, an active centre of the body, and a light upper body.

3rd point – Focus on your skills, not on your form

GM Chen is explaining that our focus needs to be on improving the basics, our tai chi skills, and not being so concerned about knowing the exact movements and applications of the forms, as this may create rigidity. He encourages us to work on alternating yin and yang, hard and soft, in our movements and moving our body in a relaxed, coordinated way.

4th point – Build the five hearts:

  • Respect – respect for your teachers, masters and friends.
  • Confidence – with two aspects: self-confidence in the way you practice tai chi and good faith, which manifests in how you relate to others.
  • Determination – setting your mind to practice tai chi is the best way to practice tai chi.
  • Perseverance – to practice without stop, to keep on practicing no matter what.
  • Patience – it makes you understand that tai chi requires soft, slow and relaxed movements. Being too eager to achieve results is impossible because tai chi needs a lot of practice.

GM Chen ends his reflection by saying that when conditions are ripe, success will come. I will add that if you trust, you will get what you need to get there, be it a new teacher or master, a new skill, or a new approach to the same teacher, class and knowledge. Trust and you will have fun in the process of learning tai chi.


Tai Chi for Sceptics

When people talk about tai chi, they often use words like “qi” and “dantian”, or terms like “meridian lines” or “energy flow”. It can all be a bit confounding, really, and it can arouse your inner sceptic. But don’t let unfamiliar terminology put you off taking a closer look at tai chi.

Acupuncture_chart_300pxTai chi started out over 350 years ago, in a village called Chen in Henan Province, China. It began as a martial art practice, developed in line with the teachings of Chinese Medicine. Today in the West, the martial aspect has mostly been eclipsed by the health benefits of tai chi. Chen-style tai chi, the kind practiced in House of Movement, is the closest of the five main schools to tai chi’s martial roots, which you will learn about in tai chi classes.

In Chinese medicine, the explanation for why tai chi works to promote health has to do with the same principle that underlies acupuncture. Put simply, qi, or energy, flows around the body, through channels called meridian lines. When the flow of qi is disrupted or blocked, illness occurs. Tai chi works to unblock the qi and get it flowing again, thus treating and preventing many medical conditions.  Now, Western medicine does not yet have an explanation for tai chi’s health benefits. Some researchers believe that the fascia network (the connective tissue surrounding muscles, bone and blood vessels) provides an anatomical explanation for the Chinese meridian lines. Doctors and researchers are working on it because the fact that tai chi does have health benefits is beyond question. Numerous studies have proven the benefits of tai chi practice.

So what might it be? First and foremost, tai chi is wonderful exercise. It’s gentle enough that almost anyone can do it, movements can be modified for beginners or people with disabilities, and it can be adapted to any fitness level. The warm-up movements at the beginning of tai chi classes improve flexibility, and the slow, free-arm motions and lowered stance strengthen the muscles of the core, arms and legs.

Focus on the body and concentration on breath and movement brings the mind into a calm, meditative state, where there is little room for the mental chatter that takes up so much of our lives, and leaves us stressed and exhausted. Indeed, this may be why tai chi practice has been proven to be so effective in reducing stress. Stress has such a detrimental effect on both our physical and mental health, that this alone would be a good reason to give tai chi classes a go! But tai chi has also been proven to be an effective complimentary therapy for chronic pain, gout, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, osteoarthritis and sleep disorders, to name but a few.

Regular tai chi practice can make a huge difference in your life, improving physical fitness, promoting mental health and laying the foundations for a calmer, more in-tune version of you. So whether you’re interested in improving your fitness, getting your stress levels under control, or just experiencing a different kind of exercise class, tai chi classes with House of Movement could be just what you’re looking for.

© Sorcha Hegarty, 2013

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Interesting tai chi articles

This is a short post to recommend some of the tai chi articles which I have been reading in the last couple of months. We are so lucky to have all of this information with a few clicks.

An article which reminds me of the taoist principle of wu wei (action without action):

The Power of Yielding: Getting It Done By Not Doing It

Tai chi article about the famous and spiritual Wudang Mountain (Hubei, China)

Going to the Mountain

Insteresting article linking Eastern and Western medicine, fascia network and acupoints

Review of Evidence Suggesting That the Fascia Network Could Be the Anatomical Basis for Acupoints and Meridians in the Human Body

Portrait of a wonderful Grandmaster who will be in Donegal in June

Chen XiaoWang – Keeper of the taiji secrets

For more information about his seminar in Donegal, visit

I have been posting these and other articles in my Facebook page. If you wish to read them as I’m finding them, become a friend, like House of movement – Tai chi & qi gong in Facebook. Happy reading!


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