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When Tai Chi pulled her up, body & mind, post-cancer

When Tai Chi pulled her up, body & mind, post-cancer

This is a brief account of how a person recovering from cancer found relief, physically and emotionally, from Tai Chi
performing tai chi by the beach
Representational image | Shutterstock

Elizabeth Dey is an associate professor of education in Kolkata. She loves reading fiction and biographies in her free time. As a lively person of a happy disposition, and enjoying the little things in life, Dey says she loves to visit and explore new places when she takes a break from her busy schedule – apart from being with her family.

Dey’s idyllic life was shattered in 2016 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Though devastated, she followed her doctor’s advice and underwent surgery to have the tumour removed. It was followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Dey says she was anxious and depressed throughout the treatment period. “All the time I could think only about my two daughters, and what would happen to them,” she recalls.

The multiple therapies lasted for a year and in 2017, Dey was declared cancer free. It was a relief, but the treatment left her debilitated and dispirited.

 Life after treatment

“It was mentally, physically, and emotionally draining,” says Dey, now 53, as she painfully looks back at those times.

With those sore memories behind her, she happily shares with Happiest Health what she did to come out of it.

While she was recovering, she would jog regularly and exercise a lot. But even after trying everything, she was weak. She seemed to have lost her natural zest for life. Dey says, “Only my strength of mind kept me going.” Almost a year passed in this way.

In 2018, Dey travelled to Malaysia for a few days to take part in a seminar. During her local explorations, something that she saw there by the seashore enthralled her.

“There was this young girl, all by herself, and she was making beautiful, graceful, unhurried movements with her hands. The cold breeze added to its beauty. The entire scene got imprinted on my mind. I later learnt that this is a slow-motion Chinese exercise called Tai Chi.”

Dey was so fascinated by the form of exercise – some call it ‘meditation in motion’ – that she made up her mind to learn it.

After returning to Kolkata, she searched for Tai Chi practitioners nearby and was overjoyed to discover that a couple, Kartikey Shukla and Sylvia Das, teach it at their centre, Shine With Health, right in her city.  Dey immediately enrolled into a course there.

Body and mind

After about six months into tai chi every morning, Dey started feeling its results.

First, she regained physical stamina. “I now feel like a young girl. Tai chi sets a positive tone for my day. At the end of every session, I’m ready for the day.”

Before Tai Chi, Dey used to get exhausted after jogging. She would need to take a long rest and could not do any chores at home afterwards. But after taking up Tai Chi, she found that she could work more at home without much difficulty, and even have the energy to socialise after her jogging sessions.

The biggest change was in her mindset. “I’m at peace now. Having gone through a rollercoaster of emotions during and after my treatments, I feel Tai Chi came as a blessing to me.”

Harmony inside

Tai chi is generally described as a series of gentle movements and stretches that create harmony between the mind and body.

A study published in 2021 shows preliminary evidence that Tai Chi could help in reducing anxiety and depression.

Sylvia Das, one of Dey’s trainers, says, “Tai Chi teaches us to synchronise our breath with slow movements. Over time, slow breathing becomes a habit even if you are not performing Tai Chi.”  She emphasises that Tai Chi must be practised regularly to get maximum benefits.

A study published in Frontier Of Human Neuroscience found that slow breathing leads to comfort, relaxation and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Controlling anger and pain

Tai Chi trainers say regular practice will help one to regulate emotions such as anger.

Shukla of the Kolkata centre says that relaxing at a deeper level through Tai Chi will release suppressed emotions.

Sudha Sundaram, a Tai Chi instructor at Nitya Gurukula, Coimbatore, recalls the time she started practising Tai Chi. She says, “I was amazed how Tai Chi helped me with my migraine pain. After starting it, I could tolerate the pain to a great extent.”

Sundaram adds that Tai Chi also helps in maintaining mental health. One becomes mindful of one’s body, emotions, feelings, and the surroundings. This self-awareness or clear mind will in turn guide one to take appropriate decisions that will not affect them wrongly later – as Elizabeth Dey also has discovered.

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