Sharing and Promoting Wellness to the Community

“Not a Typical Tai Chi Class”

On Friday mornings, the Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple Kaikan is filled with nearly to 30 students eager to learn Tai Chi from their sifu, or master. And these students will all tell you that this class is different from what people would imagine a typical Tai Chi class to be. 

“You may have a stereotypical image of what Tai Chi looks like, with people in the park doing odd things. But when I came for the first time two weeks ago, I left the class thinking, ‘this is not what I thought it would be!’” says Ann Gee, who admits she was reluctant to go at first. Now, she is immersed in the practice. “The best part of the class is that our sifu gives explanation and meaning to all the movements we do,” she says excitedly. 

Hosted by the Buddhist Women’s Association, the Tai Chi/Qigong program at the temple offers weekly one-hour lessons for older adults and caregivers, led by martial arts expert Grand Master Jason Tsou. The class is a safe environment for students to learn the art of Tai Chi, which supports both their physical wellbeing and mental health, and provides an interesting perspective – integrating physiology and emotional aspects with the philosophy of Tai Chi and the Yin and Yang, which stresses the importance of having both internal and external balance. 

The class attracts people of various ages from all over Los Angeles, even as far as Tarzana and Gardena. “That’s how dedicated people are,” says the program’s founder, Setsuko Nakahara.

Mottainai – Sharing the Knowledge to the Community

Setsuko and her husband Roy have been taking classes from Sifu Jason for more than 20 years, and they wanted to find a way to share the experience with others around them. “We felt this information is so valuable, and that more people need to hear this,” she says. “It’s mottainai to keep it just for the two of us.”

Setsuko asked the BWA to host the classes, and with support from the Keiro Grants Program, they are able to provide a class with a knowledgeable, experienced instructor at a very affordable price for many older adult students who may live on a fixed income. “I’m grateful that the sifu is able to come and teach, and people are able to have him as an instructor,” Setsuko says. “And the Keiro grant to support this program really, really helps.”

Caring for Each Other – and Yourself

Sifu Jason, who drives to the class each week from Upland, is passionate about teaching and helping older adults in the community stay healthy as they age. The students speak highly of their instructor. “Jason is very patient,” says a long-time participant. “He is able to communicate all this information to us at every single level in an easily understandable format.”

And Jason reminds participants that it is important to take care of yourself. “A lot of times you want to take care of somebody but you don’t want to be a burden for anybody,” he says. “You have to take care of yourself first. It’s not selfishness, it’s fundamental understanding. That’s our principle.”

“You may think this is just routine each class,” says one participant. “But every time, you learn something new from sifu. It’s so comprehensive, it’s hard to say in words how great it is.” The coordination of the hands, feet, and the positioning all require focus – and practice. Another participant says, “I go home and try to practice, but I can’t remember, and so I tell myself to try to get one more move besides the ones you already know. And then it becomes a continuous process.”

Many Motives, but Physical and Mental Health for Everyone

“We all came into the class with different motives or rationale for why we did it,” says one participant. “Mine was balance. I fall a lot. As I age, now for even the simplest thing, bam I’m down, and I thought this is not right.”

Many students say they have noticed improvements in their overall wellbeing. One student in her 90s received praise from her chiropractor about the improvements in her health, while another sees improvement in her knees. “It used to hurt every time I got out of the car or every move I made, but the positions and improving the muscles around it has helped a lot.”

Reducing Social Isolation for Older Adults and Caregivers

In addition to the health benefits, the program brings other people out of their homes. For the Gee couple, this was the activity that Myron the husband, for the first time in seven years of retirement, wanted to attend instead of just staying at home. They now enjoy a joint activity that they look forward to each week.

Within the group are also a handful of students who are part of the sandwich generation – caring for their parents while simultaneously raising their children. One such caregiver says, “The class keeps me focused, and I can be more balanced. This actually is the ONLY time that’s my time, and that I feel like I’m doing something for myself.”

There is also a sense of camaraderie within the group. They occasionally enjoy lunch outings after class, and the program has become a place for members to gather and socialize. The members are very supportive of each other as well as the program. Every individual in the class stayed to share how important the program was during the interview.

The class continues to challenge each individual and provides something for participants to look forward to. They hope to continue sharing the knowledge with community members by encouraging others to join, to discover the health benefits for their body and mind.