Alternative exercise Tai Chi gains popularity, Interview with TW Smith
Posted: 01.11.2005

"No eagle can catch two rabbits. A man who is split minded will succeed in nothing." This Chinese proverb exhibit the core of Tai Chi, reigning control of the mind and uniting it with the body.

Tai Chi is a way of harmonizing and fusing the body and mind through meditative movements. Tai Chi, most usually seen in parks like nearby Pullen Park, has been recognized by health insurance companies as an effective way to treat Parkinson's disease and other health ills because of its ability to unite mind and body. Tai Chi is even used to treat cardiac and pulmonary patients.

Tired of the treadmill? Don't want to run another lap around the gym? Want something more from your work out? Then it's time to get off the beaten path and try Tai Chi. What makes Tai Chi so different from the treadmill and laps around the gym?

Leigh Ann Yeager, a certified group fitness instructor with campus recreation, explains that "alternative exercises like Tai Chi, yoga and Pilates concentrate more on the mind and body connection. The traditional exercises focus more on toning and getting the heart rate up."

According to Yeager, who has been teaching aerobics classes ranging from hip hop to step workouts for five years, traditional exercises are more of a cardiovascular workout but alternative exercises increase your flexibility.

"We have a huge interest in Tai Chi," Yeager said.

Interview with T.W. Smith at TibetanKungFu

Campus recreation has been meeting this interest in Tai Chi with workshops for those wanting to try it out. Though there isn't a Tai Chi class yet, Yeager sees it as a future possibility.

"Tai Chi is still an underground thing with people beginning to get interested. We just started offering Tai Chi as a workshop and it was one of the most well attended workshops," Yeager said.

First came yoga, then came Pilates and the next break through into the American conscious through the media is set to be Tai Chi.

"The media has hyped up alternative exercises and that gets the curiosity of the young people," Yeager said.

The teacher

Sifu T.W. Smith got interested in kung fu and Tai Chi when he was 12 years old, but didn't start training until his early 20s.

"Growing up in North Carolina, there just wasn't anyone around," he said.

The lack of ample teachers is one of the reasons that Tai Chi has had a slow growth. Smith, who has been learning Tai Chi for 18 years and teaching for the last 10 years, does Tai Chi every day.

"Tai Chi is a style of training that helps benefit stamina, health and balance by putting the mind and body together again. Emphasis is on inner calm rather than strength," Smith said.

Tai Chi, also known as Tai Chi chuan, requires and reinforces mental strength and stability because of the focus and concentration that are inherent in its correct practice.

"Tai Chi is part of kung fu, it was originally part of martial arts, then the philosophers got hold of it. Tai Chi became a moving meditation during the early to mid 1900s," Smith said.

Tai Chi is religiously linked to Taoism, but in the modern practices of Tai Chi the religious aspects are not emphasized.

Originally from the martial arts family, Tai Chi is "a needle in the cotton seed" style.

"The power is sharp and deliberate but it looks soft and fluffy," Smith said.

The yang style, the root style, can be divided into the long form and the short form. The long form has 108 forms and the short form has 48 forms. During World War II the short form was developed for the military so the pilots could center their mind before a mission.

It is hard to say exactly how old Tai Chi is, but it is speculated that Tai Chi was begun in the 13th century by a Taoist monk named Change Sang Feng. Smith agrees that it is hard to pin point the exact origin of Tai Chi.

"First, most practitioners weren't able to write. Nearly, 90 percent of the teaching was oral. Second, there was pressure from the communist government. If you were recognized as a teacher of Kung Fu you could easily have your head cut off in the street because of Tai Chi's connection to Taoism," Smith said.

According to Smith, Tai Chi philosophically focuses on using internal power.

"Ten ounces of internal power can be used to move 1,000 ounces of external power. Meaning, Tai Chi uses space and the opponent's energy. Tai Chi is a way to expose and use your opponent's weakness," Smith explained.

Another philosophy of Tai Chi is being in harmony with self.

"When you put your mind and body together, you are in harmony with yourself"

The student

Linda Carter, like many students, spent a lot of time working and playing with computers. After 20 years of daily work with computers the effects could be seen from degeneration in the C-6 vertebrae in her neck and pain in the right hand from using the mouse. Carter, in need of chiropractic work, went to, an online holistic health directory for Raleigh.

"Tim was working there and Tai Chi was one of their offerings and that's how I got started with Tai Chi," Carter said.

At 55, Carter started doing Tai Chi.

Carter, who has been doing aerobics at Rex along with her Tai Chi class, felt results from her Tai Chi classes was more observable.

"I didn't realize how stiff I've had become. It was very mobilizing for my joints. It's a very good overall exercise for muscles and joints."

Carter also attributes her increased energy level with Tai Chi.

"I get a really good workout with Tai Chi, I do perspire and get my heart rate up. After doing Tai Chi, I get an overall feeling of wellness," she said.

Carter, who started doing Tai Chi in April, faced physical and mental challenges when she started.

"Balance for one is still a challenge. Some positions require balance while you are standing on one and kicking with the other."

Carter found the self discipline involved with Tai Chi such as the regular practices in the beginning a challenge but since then has been able to overcome it because of her love for Tai Chi.

"It's a challenge physically and mentally," Carter said.

Carter has also been doing yoga on and off. Like yoga, there is a lot of stretching in Tai Chi.

"In yoga the goal is to stretch and get into a position, then stretch more and more in the position," she said.

Carter finds Tai Chi to be more fulfilling because with Tai Chi it's just one component.

"There are other components like power, balance, execution of movements and the mental component that tempers all of it. Tai Chi is much more in depth than yoga philosophically and physically. It's so exhilarating. I love it. It's all inclusive," she said.

Learn more

Sifu TW Smith

(919) 368-2600

3828 Barrett Drive

Raleigh, NC

(919) 368-2600

Classes are held on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday mornings.