finds peace of mind and body through t'ai chi ch'uan
was not an easy year for Richard Berdel. He realized he preferred
working with people one-on-one to help them solve computer problems,
rather than the supervisory role he held. The stress was affecting
had a lot of tension in my body because of that position, and
I was having a hard time letting go of it," he said.
a year, he transferred to a position that provided more opportunities
for assisting others and, after researching various relaxation
techniques, began practicing t'ai chi ch'uan.
"I gradually was able to relax, to let go of the anxiety
that was leading to muscular tension," said Berdel, a computer
systems engineer who has worked at ITC
for six years.
of several martial arts that have become popular in this country,
t'ai chi ch'uan is a blend of healing art, self-defense and meditation
that was created by Chinese monks in approximately 1000 A.D.,
though its Taoist roots are much older. It emphasizes relaxation
and inner calm rather than strength, utilizing the body's internal
energy, or "chi," to turn the opponent's force against
him in an actual conflict.
A t'ai chi form involves a series of slow, flowing movements,
including soft kicks and punches, intended to direct chi throughout
the body. Focusing the mind on the body's movements can be therapeutic
physically and emotionally.
moderate cardiovascular exercise, t'ai chi ch'uan improves balance,
lowers blood pressure and stress hormones, enhances respiratory
and immune function, and promotes psychological well-being, according
to research by the National Institute on Aging and other respected
me, t'ai chi ch'uan goes way beyond simply relaxing," Berdel
said. "It's a sustaining activity. It re-establishes my feeling
of connectedness to all living things."
arises at 5 a.m. each day to spend an hour practicing t'ai chi
ch'uan, including warm-up exercises. "It's a huge motivator
for me," he said. "I really enjoy doing it a lot."
said he has tried several kinds of exercise, including yoga and
bicycle racing, but "I haven't found anything that is as
beautiful in the way it unfolds for me each time I do it. There
is a level of beauty and inspiration in t'ai chi [ch'uan] that
the other kinds of physical activities I've done don't have."
Practicing t'ai chi ch'uan has affected other aspects of Berdel's
life, he said, encouraging "a kind of introspection with
regard to every activity."
work, being more relaxed has helped him to be more open and communicative
with his co-workers, he said, while, at home, it has enhanced
his ability to focus on a major project, building a new house.
For the past two years, Berdel and his wife, Mable B. Kinzie,
an associate professor of instructional technology at the Curry
School, have been overseeing the design and construction of
their new home, designed by U.Va. architecture
professor William H. Sherman.
the most sustained creative activity we've ever undertaken,"
Berdel said, adding that "it's certainly been enhanced"
by his t'ai chi ch'uan practice. The house will have a t'ai chi
room with a wall-sized window overlooking woods.
t'ai chi ch'uan also sparked Berdel's interest in Taoism. He started
reading the Tao te Ching, a collection of philosophical poems
written in about 500 B.C. by Lao Tzu, and discusses eight translations
of one poem each week with a Taoist study group.
really interesting thing about the Tao te Ching is that each of
the chapters challenges you to go a step beyond the written word
and let go of the intellectual control that we normally think
we have over life and pride ourselves in having.
I stop grasping after sensations and what I think is going to
happen next, I no longer have multiple desires going in different
directions. I experience life going in one direction, and there's
harmony between myself and the world."
by his study of Taoism and t'ai chi ch'uan, Berdel started writing
poetry again, after a 15-year hiatus, he said.
is a founding member of the Little Mountain T'ai chi ch'uan Association,
a soon-to-be non-profit organization that offers classes in t'ai
chi ch'uan and a Taoist study group Berdel leads.
in t'ai chi ch'uan are offered through U.Va.'s Intramural-Recreational
Sports program, as well as several martial arts schools in
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