The only sounds heard coming from the crypt at Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church in the evening hours of Jan. 27 are steady, syncopated breathing and the tick-tock of an old wall clock.
Inside, folks of all different ages stretch their arms and hands above their heads and move fluidly and effortlessly together, lettings the worries and troubles of the day sink away.
David Clippinger, director and owner of Still Mountain T’ai Chi, leads the group in the ancient art of meditation in motion during the open house that welcomed beginners to learn about the benefits of t’ai chi. Although sometimes confused as a martial art used for fighting, t’ai chi has been used for centuries to combat stress, to ease various maladies and to prevent illness.
Still Mountain has been utilizing the church for six years to offer t’ai chi classes twice a week, said Clippinger, a t’ai chi master who has been practicing and perfecting the art for some 24 years.
“There isn’t anything on the Northside like [this]. We’ve really tried to offer something to the community that isn’t really there and something that is a benefit to people,” Clippinger said.
The posture and gentle movements of t’ai chi requires practitioners to live in the moment. Practitioners do sets of slow, graceful movements with their hands, arms and legs, where action flows right into the next one. The low-impact sets are paired with gentle breathing and meditation techniques that, Clippinger says, allow stress to drop away.
“The benefits are immediate. You feel better after doing it once,” he said. “It’s not like other workouts where you feel the benefit after you get in shape.”
Unlike traditional western medicine that sometimes deals with health problems solely with pills and procedures, t’ai chi is a natural, preventative practice that can be used by all ages and conditions.
On this particular evening, a man well into his seventies describes how t’ai chi was suggested to him after he was forced to go onto an oxygen tank and how he now relies less and less on it. Another woman describes how events that used to trigger stress now simply roll off her back.
“It applies in all sorts of different ways because it helps you make decisions,” Clippinger said. “Instead of getting angry, you might say it’s a way of de-escalating or responding more approximately to things.”
As Clippinger’s student explained, practicing t’ai chi isn’t like going to the gym everyday to get a workout in. T’ai chi is more about health maintenance and applying what you learn to your everyday life, with the average practitioner setting aside 20 to 30 minutes a day to perfect his or her skills.
Better yet, Clippinger says, no equipment is required; just bring yourself and an open mind.
Beginner t’ai chi instruction is held every Thursday night and Saturday morning at Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church, 416 W. North Ave. For more information about classes and fees, visit www.stillmountaintaichi.com.