The Sage Connection

How I learned so much about life from one finger


Her name was Margarite – no last name necessary, thank you. She was 80 years of age when I met her and a Tai Chi Master. She taught in her front yard, across the street from where I lived, and I could watch her for hours.

The grace and beauty of the movements really spoke to me. After a few weeks, I asked her for lessons. She was a retired nurse from New York, and we lived in Bisbee, Arizona, then.

The one goal I had in mind was to walk past a door without the doorknob attaching itself to the inside of my pocket and jerking me around face-first into the door.

The one thing she was steadfast about was that tai chi was a “martial art.” She had no patience with my wishy-washy ideas about grace and beauty. It was a martial art; you could kill or disable an enemy or pluck out an eye if needed.

Finally, to prove her point, one day, she took her pointing finger and jabbed me in the chest. One finger. It hurt for weeks afterward.

So, I stopped talking about beauty and grace and worked hard to learn the movements. When she decided I had the basics down, she announced it was time for the next step.

“What will that be?” I asked. “Well, I usually go to swords”, she said, “but for you, I think we will move on to the fans”.

Fans! Great God in Heaven, fans! Before I could stop myself, I was babbling about the beauty and grace that fans, combined with tai chi, brought to mind. Margarite just turned around and went back into her house.

The next time I went to her home, movers met me. My tai chi master had decided to return to New York and had already left. I will never know if I was the reason for her sudden move, but my hopes of becoming a deadly, graceful and beautiful fan master were dashed forever.

Tai chi today

Today, tai chi is recognized as a beneficial way to improve balance, mobility, strength and flexibility. It plays a significant role in fall prevention for all ages, especially older adults.

According to the National Council on Aging, tai chi is an art and exercise from ancient China, nowadays being used by most as an enjoyable exercise for health. It appears slow and effortless, like tranquil water in a river. Underneath the gentle flow is a powerful energy for healing and wellness.

It was created based on the laws of nature and Chinese traditional medicine. Many styles and forms of tai chi can appear quite different from each other. Almost all traditional tai chi sets are complex.

Tai chi is often modernized for health improvement by using modern medical knowledge. All tai chi forms follow a set of essential principles that are key for its many health benefits. The health benefits will come as long as these principles are incorporated in any form of tai chi.

Over 500 published medical studies have shown that tai chi improves many aspects of health. Almost all of these studies are based on modernized tai chi.

The movements are taught to both left and right sides, and with turns to move forward and backward, to improve mobility and offer a variety of combinations. All tai chi forms follow essential principles that are key for its many health benefits.

How does tai chi work?

The best and probably the only way to find out how good tai chi is, is to try it. Be aware that tai chi is very different from most other types of exercise activity in Western countries. No jumping, leaping, squatting or sweat is required.

It is slow and gentle, which is especially beneficial for mindfulness and serenity. - something we all need but do not get enough of in our busy rushing world.

You may need a little time to get used to the rhythm and feel before you gain the full enjoyment.

This gentle and safe exercise strengthens the muscles and ligaments of the body. Building stronger muscles protects the joints, improves balance, and facilitates your ability to do more activities every day. It also improves flexibility and reduces pain and stiffness, which is helpful to those who suffer from arthritis.

It improves balance to prevent falls, relieves overall stress, and improves cardiovascular fitness; three benefits that impact many aspects of health.

Setting up a regular time to practice is helpful. Tai chi is an activity; watching it does not work. You can explore a tai chi class at the South Sound YMCA or South Sound Senior Services

Kathleen Anderson writes this column each week from her home in Olympia.  Contact her at or post your comment below. 


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