Doctor Youzhong Wu’s life revolves around healing - whether in his capacity as a man of medicine or his role as Tai Chi master.
“Healing yourself is the best form of healing,” he says while preparing to deliver his latest class at Derry’s Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin.
He may be a qualified doctor of medicine and a traditional Chinese medical practitioner but Master Youzhong insists that harmonious inner healing - both emotional and physical - can best be achieved over time through the practice of the martial art of Tai Chi Chuan and the Chinese philosophy of Qigong.
Tai Chi Chuan has boomed in popularity in the West in recent decades and there are many interpretations of the martial art. There are those who cover the full curriculum of the art which can even include the use of weapons. However, there are also those who are predominately interested in developing the health aspects of Tai Chi and Master Youzhong’s Derry class falls into this category. His teaching concentrates a lot on the hand form, Qigong exercises and meditation.
Master Youzhong, who introduces himself as ‘John’, believes that the harmony and synchronisation of body and mind is key to outer strength and happiness in life.
“Of course if someone needs an operation then I’ll recommend that but the best way to health is always through self healing. A person must first ask why they are ill - it’s because the mind and body are in conflict and as a result he or she is not as strong as they should be.”
Such unsynchronised working of the mind and body is common amid the often unachievable demands of modern living, according to the Master Youzhong.
“If you want more things all the time then you always think about them and how to obtain them, leaving no time for your body. If we become more worried about the things we want it can stimulate disorder in the brain, causing stress and that manifests itself as physical illness.
“Lifestyle changes such as divorce or unemployment can also stimulate stress and anxiety and the mind can influence the body, weakening it and hurting it. For example a sportsman in a gym may believe he should be progressing better and move directly from lifting a 10kg weight to a 20kg weight but his body is not prepared for that and he hurts himself. Instead he should prepare his body by moving slowly over time [days or even weeks] from 10kg to 11kg to 12kg and so on until he can lift 20kg without hurting his body.
“Another example could be someone losing their job without warning - they are not prepared for it and it can cause deep emotional hurt. But with advance notice and government assistance with money the pain is lessened because the person is better prepared for being out of work.”
Dr Youzhong explains that Tai Chi and Qigong are about preparing the mind and body generally so that they work in harmony to lower the potential anxiety caused by the shocks life can throw up. “It’s about preparing everyday, changing a little bit everyday and in the long term changing a lot about yourself, you can even change your perspective on life. Of course there are many choices people can make to become more positive in life such as give up smoking, gambling, excessive drinking and doing more exercise but to prepare your body and mind it’s important to have a balance between physical and emotional health.”
He believes there are two ways to do this: Passive - by seeking treatment by a medical practitioner; or Active - self-treatment through activities such as Tai Chi and Qigong.
“Tai Chi and Qigong are about empowering people to treat themselves - in fact people can depend 50% on themselves to cure themselves. That may sound confusing to some as I run a clinic myself but then all that I can do in a clinic is give patients some stimulus to heal their body and mind such as acupuncture or acupressure - they can’t afford to come to the clinic everyday so I always encourage patients to join my class.”
Master Youzhong explains that Tai Chi is a “moving meditation” which gives people the ability to calm down. “Everyone has that ability but they have to work on it. When you calm down there is no disorder inside the brain and so bodily functions are freed up to work as normal - in this way it shows life’s self-fixing and strengthening function by balancing the workings of the body.”
The martial artist admits that Tai Chi and Qigong are not miracle cures but that the benefits are far reaching. He adds that patients’ abilities to heal themselves “differs with age” but that everyone can feel better as a result of practising Tai Chi and Qigong.
He explains: “Martial arts are mostly for fighting but Tai Chi is much more slow than other forms. If you can move slowly you prepare your body and mind better to create calm. Also when you move slowly you can’t hurt yourself as it allows time to prepare for the next movement. In that way it prepares your body for faster movements and helps protect from injury.”
The first, and most familiar, aspect of Tai Chi Chuan is the Hand Form. This is the series of slow movements you see performed publicly on TV and movies in the parks of China and of course in Derry. Master Youzhong also holds an outdoor weekly class in Coleraine.
Master Youzhong’s Tai Chi class is held weekly on Mondays from 6.30pm at Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin, Great James Street, Derry. Anyone interested is invited to come along for tasters of the martial art of Tai Chi and the philosophy of Qigong.
What is Tai Chi
Tai Chi Chuan does not fit neatly into the Western idea of exercise because of its slow nature. To understand the benefits it is good to have a knowledge of the concept of Qi energy. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which is believed to be over 2,000 years old, also has, at its roots, the principles of Yin and Yang. It is believed that there are meridians or pathways which travel through the body carrying Qi energy. If there is a problem, or imbalance in the flow of Qi energy, a TCM doctor would use acupuncture needles, or perhaps acupressure - the use of thumbs or hands, to stimulate acupoints and release the blockages.
Tai Chi Chuan and more directly, Qigong promotes the smooth flow of this Qi energy. By performing the postures of the form, in co-ordination with relaxed, natural breathing and the application of Yi, which is the intent or focus of the mind, practitioners help to keep the Qi moving smoothly through the channels. Aside from promoting the flow of Qi energy, Tai Chi Chuan is also said to help to increase flexibility, muscle suppleness, aid relaxation and help to keep the mind calm and focused.