Students and staff look East for healing

Emily Babcock

After consulting with his doctor, University doctoral student Mike McCord pledged to attend classes at Boynton Health Service for managing stress in an attempt to reduce his blood pressure and cholesterol.
McCord is one of many students, staff and community members who attend weekly workshops as part of a series of stress management workshops at Boynton. On Tuesday, McCord attended an interactive seminar on Tai Chi, a Chinese meditation method that has origins in martial arts of breathing exercises and postures.
Boynton has been offering courses like Tai Chi each quarter for the past three years and has added two more workshops and new instructors for spring quarter. The classes are intended to enhance relaxation as a supplement or alternative to physical exercise.
“External strength burns off with age, but this cultivates inner strength,” said David Philpott, instructor of the Tai Chi workshop.
Maree Hampton, director of health promotions at Boynton, said it is important for students of all ages to control their stress.
“When you practice stress management on a regular basis, your body builds up buffers,” Hampton said.
In addition to Tai Chi, Boynton also offers a more basic form of meditation practice at noon each Monday. The instructor demonstrates how to breathe most efficiently to increase concentration.
A weekly yoga class focuses not only on breathing, but also coordinates with stretching and postures.
Shirley Doyle has been teaching the class for about three years. She said people interested in yoga should not be intimidated because the stretches in her class include only natural body movements.
Like the meditation class, Doyle wants her students to become aware of how they are breathing. Instead of breathing from the chest, which is what people do when they are stressed, Doyle said the concentration should be more on breathing from the diaphragm.
“It helps to focus on what is going on in this present moment and that carries over into different aspects of life,” Doyle said.
Although breathing is also the foundation for Philpott’s Tai Chi class, he said he instructs the Chinese form of exercise to synchronize breathing with specific postures like the way it is done in China.
“I focus on stances and breathing instead of flailing around,” Philpott said. “It is important to be centered and rooted; if you are not, it is broken energy.”
Philpott said the full experience and methods of Tai Chi take years to cultivate. Because Tai Chi is rooted so deeply in Chinese culture, it is difficult for Westerners to understand the philosophy, Philpott said.
But he added that it is possible for a first-time student to get a lot out of the class.
“Just experience it,” Philpott said. “Don’t over-intellectualize it.”