Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Year in Retrospect 2011

Elizabeth Wenscott


For me this fall begins a three-part celebration. In October I turned 50. Now some of you are probably saying, "Whoop-de-doo! It's not like you turned 100 with 20/20 vision and all of your teeth for goodness sakes!" And normally I would agree. But this year is a little different... a little extra special, possibly worthy of the front page of a magazine. Or maybe even my own cable TV show.

Because this year not only did I turn 50, but I will also have been studying Tai Chi for 30 frickin’ years and teaching and making the world a better place for 20 years. Pretty cool right? YOU BET!

At this point you are probably thinking I should say something really tai chi'ish, something wise and inspiring, right? Well when I reflect on what is possibly THE most momentous, gargantuan event of the half century, a little sound happens in the back of my head. POP! Just like the sound of one of my 50th birthday balloons that had too much air. Because at that moment, I am reminded that this year also begins my teacher’s 60th year of practice!

So no. I don't have anything wise and tai chi'ish to say, other than repeating what the masters have said for hundreds of years.

How wonderful is Taiji quan,
Whose movements follow nature!
Continuous like a jade bracelet,
Every movement expresses the Great Ultimate...

Li I-yu


Brief Notes of the Schools Activities

The Tai Chi Program
The year began with another incredible Chinese New Year celebration that included the very funny Year of the Rabbit Puppet Show.

Several student sent in awesome essays for the 2011, Tai Chi & Nature Essay Question. Portions of these essays will be shared in the next newsletter!

Another successful turn out for World Tai Chi Day & Qigong Day!

Seminars included Da Lu, and Xing Yi.

Intensive Tai Chi continues to grow on Sunday mornings at 9am. If you know the whole form and are in the Ongoing program, then consider coming to the session. No instruction is given. It is just an opportunity to practice the form twice through.

Dan Menzel made another "When is the Best Time For Tai Chi?" Videos.

Ravenswood Artwalk 2011 was incredible. Dan Menzel and Laura Brownstone demonstrated 2 Person Tai Chi Staff and Sas Stark and Chris Zalek killed just about everything else Tai Chi related. Laurel Ross sang with the Bullfrogs Community Choir and Sara Zalek and Aurora Tabar encouraged us to HUG. Check out the Group HUG performance, a one hour video condensed to 15min. This video also features the naturesounds that were recorded by Paul Dickinson.

Meditation Program
Several of us neigong meditators went on a field trip to the Smart Museum for a group meditation with AD Zen Gate as part of the Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan exhibition.

Qigong Program
Don Tomei and Sharon Fierro lead two very popular Qigong classes at the Chicago Green Festival.

6 Healing Sounds Qigong will be the next class offering 2012!

Yoga Program
Tracy Von Kaenel launched the Aerial Yoga Program class.

Out of the new Aerial Yoga program came two outstanding performances at this years RAW Flow and Aerial Yoga Demo and Arial Yoga Dance with Tracy Von Kaenel

The Health and Philosophy Program
Lisa Hish ended this year with the beginning of what will be an in-depth look at WATER both in our bodies and in the natural world around us.

Elizabeth Wenscott has been privately teaching Sharon Fierro the I Ching. Hopefully more will follow!

The Environmental Arm - Sustainable Return
Once again this year the environmental arm has been extremely active!

Lisa Hish and 5 school members set up and maintained the schools first community garden plot!

Elizabeth launched a native plant corner parkway initiative through Northcenter Neighborhood Association and the North Branch Restoration Project where students will get to volunteer and help plant corner parkways while learning about why native plants are so important and why they help our tai chi.

Several members of the Tai Chi Center of Chicago learned about the origin and fundamental principles of biodynamic agriculture in both theory and practice. Special emphasis was placed on practical applications for a smaller scale yard, garden or vegetable plot.

Year of the Rabbit came in with the new moon, and TC3 and friends of TC3 raised $1,200 dollars for the Oregon Natural Desert Association's, Save the Pygmy Rabbit program! Looking ahead put this date on your calendar, February 11, 2012 Year of the Dragon Celebration and Fundraiser. Believe me this will be a fun celebration! If you were born the year of the Dragon or have a friend or family member born the year of the Dragon please bring them to this celebration.

Double Happiness

Double Happiness is when happiness collides with happiness making it even bigger! This year the school celebrated the civil union between Patricia Benjamin and Martha Fourt. Congratulations to you both!


Don't breathe unless you mean it!

Our crops are under attack!
When I was watering the community garden one of the lettucy-shrubbery-ish looking plants, a medium-sized, up-to-no-good rabbit jumped out and ran away across the yard. It was definitely eating something. By the way, I know this is weird, but the rabbit kind of looked like Kip.

Get Outside

Sas Stark

My big idea?
Get outside.

I started my year, bellying up to Elizabeth’s kitchen table with some great friends the morning of January 1st. While bandying about our stories and laughs, an idea took form for my Tai Chi practice and exploration. Take it outside. “We live in Chicago” you say. Not such an intriguing idea in the depths of winter. However, I believe (as does the latest issue of Outside magazine) “that getting outside makes you smarter, happier and want to fix the planet”. All good things in my book. I knew that with the exuberance that Chicagoans embrace the outdoors in summer months, sharing an outdoor Tai Chi practice was what I wanted to do.

I got to enjoy practicing outside at Welles Park with many of you this last summer, and I thank you for enriching my life. I have gone a bit dormant with my outside practice here in Chicago now that it’s getting colder, but plan to kick it up again in my travels to warmer climbs, and I encourage you to as well. And yes, there is always next summer.
Most of all, in a form that asks you to turn inward and develop your internal Tai Chi art, I would propose that this practice among the trees, the cool grass, the crazy squirrels inevitably asks you to look outward and connect with nature, invest in nurturing the environment that teaches us so much. Yes, it opens your eyes and heat to heal the planet.
Here are 5 smart reasons I’d like you to keep in mind as you consider your own outside practice that I found in the afore mentioned Outside magazine. Cognitive scientists are only just beginning to understand what being in nature does for our mental health. But the evidence is promising.

1. INCREASED ATTENTION SPAN. A 2008 study by University of Michigan psychologists found that walking outside or even just looking at pictures of natural settings improves directed attention, the ability to concentrate on a task. Put another way, nature restores our ability to focus.

2. BETTER MEMORY. The same study supported previous experiments showing that being in nature improves memory - by 20 percent when it came to recalling a series of numbers.

3. REDUCED STRESS. Office workers with views of trees and flowers reported lower stress levels, higher job satisfaction, and fewer physical ailments than colleagues with views of buildings, according to a 1989 study by the University of Michigan.

4. IMPROVED MOOD. In a 1991 study by Texas A&M psychologists, subjects who viewed scenes of water or trees reported a much quicker return to a positive mood after a stressful event than those who viewed urban scenes.

5. GREATER CREATIVITY. In a pilot study this March, psychologists found that students in an Outward Bound course showed a 40 percent boost in frontal-lobe activity - which is linked to creativity - after four days in the backcountry.
This is just my way to explore the Tai Chi form. I encourage you to find something that truly matters and make it yours.


Wellness Tai Chi Fan

Qi Zhou

The Wellness Tai Chi Fan class started on January 11, 2011. The very same day the opening ceremony for a 30 foot plus Confucius bronze statue at Tiananmen Square area, in front of the National Museum. When Elizabeth and I discussed the starting date in Nov. 2010, we went through various factors but the Confucius factor. When we chose the date I did not know that such an important event was also scheduled on the other side of the world. Elizabeth might have known but she did not tell me.

So there we go. As the fan class went through some most tranquil class time at the Tai Chi Center of Chicago, some prominent personages were sitting on hot seats at the other side of the world. There was a heated debate going on as whether it was appropriate for a statue of this magnitude be erected on Tiananmen Square area, in the visible distance the is another famous figure (Mao Zedong), and his comparatively miniature scaled painting. By late April, the statue was moved and placed inside the garden of National Museum. At the same time, members of the fan class were experiencing some difficulties with weekday morning schedule, plus I wanted to include more students in class who otherwise would not be able to attending. We eventually moved our schedule to Saturday afternoons.

Tai Chi Fan is a relatively newer exercise, those who attended fan class were the ones who are constantly watching for newer Tai Chi movement. I knew all students were working very hard to try to master this little Martial Arts Fan during many months of our class, but the evidence did not show until late September when I made a class video. After I uploaded the video into my computer, I watched with pride the performance of fan class students - the evidence of their hard working and dedication were beyond my imagination. All students in fan class at that time have had more then 10 years of various Tai Chi, other martial arts and physical training experiences. They brought into my class the Principle, the Energy and the Dedication that reflected the Tai Chi training they have received from Master Elizabeth Wenscott and others. I am thankful to all of those who contributed. You may view the video at

The fan class will learn Fitness Tai Chi Double Fan in 2012 starting on January 7. In addition to continue working on improving overall body coordination, the double fan exercise will also focus working on increasing lower body strength and improving balance. The slowness of Fitness Tai Chi Double Fan movement resembles an effortless dance, but every movement is performed with great deal of internal strength and control. This joyous exercise is to help students to gain physical, mental and spiritual strength, and overall feeling of vitality. I anticipate we will have a fun filled and busy learning year.


Christopher Zalek

Reflecting on the past year at the Tai Chi Center just makes me smile. Besides all of the new faces coming in each month, we have a few groups of ongoing students learning and refining internal systems. Its great to see so many people practicing Da Lu together on a weekly basis. And as I'm writing this at the close of 2011, we have two groups learning Hsing-I: one has just started the series of exercises, and a second is about to learn the final moves of the form. Core strength for the student, core strength for the school.

My personal goals last year were two-fold. The first was to start an outdoor practice on a regular basis through the warmer months. We've found a pretty nice place at the Logan Square monument, and have met there on Sunday mornings a couple times a month (good coffee shops and a wonderful farmer's market nearby). Next year I think we might mix it up a bit and change the location from time to time. Stay tuned to the Tai Chi Center on Facebook for more info, we'll start back up again in March.

My second goal was to create a written foundation of the principles of Tai Chi. This turned out to be just a wee bit more than I bargained for. Breaking down and expressing body mechanics of alignment and exercises started to raise more questions than I ever imagined. How do I explain how your shoulders should feel? What are the benefits of breathing fully? What is intention? The results of this exploration are what you see in the posts on Working through this process has also deepened my understanding of Tai Chi and has helped me develop a more creative approach to teaching. To those of you in my Saturday introductory class who went slower than you ever thought possible, who held postures for what felt like forever: thanks for your patience... you have my gratitude!

What will 2012 bring...? I'm not sure, but it being a Dragon year, I'm sure its going to be something big.

Everything is Tai Chi


With the advent of 2012, I have been met by a challenge to say as much about Tai Chi Chuan in as few words as possible. This for most serious Tai Chi practitioners is incredibly difficult, I would guess, as the words "everything is Tai Chi", is yes, just that. I find myself reading/talking/thinking/learning/teaching about the different aspects of it, such as; health, mind, spirit and martial all the time.

Why? Because of the thoughtful connective relationships in something as "simple" as learning a form, breaking it down into the individual postures and causing myself to be forever striving for perfection as I search for the balance in all things.
Foundation, breath, alignment and a good pair of shoes. That's, the real analogy of life, my friends.

I'm fascinated with the way I've seen Tai Chi change the world in which I live. The inner calm that one can find in this practice! It has allowed me to finally listen to my inner self; the spiritual, the mental, and of course the physical me. I can now thoughtfully interact with my surroundings from the position of a Tai Chi practitioner.

Taking the time we need to navigate along a path of positive choices. While being able to watch these same changes happening on the various levels to the many thoughtful friends, family and acquaintances. Helping each other learn to co-exist as thoughtful brothers and sisters as we practice Tai Chi Chuan together.

This of course, ultimately reflects upon our backyard environments. In turn, affecting our neighbors, and their neighbors, their neighbors neighbors, etc. I think that perhaps we can make the world a better place by learning to be in balanced harmony amongst each other. So, yes, everything Tai Chi, it's so much deeper than a simple excercise. Everybody has the potential for great things within themselves.

So ask yourself this question: Is it worth me learning Tai Chi if I can possibly change my world for the better? And to think that it all started for me with a one month introductory class...

Oh! and did I mention this is a martial art as well? I guess I'll have to wait until next year to write about that.

All the best,


Tracy Von Kaenel - 2011

Yoga With Tracy Von Kaenel

What a year the yoga students and I have had. 2011 brought the birth of Aerial Yoga. It all began with a glimmer in the eyes of Lisa Hish, Elizabeth and myself. The possibility of a brand new bouncing sling hanging from the beam. Perhaps even 5 of them! It started with one and few private and duet lessons. Interest grew slowly in the beginning, but before long there was a flush of it. Soon there were five beautiful shiny black slings hanging from the beam and eager students to fill them. In fact at the time of this writing the classes are booked through February of next year. WooHoo! The new Aerial Yoga students and I have learned so much about this different and wonderful form of Yoga. Things like, it’s probably best not to hang upside down and spin if you are pregnant. Things like, not everyone is ok with not touching the floor. But also things like feeling a release in your back that no other form of physicality can bring. The sense of pure joy as the sling gently supports you in a weightless handstand. And the sensation of being cradled into a deep and soothing Savasana like no other. If you haven’t tried Aerial Yoga, you should….no, it’s not for everyone, but it is truly something unique and wonderful for most.

The Yoga program participated again this year in the Ravenswood Art Walk. We performed an Aerial Yoga Demo, a Flow Yoga Demo, and I followed up with an Aerial Yoga Dance. The whole group and the audience then joined in for a lovely and spirit rising session of Om Mani Padme Hum chanting. It was beautiful.

2011 brought some wonderful, new, committed faces to the studio as well, and the classes continue to grow in both size and generousness of spirit. Each person that comes to the Yoga classes at TCC is meant to be there…. every one of them a lovely soul.

This was also a year of great challenge for many of us. Two of our regular yogis miraculously lived through a harrowing experience at the hands of an angry lake Michigan. A couple more yogis lost their jobs after years of dedicated service. Several folks lost loved ones or made hard transitions in their lives. And yet the one thing we all had to be grateful for is the strength of our character and our Yoga practice; the chance to come to a beautiful peaceful place to re-connect with our spirits despite the outside world. What a beautiful blessing that is indeed.
As I look forward to 2012, I pray to stay connected to all the wonderful yogis and yogins I am so blessed to instruct for so many years, and I welcome even more new faces. I know it is going to be a great year.



Fishes and Chains

Don Tomei

Fishes and Chains

Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.

I don’t fish.

But I do teach.

I teach a practice that nourishes for a lifetime.

Human existence is delineated by constraints. Like tethered beasts we strain against our limits.
Yet the spirit, ever defiant, claims infinite scope.

I once read a story about captive elephants. It said that the captors first tether an elephant’s foot with a heavy chain. For a while, the elephant tries, in vain, to escape. Eventually it gives up. After that, the captors use only a thin rope to tether the elephant. Though the elephant could easily break free of the rope, it never again tries.

Yes, the spirit can be tethered. By fatigue. By fear. By complacency. By indifference. By ignorance. By evil.

But it is never a chain that tethers the spirit. It is always a thin rope. One that we can break free of at any time.

We need only try.

My mission as a teacher is not to break the chains of my students. It is to show them that their chains are not, in fact, chains, but only light rope.

And that simply by trying, they can be free. Not just for a day, but for their lifetime.

Wellness Qigong Growth

Sharon Fierro


This year proved to be a year of significant personal growth. The challenges and changes of 2011 created many opportunities to apply my tai chi, qigong and meditation practices, as well as the teachings from the I Ching. Overall, these taoist practices provided the foundation for greater strength, clarity, understanding and joyful connection with family and friends. And for this, I am most grateful!
Some of the experiences that positively influenced my teaching and my life in 2011 included: (1) an increased commitment to my weekly tai chi, qigong & meditation practices; (2) studying the I Ching, Book of Changes, under Elizabeth’s direction; (3) focusing on harmonizing with the seasons for health and well-being utilizing the 5 Elements Theory, under the direction of Lisa Hish; (4) training Jackie Morhlein, a qigong student, to teach qigong and implement a qigong program for seniors @ the Breakers; (5) successfully working with qigong students with significant health issues; and (6) studying Six Healing Sounds Qigong (with Don and Elizabeth) with the intent to offer this class in 2012.

2011 ineffable/sensation

Christine Wallers

2011 ineffable/sensation

Much of 2011 was spent creating a nearly imperceptible work in which both optical and sonic effects challenged the viewer and listener to take the time to perceive the piece. Hover, an installation with sound artist Steve Peters evolved from our shared fascination with light, emptiness and presence. The eight-channel collaborative installation is inspired by earwitness reports of the mysterious phenomenon of auroral sound associated with the Northern Lights. The visual component consists of hundreds of lines of monofilament and thin copper wire strung overhead, fastened with magnets, and streaking across the space catching the natural light. The mingling of light and sound proved to be equally ethereal and elusive.
More about Hover can be found in this review in TimeOut Chicago

As the winter begins to take hold I am in the midst of a flurry of as of yet untitled chaotic drawings that break the tightly knit structures that proceeded in Things That Sting. I am looking forward to changes in scale, continuing the restless arrangement and obliterating much of the white space within them.

On Being

Kipling Swehla - Meditation

On Being
From a deep, soundless sleep I was abruptly awakened by a man's voice. “The universe is expanding at an increasing rate propelled by dark energy. “ The strange, disorienting words were floating in my head when I realized my alarm clock was going off to NPR’s program “On Being”.

It was sunday morning again and again way too early for a night person to be waking up. Those words were stuck in my brain being groggily pondered when it dawned on me that it’s through meditation and Tai Chi that we are able to truly experience the meanings and similarities in Taoism and Quantum Physics.

Recent discoveries in Astronomy and new theories in Quantum Physics are practically plagiarizing the Tao Te Ching and eastern philosophy. Dark energy, dark matter, membranes connecting all things in the universe, and fields in which energy becomes matter are all very new scientific theories trying to prove concepts thousands of years old.

M Theory hypothesizes there is a membrane extended throughout the entire universe which envelopes and interconnects everything and everybody. It is a variation of String Theory, a Theory of Everything, which describes the existence and interconnection of multiple dimensions, including some which are unobservable.

Nasa describes Dark Energy as being 70% of the universe yet other than that, it is a complete mystery. Dark Matter is matter which neither emits, reflects, or scatters light or radiation. It makes up 25% of the universe yet nothing is known about it.

A lab in Geneva is smashing protons at a high speed to replicate the Big Bang, the origin of manifestation, so they can prove the existence of a field in which energy becomes matter.

I hear all this and I can’t help but to think of the lines in Chapter One of the Tao Te Ching,

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

This is all a long way to explain why I love Tai Chi and meditation. If you still your thoughts and empty your mind, the darkness will expand your perception of reality.