Virtual Tai Chi and Qigong – The Real Solution for All of Us

Friday, April 24, 2020

Firstly, I want to say “Hello” to all my JinLi family. How are you going? I’ve been challenged and I know I’ve had it easy compared to most in Australia. Time is very strange; the day disappears and I reflect on how long we have been “protecting” ourselves and realise it’s been a relatively short time.

Maintaining physical, emotional and intellectual health is vital for us under normal circumstances, and is even more so now. We’re all trying to keep our life-routine as normal as we possibly can, which is no easy task. As we stay home, we can maintain our physical wellbeing through our Tai Chi and Qigong practice, but our intellectual, emotional and social interaction with Tai Chi has been taken away from us, or so I thought. But now there is a great solution!

Virtual Classes

Real-time online Tai Chi and Qigong classes, with the only difference to our normal classes being that students practice within their own space at home, whilst the instructor does the same. Our JinLi instructors conduct classes from their home gardens or living rooms as weather dictates. As a student, it may be inside or outside your home, whatever works. You don’t need a huge amount of space - 1.5m x 2.5 m can work perfectly. Sometimes it’s just looking creatively at the space you have; “Do I have an unused area or can I re-purpose that room for an hour?” The only thing to remember is that the camera needs to be about a metre high and the screen angled almost vertically; your instructor really wants to see you, not your floor or your ceiling!

Tara has prepared a step-by-step guide to take you through the process of using the video conferencing software “Zoom”, which is amazing because the instructor is able to see all of the students (I call it the Brady Bunch view):

... and the student has an individual full screen image of the instructor:

Why JinLi Went Virtual

We are social beings. We crave human connection and interaction. As we cocoon ourselves for protection we need to have some form of release and to engage with others as we hold onto a vestige of regular life. In “normal” times, our Tai Chi classes are a way to relieve some of life’s frustrations as we stretch our bodies and our minds. In “Covid-19” times, Tai Chi and Qigong are even more important for physical and mental health. We just “must do them.”

Social Responsibility

As Covid-19 started to spread, JinLi, under Tara Brayshaw’s guidance, made an early decision to conduct outdoor-only, physically-distanced classes to give greater comfort to students who were potentially more susceptible to the virus. However, it quickly became apparent that a suspension of classes was required to guarantee students’ safety and wellbeing, not only while in class but more importantly in how they were getting to and from class.

But this was definitely not a solution in terms of maintaining our student’s physical and mental wellbeing. Once everyone went into lockdown, it was vital that we came up with a way of looking after our family of students, and to do it quickly.

How we Got it Up and Running

Tara decided we needed to be in people’s homes, if that’s where they were. That led to considering all the options available to deliver an online experience. Videos were discarded as they don’t allow for interaction or correction. The best option was to be able to maintain as close as possible to a regular class experience, so we started looking at all the different teleconferencing platforms. The pros and cons of each were explored in depth until we decided on “Zoom”.

At that stage, we went through a number of trial runs with our instructors where we looked at what difficulties students may have in engaging via a virtual class. We wanted to make it as simple but as realistic as possible. Once we established that it was feasible, we then looked at the technical requirements for presenting a seamless and professional class; camera, audio quality, lighting, reliable high-speed internet, and large screens to see the students in greater detail. Once all of that was secured and we felt confident that we could provide a truly interactive and supportive “class environment” we sought interest from our existing students in continuing their training. The response was overwhelming.

So how is it going so far?

Here’s what some of our students have said:

Sophia
How are you?
Fine, I’ve been extra careful. Life isn’t that much different as I focus on family.
When you thought online classes, what was your reaction?
I was so relieved, thrilled and impressed. Look at the job Tara has done. A big learning curve stepping out of her comfort zone to deliver a great result.
How easy was it to set up?
It wasn’t difficult at all. Much easier than expected. I looked at my home to find the best way to be able to practice my Tai Chi.
How is the learning experience?
It’s an absolute joy to do a class in her garden. It creates further intimacy as we share our homes with one another, getting closer in a different way helping each other with technology.
How was it catching up with others?
Wonderful to see people helping each other, sharing this experience together. Each person is sharing their personal space. We are a group again, learning together.
How important is this for your Tai Chi?
Obvious and clear benefits in allowing people to bring back some routine and order to their life. It reduces anxiety and is helping to maintain and build on our prior learning; grounding us when we are in danger of drifting. Previously I did one class a week. Now I can do four!
 
Yvonne
How are you?
Not too bad thanks. Coping quite well, enjoying “contact” with friends and family.
When you thought online classes, what was your reaction?
Couldn’t believe it. How could you do it? I was absolutely delighted to be able to continue my Tai Chi.
How easy was it to set up?
It wasn't too hard to set up. I was looking at using Zoom or similar for a family get together. The technology is amazing. I was blown away.
How is the learning experience?
Way better than I expected. You just need to find the space that works for you, set up and get used to the technology. It requires a little patience as anything new does but once it's established then it all runs smoothly and you just enjoy your Tai Chi.
How was it catching up with others?
Wonderful to see people helping each other, sharing this experience together. Given the lock-down and disruption to normal life, the ability to be able to share some Tai Chi together is a nurturing experience.
How important is this for your Tai Chi?
I am so grateful that Tara has been able to do this for the school. The opportunity to continue classes is a Godsend. To be able to reduce isolation and continue improving my fitness whilst also looking forward to the day when classes return to our regular spaces.
 
Arlene
How are you?
OK thanks, but it’s been a bit of a challenge. I’ve sought refuge in movement. Enjoying contact with my housemate and family.
When you thought online classes what was your reaction?
I thought "Great", but I was a little bit hesitant. I am not a tech person but it works well.
How easy was it to set up?
I have a laptop, read through Tara's notes, clicked on the link and I was in! You can take it outside as well. It just depends on what is going to work best for you. I encourage others to give it a go and see the class in practice.
How is the learning experience?
It’s an enriching experience; a saving grace! It has re-ignited my passion for Tai Chi. It gives me balance.
How was it catching up with others?
I like the group situation and you definitely feel part of the group with the virtual classes. To be able to interact with a number of people is so rewarding.
How important is this for your Tai Chi?
It is what you want it to be. The more you put in the more you get out. It has reduced my stress and anxiety, and provided "Calm in the storm", promoting inner peace, clarity and relief.

Where to From Here?

What better way to provide physical, emotional and intellectual stimulation than learning and practising Tai Chi and Qigong... and if people can’t come to us, then we’ll go to them.
We want to try and help as many people as we possibly can to not only survive Covid-19 but to flourish." said Tara Brayshaw.

In these trying times, we are providing a solution!

Article by Glenn Bermingham

 

Postscript: None of this would be possible without the mentorship of Karen Jepp - A truly remarkable woman.