THE third week in September is National Balance Week and its aim is to raise awareness for people who have conditions such as vestibular disorders but also to help people who struggle to achieve a healthy balance in their every day lives.

In order to look at leading a healthy balanced life we took the zen route of visiting a local Tai Chi and Qigong class. Tai chi, also called tai chi chuan, combines deep breathing and relaxation with slow and gentle movements. It was originally developed as a martial art in 13th-century China but today it is primarily practised around the world as a health-promoting exercise.

Chris Shaw, 38, of Ulverston, knows the importance of finding your physical and mental balance as he teaches tai chi and qigong in Dalton, Ulverston, Flookburgh and Waberthwaite.

He said: "I find tai chi such a powerful class to teach because it really connects the mind to the body and exercises the parasympathetic nervous system. Many of my clients find tai chi a relaxing anchor for the mind and spirit and it helps them to deal with the pressure of every day life without stress affecting their balance."

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Chris has been practising tai chi and qigong since 2001 and credits his increased confidence and good health to both these arts. He has a devoted base of clients who come to his classes every week.

Sue Dawson, 61, from Millom, said: "I have been going to Chris's classes for seven years now. I started originally because I had read how good tai chi can be for both mental and physical health.

"Chris is a great teacher and there is a real social aspect to the Waberthwaite group too. We all have a break half way through the class for a cup of tea and I have made a lot of friends here over the years. The class is so absorbing the time just flies by and the concentration means you are both physically and mentally engaged for the whole hour and a half."


Studies have shown that tai chi can help people aged 65 and over to reduce stress, improve balance and general mobility, and increase muscle strength in the legs. However, it is also something for younger people to get involved in too.

Chris said: "This class in Waberthwaite is in the afternoon so some of the people who attend are retired but in the Dalton and Ulverston classes, which are in the evening, we get a lot of people coming after work.

"Tai chi is a great way to de-stress after work because it anchors the mind and demonstrates how non-opposing pressure can be even more effective than opposing pressure."

Chris also does a warm up using the principles of qigong, which is a Chinese system of physical exercises and breathing control related to tai chi.

Another of Chris's clients, Kay Wayman, 50, of Holmbrook, said: "Chris has inspired me to start up my own yoga classes and incorporate some qigong in to them. I call it qi-yoga and I still come to Chris every week for guidance. He is a fantastic teacher and there is a very supportive atmosphere at his classes."

The class has been described as moving meditation and maintaining physical balance skills is one of the most underrated aspects of well-being. As we age, we gradually start to lose our muscle strength, vision and sensory perception – all things that contribute to our ability to balance.

Good balance can strengthen our self-perception which can help the body to better position our muscles and allow us to sense where our body needs to be without looking. In addition, practising balance builds muscle and increases range of motion in the joints, which helps in distributing weight evenly, creating overall stability. It is definitely a skill worth honing.


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Tai Chi factfile

1. Tai Chi was accredited to a Taoist Monk named Zhang San Feng as its creator. Its origins date back over 700 years, some say even up to 1500 years.

2. The mandarin tàijí quán 太極拳 literally translates as supreme ultimate boxing.

3. Qi-gone yoga is a mind-body practice that melds slow, graceful movements, mental focus and deep abdominal breathing to boost and balance a person's vital energy.

4. There are a variety of movements in tai chi but Sun style is characterised by gentle, free flowing yet controlled movements. The movements flow smoothly like water in a river and are suitable for everyone, even those with pain like arthritis or those recovering from an operation.

5. There are different variations of tai chi, such as:

-Chen style

-Hao (or Wu Shi) style

-Hu Lei style

-Sun style

-Yang style

-Zhao Bao style