Three times a week, members of the Portland State community gather together to dismiss the bustle of the day and move through the peaceful, calming motions of the Chinese art of tai chi.
The classes are held every Monday from noon to 1 p.m. in front of the Millar Library and 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the lobby of the Academic and Student Rec Center, as well as Wednesdays from noon to 1 p.m. at Pioneer Courthouse Square. All sessions are free and open to the general public.
The free tai chi classes are offered by the Confucius Institute at PSU. Dr. Meiru Liu, the director of the Confucius Institute and a Chinese language professor, explains that these classes represent “a centuries-old Chinese practice designed to exercise the mind and body through a series of gentle, flowing postures that create a kind of synchronized dance.” Liu considers tai chi to be “slow, graceful and fluid, and easy to learn.”
“The idea to offer free tai chi on the PSU campus and local community is to promote Chinese culture while offering low-key exercise for PSU faculty, staff, students and people working in the Portland downtown area who need a break from work or study,” Liu said. “Just learning to relax and breathe more deeply can be reason enough to take tai chi.”
Tai chi also provides multiple health benefits. Historically, tai chi is rooted in Chinese meditation, medicine and martial arts, Liu said.
“[It] combines mental concentration with slow controlled movements to focus the mind, challenge the body and improve the flow of what the Chinese call ‘chi,’” Liu said.
The tai chi classes are led by Qi Gao. Gao is a Taiji instructor from Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China, who is currently teaching language and culture courses at PSU. Gao has practiced tai chi for 15 years and finds that it brings flexibility, relaxation and meditation.
“[Tai chi] is a wonderful part of life,” Gao said. “[It] is beautiful. I think tai chi is the traditional Chinese art.”
Gao said she was inspired to practice tai chi by watching tai chi masters as a young girl.
“They take good care of themselves, both body and heart, because tai chi can also be a kind of meditation,” Gao said.
Qian Li, who has previously been an assistant in Gao’s tai chi classes, finds the classes to be easily accessible and beneficial to both the students and the faculty.
“Unlike cardio, tai chi is slow and practices the whole body,” Li said. “[It’s] not only about the body; it takes practice of the body and the mind together to understand the meaning of tai chi.”
Other than exercise, Li also finds peace in practicing tai chi.
“You can keep quiet and keep the balance of your body,” Li said.
In addition to meditation and flexibility, breathing is another important aspect of tai chi, Gao said.
“When I do tai chi, I focus on my breath. Breath is the most important thing of people’s daily life. But most people probably never think of how important the breath is, but tai chi is very good for doing that.”
Tai chi strives to create a harmonic relationship between a human being and his or her surroundings, representing the yin and yang Chinese philosophy, Gao said. This balance has been found to improve heart condition and blood pressure and decrease stress and fatigue.
“It is very practical for keeping fit, helping people build a good body shape and enjoy a healthy life.”