By Christy Lau
Sumali ‘Molly’ Sethisuwan extols the benefits of Tai Chi, and explains why everyone needs to pick up this ancient Chinese meditative exercise.
Once I started Tai Chi, all the pain and aches went away.”
-Sumali ‘Molly’ Sethisuwan
I watch as Sumali ‘Molly’ Sethisuwan raises her arms slowly, breathing deeply as she does so. Her motions are graceful, each aligning with every inhale and exhale, as she shows me a few basic Tai Chi moves. To the uninitiated, the stances are reminiscent of classic yoga poses, but unlike yoga, a Tai Chi practitioner is always in constant movement.
The 64-year-old attributes her radiant and youthful complexion to this ancient Chinese form of exercise, which utilises specific breathing techniques and the integrated coordination of the muscles, heart and mind to stimulate the flow of positive energy (called ‘chi’) inside and around the body. After picking up the basics at the now-closed Capitol Club back in 2010, Molly decided to advance her skills by taking classes at the Miracle Taichi Centre in Thonglor, earning two certificates that qualify her to teach others.
For almost three years, she has been hosting free Tai Chi classes four times a week at Benchasiri Park, aiding others in their quest for a healthier and happier life. Now she invites Masala to take a deep breath and explore the benefits of this holistic exercise.
How did you discover Tai Chi and why did you decide to pick it up?
I saw the classes happening at Capitol Club and was curious, so I decided to try it. Soon I realised that Tai Chi is more than just the physical movements and that breathing was a major part of it. The first thing I noticed when I did these breathing exercises was that I became very alert mentally and was able to make decisions quicker.
I also had all these problems creeping in as I was reaching menopause, including severe sciatica pain and intense vertigo, but once I started Tai Chi, all the pain and aches went away.
How does Tai Chi compare to other types of exercise?
I’ve tried cross-training and yoga, and for me, Tai Chi is beyond both. Firstly, you don’t need any equipment; you use your own body weight to exercise. Secondly, you can practice Tai Chi anywhere you are, even when you’re travelling.
Also, it’s total body and mind integration, which is very meditative. There’s a very distinct way of breathing, reminiscent of how a foetus breathes when still in the womb. Every breath must be synchronised with each musculoskeletal movement.
How long did it take you to learn the basic movies?
About three or four months. Each movement takes time to learn and you don’t move on to the next one until you are done. There’s no rush, it’s more about perfecting each pose.
What is your favourite part of Tai Chi?
I love doing the Tai Chi fan dances. I find them very energetic and a good way to showcase your strength. The fan itself is the chi, and you can show your inner power through your dance.
Why did you start teaching classes at the park?
Mainly to bring awareness that a person can understand and control their body to achieve inner energy. Also, there’s nothing like practicing Tai Chi out in nature, and breathing in fresh air.
Who are your main participants?
They come from all backgrounds, and include tourists and housewives.
How has Tai Chi impacted your students’ lives?
Without fail, all of them have seen a huge improvement in their health. Tai Chi massages all your internal organs, improves circulation, strengthens your muscles and detoxifies you. It also has positive impacts on your digestion and sleep patterns, and can help with anxiety and headaches.
There were some people who couldn’t walk up stairs without feeling out of breath who can now take on 400 steps easily. So many people come to me saying that they can eat and sleep better. It really revitalises every part of you.
So you’re saying it can fix your pain?
No, it is not a cure exactly. It’s more about giving you the tools to manage your body better. I used to have severe sciatica but Tai Chi eased the symptoms. The damage remains but the pain is reduced and further injury is also prevented.
Can anyone pick up Tai Chi, no matter their age?
Yes! It isn’t physically demanding so anyone can practice it. It’s also not difficult to learn; the movements are slow and very simple. You only need flats or sneakers and a loose top, and you’re set.
Why should people start practicing it today?
Most people wait until there is a serious physical issue, but don’t wait and start early to reap the benefits. You only need to set aside one hour a day to experience some incredible results.
Another important point to note is that while other forms of exercise will have some side effects or associated damage, Tai Chi is one of the only few that will reduce pain.
What are your future plans regarding this physical activity?
I have no plans at present. I’m happy with the classes I am doing now, and helping people understand what good health means, and showing them how Tai Chi can benefit them in every part of their lives.