A gentle, yet incredibly effective form of Chinese martial arts, tai chi is scientifically proven to have a number of health benefits for your brain, body and soul. Ballito instructor Claire Denari tells us about this graceful exercise form that she is so passionate about.
Often referred to as ‘meditation in movement’, tai chi looks almost like a beautiful dance. It was originally developed for self-defence, but has evolved into a graceful form of exercise, which ultimately aids with healing the body from the inside.
Born in Versailles, France, qualified tai chi instructor Claire has travelled to and lived in a number of countries around the world. She moved to South Africa when she was 17 years old and met her architect husband while studying at Wits University. She and her family have been living in Ballito for the past two years, where she recently started running tai chi classes.
It was while Claire and her husband were living in Barbados in the Caribbean in the early 1990s that she first discovered tai chi. “While there, I met the daughter of the ‘push hands’ grandmaster (a type of tai chi practised with a partner), and started learning from her. I felt the benefits immediately and fell in love with it,” she says.
Tai chi is all about using the energy current that runs through our bodies (chi) to defend and protect ourselves naturally. It realigns one’s mind, body and soul and helps heal yourself through movement.
“The gentle movements massage your internal organs and can replace them to where they were when you were born and reduce the risk of prolapses. In fact, the illness prevention benefits of tai chi became so apparent that it is compulsory in most schools in China,” says Claire.
As a mother of four and a talented artist (she has exhibited her work around the world), Claire trained as tai chi instructor after seeing the benefits in her own life. She and her instructor ended up opening a school together.
“Tai chi looks like dance, but every move is a martial art. Its history dates back thousands of years. The Taoists, an ancient Chinese philosophy or religion, believe that humans, animals and nature should live together in balance. Many of the movements mimic animal survival techniques in the wild.”
To successfully practice tai chi, you have to be in an extremely relaxed, almost meditative state. It is all about defence (not attack), and Claire says the mental benefits are immense. “Your mind becomes sharper and your memory can even be boosted. It’s also a wonderful way to manage stress and anxiety.”
Claire and her family moved back to South Africa in 2003 and spent time in both Johannesburg and Cape Town, where she ran tai chi classes at the Virgin Active gym in Constantia, before moving to Ballito at the start of the pandemic.
“We wanted to find a place that was as close to the life we had in Barbados as possible, and Ballito offers us that lifestyle. The sea is a little bluer in the Caribbean, but otherwise it is incredibly similar.”
Claire is now in the process of getting her tai chi classes up and running, and will soon be offering classes at Fitpod at The Studios at Lifestyle Centre Ballito.
“I have seen so many people’s lives change for the better from doing tai chi. People have literally gone into remission after having cancer, as well as other degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis. I really believe that we need to start practising preventative medicine rather than always looking for a cure,” she says.
Details: @Clairedenarie_taichi / 082 601 7147