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Blending mind, body and soul at Central Valley Tai Chi in Chilliwack

Darrell Rigden opened Central Valley Tai Chi in March. - JENNA HAUCK/ THE PROGRESS
Darrell Rigden opened Central Valley Tai Chi in March.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ THE PROGRESS

Darrell Rigden stands with his feet shoulder-width apart. His breathing is relaxed. He raises his hands slowly up, then down. With fluid movements his arms open out to the sides, then he shifts his weight and steps back with his right foot. His left arm gracefully crosses over his right.

He continues like this as his arms, legs and whole body seamlessly and quietly shift from one tai chi movement to the next.

Ridgen is the owner of Central Valley Tai Chi, a studio which opened in March where he practises and teaches traditional Yang-style tai chi.

"It's unlike any other martial art that I know of," he says, adding that there's no belt system and no graduated advancement with tai chi.

You simply study the poses and practise them over and over again.

It starts with the beginner (short-form) tai chi which is comprised of 24 movements. Once someone has completed that, they move on to learn the next set of movements, eventually mastering the 108 long-form, Yang-style tai chi.

But it takes time. A lot of time.

"It's almost useless for the first seven to 10 years," says Rigden.

It cannot help you in a fight, he says, until you've built up the muscle memory.

Rigden has been practising tai chi for 16 years. Two years ago he was confronted by someone wanting to pick a fight with him, but because of his thousands of hours spent practising tai chi, he was able to prevent the encounter from escalating.

"You can diffuse almost anything," he says. "I've experienced the absolute quiet, mentally and emotionally."

Tai chi integrates mind, body and spirit. It relaxes one's breathing and muscles. It calms the mind.

"Tai chi releases endorphins and dopamine which helps us to relax," says Rigden. "It cannot be done with any tension."

With the slow moves and relaxed breathing, the chemicals in the body start to flow.

"The mind and body calm itself completely and you can end up taking that with you."

Rigden loves the spirit that comes from tai chi.

"One of the things I really appreciate, especially in a large group, is the energy that builds. It's spectacular. You can feel it immediately."

It's also the best physiotherapy a person can do, he says. Rigden should know — he's had a number of ailments including five compression fractures in his spine, fibromyalgia, and two workplace injuries which left tendons and ligaments in his knees and shoulders badly damaged.

"I would not be functioning very well at all if it weren't for tai chi," says Rigden.

Central Valley Tai Chi offers beginner (short-form), long-form, and advanced classes, as well as a meditation class and a weapons/new forms class. Just recently they started offering yoga classes as well, taught by Sue Kumar of Kriya Yoga.

Tai chi essentially makes one's whole self healthier the longer and more frequently they practise it, adds Rigden.

"It takes a lifetime to master it but you have a lifetime to master it," he says.

Central Valley is open Mondays to Saturdays and is located at 46152 Yale Rd. just east of Five Corners. For a full class schedule, and for pricing, go to taichichilliwack.ca, call 604-769-4399 or email drigden@hotmail.com.

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