Tai Chi Reduces Stress

Teaching Chinese Ways of Easing Stress
Published: Sunday, April 23, 2000

ANYONE who thinks finding the secret to healing or relaxation takes a lot of time and money hasn’t tried to learn to stretch, breathe and focus with Joi Eden and Betty Sun, gurus of the ancient Chinese martial arts of tai chi and chi kung, yoga and meditation.

Ms. Eden can set you straight in 10 seconds. ”Be still. Be silent. And listen,” said Ms. Eden, speaking in the hushed tones of a spiritual counselor. ”If you can do these three things, life can be much better for you.”

Ms. Eden and Ms. Sun are masters, who humbly prefer not to be called masters, of ”being in the moment” and finding inner peace.

To do the moving meditations of tai chi or chi kung, Ms. Sun said, first you have to relax and learn about yourself. ”We don’t teach you how to kick and breathe and punch,” she said. ”We teach you how to center.” Then, using the connection of mind, body and spirit, you can change your life.

Ms. Eden and Ms. Sun, sisters-in-law in their late 40’s, run Stillness in Motion, a school for tai chi chuan, chi kung, yoga, meditation, reiki and other stress-reduction programs, in Hicksville. Recently, they formed a not-for-profit organization, Bamboo Mountain Center, offering programs on wellness and integrative, complementary health care.

”Everything that we teach is about focused awareness,” Ms. Sun said. ”We basically give people the tools to participate in their own healing and participate in relaxed awareness.”

But their schedule seems anything but relaxed. Ms. Sun and Ms. Eden teach the therapeutic forms, give workshops and seminars at the school and run retreats at St. Josephate’s, a monastery in Glen Cove. (A tai chi, chi kung and yoga retreat is scheduled for Friday, Saturday and next Sunday; call 516-938-4244). Ms. Sun also designs ponds and fountains; Ms. Eden is writing books on Eastern and Western philosophies and a mystery novel. Their cadre of more than two dozen instructors — culled mostly from their own classes — teach tai chi and chi kung at more than 30 locations on Long Island, including Echo Park and Levittown Parkway in Hempstead, adult education classes in Hicksville, Mineola, Long Beach, Rockville Centre, Massapequa, Islip and the Great Neck Senior Citizen Center.

In the past two years, two of the women’s seven instructional videotapes, ”Embrace the Moon: Tai Chi Chuan” and ”Bamboo Mountain Chi Kung/Qigong,” won the Golden Classic Telly Awards in Health and Medicine. And this month, ”Embrace the Moon” was the No. 2 fitness video pick on Amazon.com. Ms. Eden wrote the script and narrates; Ms. Sun demonstrates. (Jane Fonda she’s not, but buns of steel are not the point.) They have also produced eight audiotapes. (Listening to their meditation techniques while driving is not recommended.)

”What we are doing is shadow boxing a martial art,” said Ms. Sun, as she moved her hands in a slow, dancing tai chi motion, first like the bristle of a brush painting up a wall, then back and forth, arms outstretched, as if she were swimming in the air. Although the movements are calm and fluid, tai chi and chi kung exercises enhance circulation, help the cardiovascular and immune systems and improve muscle tone and balance without strain.

”You are balancing your own energy,” Ms. Sun said. ”You are focusing and you are aware of everything about you. When you are moving as one, you are connecting with everything. It’s such a peaceful state of being. It’s like being at the beach and being at one with the waves. What’s the most interesting is not what’s being seen but what is going on internally. We are massaging our internal organs. It’s simple but it’s not easy. It’s easy but it’s not simple. What we are doing is yin yang, the balance of complementary opposites.”

Ms. Eden, a former executive, and Ms. Sun, who had a mobile dog-grooming business, had long been interested in Eastern philosophies. For years, they studied tai chi with an old Chinese man in Chinatown. Then, during an adult ed astrology class, Ms. Eden casually explained to her teacher that the reason she could have the astrological sign Gemini and remain still and quiet was because of her devotion to tai chi. The astrology teacher asked if Ms. Eden would teach a course in it. Initially, Ms. Eden declined. ”I said no, I have to ask the powers that be, the masters,” she recalled. ”I’m not old, I’m not Chinese, I’m not a man. I can’t.”

After several weeks, she relented. Ms. Sun agreed to help. Ninety-five students turned up for that first class given through the Hicksville adult ed program. In 1988, the women opened Stillness in Motion.

”This was not meant to be a business,” Ms. Eden said. ”This was not meant to be anything at all. None of this was planned.” But the results, their students said, are physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healing.

Seven years ago, Ron La Feir, a Vietnam veteran and truck driver from Hicksville, was popping two blood pressure pills a day, had asthma and constantly suffered from bronchial infections.

Then Mr. La Feir, now 57, signed up for tai chi lessons. Soon, he no longer needed the blood pressure medication and his breathing difficulties eased.

”Through tai chi and chi kung and the relaxation from meditation, it’s all gone away,” said Mr. La Feir.

Fifty-year-old Gail Cheney of Deer Park, an office manager for a telemarketing company, was looking for a gentler workout when she signed up at Stillness in Motion three years ago. Tai chi changed her life.

”I got a lot more than I bargained for,” recalled Ms. Cheney, an avid racquetball player until bad knees forced her to quit. ” When I do tai chi, it’s a meditation for me. It makes me feel good physically and mentally. Basically the philosophy that you get is relax, relax, relax. It makes a profound difference.”

And for Judy Koch, 62, of Wantagh, taking tai chi was her way of keeping a promise to do something physical after chemotherapy and radiation treatments for breast cancer.

” When I left the first class, I called my husband and said ‘I feel like my old self again,’ ” said Ms. Koch, a former Rockette. After a two-and-a-half-hour meditation workshop with Ms. Eden, Ms. Koch put the sleeping pills away. She hasn’t taken them since. ”I’m in remission,” she said, speaking of her cancer. ”I could not have gotten this far without the medicine, but they gave me back the rest of my life, too.”