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Seeing Cagli Through the Lens of Tai Chi

TaiChiClassWebby Carrie Root

Eight pair of bare feet skim across the damp grass of the monastery lawn, unleashing the smell of mint and awakening the senses. Friends greet each other with hugs and kisses on the cheeks as birds chirp cheerfully from nearby trees. The air cracks with the clanging of the monastery bell, beckoning the faithful to join in Mass. Yet this barefoot group does not enter the church. Instead they spread out across the lawn and face the vista to the Italian city of Cagli below and the limitless sky above.

 These friends gather together to practice Tai Chi, an internal martial art based on meditative movements. It promotes physical, mental and spiritual health through posture and breath. While there are many forms of Tai Chi, the most common is comprised of slow-motion routines that groups practice together, often in natural surroundings. As people engage in the exercise, they circulate vital energy or “chi” within their bodies, enhancing their health and vitality. Throughout the progression of stances, minds are calmed while fine motor control and rhythm of movement are perfected.

 “Tai Chi should be made a public ordinance,” Stefania Naccari jokes as she explains the benefits of the ancient art form. “It gives me different eyes with which to see the world. Everything is richer for it.”

 Stefania discovered Tai Chi when she met the instructor in a class on flora therapy. She was invited to meditate with the group in the early morning hours two days a month, sharing breakfast together afterward. Later she joined the Tai Chi class, which is offered two evenings a week.

 Meditation is not common among mainstream Cagli culture, where the Catholic faith and Italian traditions hold deep roots. The Tai Chi students say they sometimes receive strange looks from others in Cagli, but Stefania sees a link between the ancient practices of Tai Chi and the traditional Catholic faith. Jesus meditated in the desert, she points out. As a practicing Catholic, Stefania uses the meditative quality of Tai Chi to connect with a higher power. She sees meditation as an overlapping element that unites Catholicism and Tai Chi.

 Gabrielle, a thin young man with dark hair, joins the class for his first Tai Chi experience. He hopes to gain physical strength as he recovers from a bicycle accident. “Are you nervous?” he is asked before the class. “Yes and no,” Gabrielle replies. Later he reports that the long sequences are hard to follow, especially since there are no verbal instructions. He must simply follow the lead of more-experienced students. Stefania also remembers feeling overwhelmed when she began Tai Chi a year ago. She knew little about the inner principles of the art form. But as she practiced, the physical movements became easier and her focus drew inward to meditation.

 “It is not important what you are doing, but what you are feeling,” Stefania says. “At first, everyone comes for different reasons. Somehow they converge and end up uniting on the same path.”

 Stefania wishes more people in Cagli would be open to the inner meditative quality of Tai Chi. While the small Italian city promises a relatively slow pace of life, people still experience stress due to too work, poor diet, smoking, or other factors. Stefania says family life is also disintegrating, creating a loss of community identity. Many people try to combat this stress by addressing only physical health. They discount the mental and spiritual health benefits Tai Chi offers. 

 As the evening sun sets and brings a transition from day to night, each member of the class experiences firsthand the holistic benefits of Tai Chi. Their bodies now relaxed, they look like rag dolls limply hanging by strings held from above. Slowly, deliberately, the group moves as one. For Stefania, there is peace in the knowledge that she is united with her friends and their small class in rural Italy is one link in a chain that brings people of all cultures together around the globe.


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