After retiring from corporate America in 2010, Claude Earl traded his office cubicle in the World Trade Centers for Tai Chi in rural, upstate New York. Claude currently teaches free community practice sessions and the occasional paid class while maintaining a dedicated self-practice for pain reduction from his years in front of a computer. He regularly attends Brian’s local Tai Chi classes and loves helping to facilitate consistent practice habits in his students by offering community support.

The IRQTC sat down with Claude to find out more about how RQTC has influenced his life and work.

Claude, can you tell us why you started taking Tai Chi classes?

I started taking Tai Chi classes at the suggestion of my daughter, Ani Anderson. I was having problems with back pain due to arthritis in my lumbar spine and nothing that was recommended by my doctor was giving me any relief. The medications that were prescribed were actually causing me to have stomach and intestinal discomfort and had to be discontinued. So as suggested, I thought I would give Tai Chi a try. That was about 4 years ago and I have been taking both Tai Chi and Qigong classes on a regular basis ever since.

How has maintaining a regular Tai Chi practice helped your back pain?

One of the first things I realized when I started doing Tai Chi was that I was breathing and using my body wrong. I was breathing in my chest and my posture was working against me when I tried to move. Because my posture was bad, so was my balance. A regular Tai Chi practice has been instrumental in correcting all those bad habits. While making those changes in myself, I began to feel some relief in my lower back.

When learning Tai Chi, you learn what is called the “Tai Chi principles” of breathing and movement. What I found was that I was using these principles not just while doing Tai Chi, but also in my every day activities. Practicing Tai Chi also helps my awareness of how my body feels when I’m moving. So I was more aware of how my back felt even when it felt good. Over time my back discomfort has progressed somewhat, but by doing a regular Tai Chi practice and using other BodyMind programs Brian and Ani have offered, I have been able to not let the discomfort be debilitating or have that define how I approach my day (and life).

Why do you like to teach Tai Chi?

I have enjoyed doing Tai Chi since my very first class. Besides the help with my back problem and stress relief, it really put me in touch with how I felt in my body both physically and emotionally. When Brian first asked me to teach classes I was both excited and nervous, and somewhat surprised. At first, I thought I could teach everyone to feel the same way about doing Tai Chi as I felt. The classes were mostly older adults with varying degrees of ability and disability, which made be nervous due to my lack of both professional and rehabilitative training. Once I got started I realized that they all had the same problems that I had when I started. I realized that regardless of their ability or disability I could use Tai Chi to teach them the necessary principles they could take with them in their daily activities.

My hope is that by teaching Tai Chi gestures and forms clients will learn to breath properly, be more aware of how they are using their bodies, be more confident and stable when they move, and improve their balance. I really feel good about being able to help clients in such a way that they can feel more confident about the way they move during their daily activities, and do it more safely.

You have an advantage because you have taken Brian’s community classes for Balance, Neck and Shoulder Pain, and Low Back Pain. How have Brian’s classes influenced your life?

I feel very fortunate to have been able to work with Brian in many classes and workshops. All the improvements I have made in the way I use my body, breath, and improved balance are due to his instruction and continued reinforcement of these principles. Working with Brian has also given me a new sense of awareness. His instruction goes beyond just physical awareness. I have become much more internally aware of not only how I feel physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. His Qigong classes on how to create emotional and spiritual balance have been a great influence on me. I am sure that other members of our QI community feel the same way. I would also like to add how thankful I am that he had enough confidence in me to allow me to teach classes based on his Tai Chi and Qigong programs.

Why did you decide to take the fundamentals course?

As I said before, I have no professional or rehabilitative training of any kind. I took the fundamentals course to get a better understanding of the science behind the “Tai Chi principles.” My hope was that by getting a better understanding of how the body was wotking and the interactions between the various systems, I could better relate to a clients’ needs – especially those with physical limitations or disabilities.

How has the information you’ve learned from the fundamentals course influenced your teaching?

The fundamentals course has given me the ability to teach Tai Chi with a whole new set of tools. It’s like looking at the way someone’s moving with a new set of eyes. When I am looking at someone who is having difficulty with a movement I don’t look at it as singular event. I am now trying to understand the relationship of everything that is necessary to make that movement in case an adjustment or a modification is necessary. This is going to be an ongoing learning experience.

As a retiree, why have you chosen to study Tai Chi and what would you say to others, young and old, about making Tai Chi a lifestyle?

I think that once I started Tai Chi classes that it just became a part of my lifestyle. As a retiree at first it was a way to get involved in social community activity along with the possibility that it may help my back discomfort. It very quickly became something I began doing as a regular at home practice daily. I enjoyed the slow and smooth feel of the movements. I liked the way it took me out of my everyday concerns and allowed me to focus on my movements and my breath. I was a meditative experience. I later learned that all of that is what Tai Chi really was supposed to be. As you continue with your practice it becomes all that and much more.

To others both young and old I would say that making Tai Chi a lifestyle is the best thing you can do for your health, both physically and psychologically. If you are young, just learning to breathe and use your body properly will be a way of greatly improving your overall health. If you are older, learning these things will also improve your overall health and also decrease the chances of you possibly having an accident or falling and causing other more serious injuries. For everyone, a regular daily Tai Chi practice will begin to help you in finding balance in every aspect of your life – and we all could benefit from that.