J: You come to T’ai Chi in Nir-Oz. How did you discover T’ai Chi?
Zohar: Through Mickey from my kibbutz. The truth is I thought about it a lot for a long time, but just procrastinated until I finally asked him about it. He told me that it would be great if I’d come.
The truth is that I was searching for some form of exercise to help me, because my back is not in great condition and many exercises do more harm than good. With Ta’i Chi I felt that this was what I needed, from the point of view of my health.
Judih: Nice. When was it that you decided to come?
Zohar: About 2 years ago, in January, 2011.
Judih: From the moment you began, what grabbed you, what attracted you to T’ai Chi?
Zohar: These are exercises that I can do. They’re not complicated. And I hope to be able to keep on way past my 80s.
Judih: That shouldn’t be a problem!
Zohar: In things like Feldenkrais and other forms of movement, I felt that I couldn’t do the exercises or that they were doing me harm. Here, I really liked the warm-up exercises and the Chi Cong. I like T’ai Chi a little less. But I stay mostly for the first part of the session.
I don’t relate to the martial arts aspect, I don’t really understand how the movements relate to warfare against an opponent. Since I danced for many years, I relate to the movements themselves.
Judih: Tell me, have you looked into the philosophy of T’ai Chi?
Zohar: No, not really. At the beginning, I searched on the Net to get some background, but not more than that. In fact, until two months ago, I only practiced during our weekly Tuesday evening lessons. But for the last two months, I’ve been doing the exercises every morning: the warm-up and some Chi Cong.
Judih: Excellent. Do you feel that this has helped you health-wise?
Zohar: Absolutely. First of all, I couldn’t stand! I have a slipped disc and I really couldn’t stand on my feet for any length of time. Now with our static Chi Cong (standing in one place), I can actually stand, for a long time!
Secondly, I feel that it helps me in work. It helps my mind, I’m more able to concentrate.
Judih: Has this changed since you began to practice every morning?
Zohar: No, this happened from the very beginning. It works on focus. I’ve worked on this from many different directions and I believe that this is what is really helping me. I need to make myself keep at it, because I know myself and it’s hard for me to stay with something.
Judih: You’ve said so many positive things about T’ai Chi. Can you elaborate? When you sit and work, how do you find that it has helped you?
Zohar: I’m an accountant and the branch coordinator. Along with that, I coordinate Information networks. That means that I have to know a lot and remember many fine details. I simply feel that I’m better able to do my work. I can feel it.
Judih: Do you feel more able to concentrate?
Zohar: Yes, most definitely.
Judih: Would you recommend T’ai Chi to everyone?
Zohar: Yes, and to all ages.
Judih: Great. Do you have any other comments you’d like to add?
Zohar: Yes. I also enjoy the people who come here to do T’ai Chi. The atmosphere is warm and free from judgement. You can make mistakes and it’s fine. I got here after others had already been doing it for 10 years and it’s fine! People are very pleasant.
Judih: Thank you, Zohar. When you’re 80 and I’m 100, we’ll meet and discuss this further!
Zohar: One more thing. I know it’s highly recommended for improving balance and I’m encouraging my mother (who’s in her 80s) to do the exercises of Chi Cong.
Judih: Yes, others have spoken about how their own sense of balance improves immediately after doing the exercises and in general. You make a good point. Thank you, Zohar!
Judih: I’m speaking with Amiram who is a participant in the T’ai Chi sessions conducted by teacher Doron Lavie. Please introduce yourself.
Amiram: Shalom. I’m Amiram from Kibbutz Nir-Itzhak. At the moment I work as the Kibbutz driver.
J: When did you discover T’ai Chi?
A: Actually I began by participating in a course in Martial Arts offered by the Eshkol Community Council, led by Moshe Galisko, about 15 years ago. There were about 7 of us from my Kibbutz who came regularly, but after about a year, the course was no longer given. So, we brought Galisko to the kibbutz and continued to practice for a few more years until that broke up as well.
After one time, he knew that he had to bring us all with him!
J: And what is it about T’ai Chi that grabbed you?
A: I liked the pleasant music and the soft, relaxed movements. In Karate, we were always working hard and my joints were aching. With T’ai Chi this never happened! The opposite – by the end of the lesson, I was filled with energy, strength. Never tired. It offered a combination of sport, meditation and health!
J: When was this?
A: It was about 14 years ago.
J: What does T’ai Chi do for you?
A: First, I begin the morning by practicing Chi Cong and T’ai Chi. I wake up an hour before the children and practise outside in the summer months, or indoors in the winter, and the day begins with relaxation. This has really improved my health. While driving I practice my breathing. This brings me the inner quiet and the patience I need to deal with all kinds of people. It becomes integrated into my life – enabling me to serve others with courtesy.
J: Could you recommend T’ai Chi to everyone?
A: Yes, it suits every age at every level. Perhaps less with little children. I work with them during school vacations but they really need something which allows them to release their considerable energy. T’ai chi is fine for a few sessions but it might bore them to study it more seriously.
J: How old were the children?
A: Grades 1 -3. I work with quite a large group and they really enjoy it. They always ask when we’re going to do T’ai Chi again.
J: Do you have any recommendations as to how best to work with children? What works well for them?
A: First, you have to stay relaxed, not excited at every child who tries to disrupt. You keep working and eventually that child will join in. For a few years, I have been working with a special needs child. At the beginning, he didn’t speak to me, not one word. Today he chats with me about everything, he’s interested in so many subjects. During kibbutz holidays, he sits beside me, and I really enjoy his curiousity and interest.
J: And this is through T’ai Chi.
A: Yes, he tells me that T’ai Chi has really been a good influence, and that in school, before exams, he does some Chi Cong in order to relax. He can’t understand why his parents don’t do it, as well!
J: You didn’t suggest it – he realized it by himself?
A: Yes, on his own.
I also have a group of pensioners and other adults. I work with them once a week doing Chi Cong and then T’ai Chi. As soon as I receive my diploma, I plan to open up this group to others on the Kibbutz and in the area.
I am studying Chi Cong with Nira Rabinowitz on Broshim Campus, of the University of Tel Aviv and will be certified and am now studying Advanced Chi Cong for Healthy living. I hope to develop the practice in this area
J: Has the study influenced your food choices? Or other aspects of your life?
A: I’ve never gotten into health food. I eat moderately from all food choices. But, in general, sport is very important to me. For example, I have a home gym for more intense work-outs.
J: So what I hear is that Chi Cong and T’ai Chi give you the inner strength, the patience and energy to work with people who might present challenges.
A: Also I get a lot of satisfaction when I see how others benefit from practicing Chi Cong and T’ai Chi. Often after a session, they’ll come to me and tell me how good they feel.
J: Great! Is there anything that you would like to add?
A: Yes! After the Jewish Holidays, I am intend to start a new Course in Chi Cong and it will open to people from all over the Eshkol area. This way, I’ll be able to work at my beloved hobby while bringing in some income to the Kibbutz.
Our Tuesday T’ai Chi evening under the stars. Doron Lavie, arriving early is ready to begin the session.
Doron Lavie, T’ai Chi
After our warm-up, Chi Cong session, T’ai chi 88 form and Sword Cutta 32 form, we had a break! I spoke to Eliahu Levy, a longtime participant in the Eshkol T’ai Chi group held on Kibbutz Nir-Oz.
Judih: Can you introduce yourself, please.
Eliahu: I’m Eliahu Levy from Kibbutz Nir Itzhak, 78 years old. In the past, I’ve been involved with Physical Education and all kinds of sports. About 12 years ago I got involved with t’ai chi.
J: How did you get involved?
E: I was doing karate and it was very intensive and then the sessions stopped. My friends told me that they were coming to Nir Oz to do t’ai chi. So I decided to try. From the very first day, I knew that I’d never stop.
J: What grabbed you, exactly?
E: It was a time when I was going through a serious personal breakdown. I had just become a widower. And I stopped working at my job and I found myself in the middle of all these life changes. I was really in a bad state. It was then that I got into t’ai chi and discovered a new world. Afterwards, I began to study Chinese medicine and everything came together for me. I became a new man. And t’ai chi was a vital part of this restructuring.
I have continued to study and advance in this practice and not only did I become a new man, but everything changed for me: my behavior, my conception of life, and my perception of the world around me. I am now a practitioner in Chinese medicine. And t’ai chi provides the physical base for it all.
Eliahu Levy in balance
Judih: Do you practise everyday?
E: I do chi cong everyday. Sometimes t’ai chi, but chi cong everyday. In this way I prepare my body for the day, for fairly intensive work, since I work a lot using massage. And in addition this grounds me for my usual daily activities. This is the essence of t’ai chi: connecting me to the earth, to the sky and me in the middle, feeling very good!
J: Do you work with music? How do you practice?
E: No, without music
J: Do you use a mirror?
E: No I go outside, listen to the birds, look at the green around me. I feel the morning dew on my bare feet. And this gives me so much. It fills my batteries for the day.
J: So you practise early in the morning?
E: Yes, I wake up usually before 6 and then I go out to do t’ai chi. Also, when I go to the pool for a swim I feel the water, and again feel myself between the sky and the earth. When I get back on solid ground, I do t’ai chi or chi cong and re-connect with myself.
J: So you’d recommend t’ai chi to everyone?
Eliahu with sword
E: Yes to everyone. I can tell you. I have no physical pain, not in my knees, back or head. I take no medications. You see, when I first found t’ai chi I left all my medications behind and I’m living very well! If at any time, there are any physical problems, I can deal with them.
J: Have you changed your diet, how you eat? Or is this all because of the physical activity you engage in?
E: It’s all my conception of life. I eat according to the prefects of Chinese medicine – mostly healthy food– no fats or carbonated drinks, although I do drink some wine that I like. And that’s it. It’s a new way of living.
J: Thank you. Is there anything you’d like to add?
E: Yes, I recommend t’ai chi to everyone. I recommend doing it and practising regularly, because it acts to regulate body processes that serve to heal the body. Healing comes from within utilizing oxygen. T’ai chi works to facilitate the connection.