By Judith van Berkom –
I knew from the very first class, that Tai Chi was something I was going to love,” says Paul. “I knew within the first 20 minutes. The thing just clicked. It was wonderful. And that is the way with everyone; you either like Tai Chi – ranging anywhere from like, like a lot, am passionate about – or it’s just not for you.”
Paul Hope, Tai Chi instructor of 30 years at Dovercourt Community Centre in Westboro, studied Chinese philosophy before he started to learn Tai Chi. Whereas you can train and become a certified aqua fitness or aerobic instructor, there is no such training for Tai Chi – it is passed on. Paul studied under a master of Tai Chi for 10 years at which time his instructor felt he was ready to teach a class under supervision. That’s how it works. It’s handed over, very gently, from one generation to the next.
“I’m the seventh generation from the master who codified the Yang style. It’s a very different kind of training. It’s not something you sign up for, it’s something that happens,” he says.
Paul started teaching in the late 1980s when Tai Chi was very popular. It was seen as a way of treating stress and a number of stress-related disorders – and it still is. Research shows it’s good for stress, good for memory – there are cognitive as well as physiological benefits, such as treating insomnia, stress, or anxiety. Tai Chi is mild cardiovascular exercise so it’s good for your heart. There’s a lot of stretching and it’s good for balance.
Class sizes in the 1980s and 1990s were upwards of 25 people and Paul taught in three different locations in the city. Now class sizes are 12 to 15 people. Because it takes time to learn, people are less inclined. Given the wide variety of exercise available where you don’t have to exert cognitive effort and still get some benefit, for some those might be more attractive than spending 12 weeks to learn two-and-a-half minutes of exercise.
Students learning Tai Chi under Paul today describe the experience as “great fun” and “very relaxing, meditative but also superb for balance, memory and posture.”
John is one of Paul’s students. He’s had Paul as an instructor for several years. “It’s a great way to get some exercise and gain stability,” he says, adding that Paul brings many things to his practice: “patience, patience, patience, a lot of humor and a tremendous amount of skill. He’s fun to be with and this has become a great part of my life.”
Marilyn has been taking Tai Chi with Paul now for two years but first practiced with him 12 years ago. Back then, life got busy, but she has recently found Tai Chi to be a great way to reconnect. “Paul focuses on what you are doing well and if there’s something you feel you can’t do, he works with you on that. That adaptation makes it accessible for everyone. His approach is so warm, supportive and encouraging.”
Tai Chi movements flow one into another. Participants set their height from the beginning and maintain that height, giving the muscles in the thighs a good workout. As you practice, you have to concentrate on executing the moves correctly – 88 moves make up the long program, which takes 10 minutes to do. It’s challenging yet rewarding, calming and meditative while providing strength and stability.
Paul teaches all levels at the same time and goes from one level to the next in one class. “The different levels tend to help one another to a certain extent. So the more advanced group will help the beginners and also they tend to learn from one another,” he says. “They tend to watch and see what the more advanced group is doing and pick up what they are learning within the context.”
Paul has recently wound up the recent session and resumes teaching in September. If you seek fitness and balance, sign up for classes at dovercourt.org.
*This feature is brought to you in part by Back on Track Physiotherapy and Health Centres.