with Cancer
Tai Chi: Practicing quietness within

Tai Chi: Practicing quietness within

Written by  Facing Cancer Together
  • Bookmark and Share

“Being able to accept the gift of Tai Chi and of yoga, and to practice quietness within yourself gives you a tremendous benefit-that is hard to describe, but you do something that helps to change your perspective and your ability to achieve," says Tai Chi instructor, Nathan Spivey.

rock-yin-yangNathan Spivey is the Head Instructor with the Tai Chi Arts Association of Pennsylvania.  He describes Tai Chi this way: “Tai chi is basically a system of exercise based on the natural order of life… day and night, up and down, hot and cold- the yin yang principle.  And, the movements mimic that to teach one to be connected to the natural order.”  Nathan adds, “Tai Chi is a method in which you would achieve meditation in motion.”

tai-chi-leftMost people know Tai Chi as a health exercise.  But it actually has roots in martial arts.  Nathan says, "The movements are joined with poetic names like white crane spreads its wings or wave hands like clouds.  Some of the movements have a direct have a direct martial implication like push and punch or direct heel kick.”

Some Tai Chi routines are 7 movements long.  Others can be 156 movements long and take up to an hour to do.  Nathan appreciates that Tai Chi offers a person the opportunity to slow down and take a breath from the stresses of life.  “Moving quietly and slowly… people don’t take the time to do that.  Tai Chi’s a good excuse,” he says with a smile.

tai-chi-manNathan emphasizes that there is one important aspect of Tai Chi that is required: calmness of mind.  He explains that when you’re calm during the movements, the brain and cerebral cortex relaxes.

It’s this calming effect on the body and mind that provides many of the benefits that people experience from practicing Tai Chi. Nathan says, “I’ve seen a lot of people gain a lot of benefits including myself… wellbeing, improved sense of self, and an improvement in handling situations in life that are adverse.”  Nathan knows a lot about how Tai Chi calms the body and mind, as he’s been helping others learn the techniques since 1983.  

We joined Nathan at one of his classes in Harrisburg at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church to learn more and watch them practice their movements.  Nathan and his students began their Tai Chi session by opening up about what Tai Chi means to them personally.

Tai Chi student Sherry Pae says “Tai Chi is an experience of life moving in me and it creates a sense of balance, stills my mind it causes energy to move through me in a way it doesn’t normally move.  It feels like a living philosophy.”

 Watch the video to learn more about Tai Chi from Nathan Spivey:

Dustin Quance, a Tai Chi instructor himself, finds that Tai Chi does a lot to bring a sense of balance to the body.  “It balances energy in the body and balances the mind.  It balances the body in a physical sense too.”  

Marti Spears adds, “The slow movements and the energy that I feel as I do them relieves stress.”

tai-chi-practiceNathan believes that being able to learn Tai Chi, yoga, mindfulness meditation, or Reiki massage, is important in helping the body to offset the negative effects of stress.  These modalities are especially important for people who have more serious conditions such as cancer and phases of diabetes.  

Nathan has seen many people who are suffering from illness gain a lot of benefits from Tai Chi, including one of his students, Patti Estheimer, who has suffered the pain of chronic Lyme Disease.  “I think it’s a great focuser,” says Patti.  “You get to know your body better and you get to know your strengths and weaknesses.  And, over the years of practicing you gain stability, strength and balance.” 

“Cancer patients that practice Tai Chi prove to have better quality of life and improvement in health,” Nathan adds.

In an article titled, “Tai Chi for Cancer Patients,” Dawn Castro writes, “Tai chi has proven an excellent therapy for cancer patients in many ways. Its benefits include improved awareness of balance, increased strength/endurance and reduced stress. Tai chi also offers a positive way to cope with pain, promoting relaxation and a feeling of well-being. The slow, controlled movements require total focus and concentration, so the exercises make patients feel they have more control over their body and give them a tool for pain control other than pain medication.”

tai-chi-woman-practiceNathan asked his students what their thoughts were about how Tai Chi can benefit cancer patients.  Reverend James Persons said “One thing its done for me is its raised awareness about what’s going on in my body in movements and discussions.  I am more aware of how I feel.  And, I think for someone with illness, awareness is the first step in dealing with illness.”  Student Marti Spears adds, “There’s such sadness with a diagnosis of cancer.  I think the movements start to change the energy and make you feel better and lift that sadness.” 

Not only do the Tai Chi movements help to relieve stress and promote wellbeing, but there is a social aspect to Tai Chi that may benefit some people who are facing cancer.  “Having Tai Chi once a week is a great way to get out of the house and socialize.  It’ a way to share and stay motivated… a way to keep spirits up to keep moving, keep trying and keep fighting,” says Tai Chi student and instructor Michael Sams.

Dustin Quance, adds “Tai Chi helps people to optimize what skills they do have through movement. The movement [of Tai Chi}, has found to be beneficial for people with depression and illness “  

tai-chi-woman“It’s a low-impact way to relax and strengthen and build balance,”says Reverend James Persons.  That’s why Tai Chi is something that anyone is capable of practicing.

“One of the myths about Tai Chi is that it’s for old people,” Nathan says.  “But when you go to China and see older people practicing Tai Chi, they say they’ve been doing it for 30, 40, 50 years.”  He says that it’s good to start young but older people so gain a lot from it.  “Heart muscle, all muscles change and if you practice Tai Chi, it helps to offset loss of tone and helps to maintain health.  Its always good to have a strong foundation as you grow into your life.”

Learn more about integrative therapies by exploreing more stories on our website.

Have you tried Tai Chi?  How has it helped you?  Please elave a comment!


#6 Monika 2013-05-13 22:44
Thank you for this wise article, the link shall be posted on our Facebook site if you don't mind
#5 FacingCancer 2012-05-01 10:02
Jose- Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about how Tai Chi can benefit someone who is facing cancer. It sounds like it has helped you in many ways and it's great that you're helping others learn Tai Chi! Inspiring!
#4 Jose Johnson 2012-04-26 14:38
I am a cancer survivor and a Tai Chi instructor. I can say first hand that my ability to deal with my illness, rehabilitation and my life in remission have been greatly impacted by my study of Tai Chi. A disease like cancer effects you physically as well as emotionally. Practices like Tai Chi help to develop the physical skills and awareness that can be of great benefit during the period of rehabilitation. The mental and spiritual component of Tai Chi is of great value in dealing with the psychological trauma that every cancer patient must endure.

Many people have asked me why being a Tai Chi master didn't prevent me from getting cancer. My response is that I believe without my Tai Chi practice I would not have survived my battle.
#3 D. Pressley 2012-04-26 06:42
Great article! I will spread the word in hopes that it provides people with information that may be beneficial to them or someone they know.
#2 FacingCancer 2012-04-25 16:05
Thanks so much for pointing that out! We've corrected this mistake! We enjoyed learning from everyone and thank you all for sharing Tai Chi with this project!
#1 Pr. Jim Person 2012-04-25 15:54
Nothing against Episcopalians, but it is St. Mark's Lutheran Church.

A message from the Facing Cancer Together team: We invite you to join us in this community partnership. Share. Connect. Learn. No matter how cancer has affected you, our multimedia tools can help you gain confidence in your choices. In the coming months, this site will evolve with your participation. Meet the team!

Sponsored by

witf Lancaster General Health Pinnacle Health System Wellspan
witf Pinnacle Health System Wellspan Lancaster General Health
witf Wellspan Lancaster General Health Pinnacle Health System