Chinese cultural group brings tai chi to Portland’s Deering Oaks

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PORTLAND — The ancient Chinese art of tai chi is designed to integrate the mind and body for overall physical and spiritual wellness.

But it can also be easily practiced in a group setting, which makes it a perfect activity for community-building, according tothe Chinese & American Friendship Association of Maine.

These are just some of the reasons the association will begin offering free tai chi sessions in Deering Oaks Park on Saturday mornings this summer.

The sessions will be held near the rose garden from 9-10 a.m. from June 16 through the end of August, with several exceptions when instructor Karen Morency will not be available.

Morency this week said tai chi is about “body awareness (and) activating our (more than) 650 muscles for mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellness.”

Ophelia Hu Kinney, president of the Chinese & American Friendship Association, said it’s her hope that people will just “jump right in.”

She said the sessions are open to those who’ve never practiced tai chi before, as well as anyone who wants to get back into regular practice.

Hu Kinney called tai chi a “form of mind (and) body exercise that is simultaneously easy to begin and near-impossible to perfect. We are excited to be offering (these) sessions.”

This is a first-time initiative of the Chinese & American Friendship Association and Hu Kinney said the impetus behind it is two-fold.

“We noticed that people were getting so much out of the tai chi lessons offered during our annual Lunar New Year Festival and we also wanted to offer the Portland area a form of community-building and personal wellness that is common in Chinese communities.”

Hu Kinney said the association also sees the upcoming sessions as a great way to introduce more people to the friendship organization and all it does in the greater Portland region.

The Chinese & American Friendship Association of Maine was founded 30 years ago as a way of promoting cultural exchanges and preserving Chinese culture, according to the organization’s website.

It sponsors a variety of activities each year, including a mid-autumn festival and the Lunar New Year event, along with potlucks, film screenings and more.

With the tai chi sessions at Deering Oaks, Hu Kinney said, “our hope is (to provide) an introduction to a longstanding Chinese practice that prioritizes showing up and practicing over performance.”

She also sees the sessions as “a great way to meet new friends, neighbors and community members.”

Overall, Hu Kinney said, “tai chi does a good job of encapsulating a few great tenants of Chinese culture, (which) includes the notion that the mind and body are not separate entities.”

The other tenants are “that wellness is not to be perfected but to be sought and that we shouldn’t be embarrassed about practicing something over and over in the pursuit of betterment,” she said.

Hu Kinney said Morency has been teaching tai chi for a long time and knows a lot about the practice.

Morency said during the summer sessions in the park she would be focusing on the Yang style of tai chi, a short form with 37 basic postures, which is the most popular form for beginners.

She said the sessions would not be formal lessons, but a chance to “delve into one or more aspects of tai chi, depending on questions from participants and where the energy of the group leads me.”

The most important thing, Morency said, will be “for people to do only what works for them, to listen to their body (and) to not go to the point of discomfort or pain.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Karen Morency, a long-time practioner and teacher of tai chi, will offer free sessions in Deering Oaks Park this summer, beginning June 16.

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