Active Seniors Special Section: Tai chi is key to flexibility

Published on Wed, Jul 18, 2012 by Kelly Sullivan

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Guo Cheng, l., leads her weekly morning tai chi sword fan class. Cheng is the founder and chief instructor of the Blaine Taiji Academy, located in her Blaine home. Photo by Kelly Sullivan.

Four years ago, Guo Cheng was virtually bedridden. She couldn’t get up to cook or clean her home, and she slept up to 20 hours a day.

“Every day I cried,” Cheng said. “Every day there was tears.” Her immobility was caused by back and shoulder problems, hyperthyroidism and sciatica.

Thanks to the centuries-old practice of tai chi, Cheng, 57, regained her physical health, and earlier this month, led her students from the Blaine Taiji Academy to first place in Qigong at the International Wushu Festival and Can-Am International Championships held in Vancouver.

This was quite a feat for a woman who couldn’t walk a city block four years ago.   

Growing up in China, Cheng was always active. Her teachers encouraged her to practice tai chi but she ignored them, considering it to be too slow and boring. She preferred dancing, mountain climbing, running and basketball. Cheng trained as an acupuncture physician and met a handsome American at her clinic in Bejing. They married and moved to the U.S. in 1999.

Cheng didn’t drive and spoke very little English, making her entry into the U.S. difficult. She passed her driver’s test on the sixth try and graduated with honors in English from Whatcom Community College at the age of 53 in 2008. Her years of being so active began to take their toll, and her  health started to deteriorate. Cheng realized that if she didn’t do some kind of exercise she would become totally disabled.

Remembering tai chi from her youth, Cheng started watching instructional DVDs by Master SiTan Chen, a world tai chi champion. After a year of following his instruction, Cheng lost 30 pounds and regained her flexibility. She was so inspired by the miraculous results, she began to teach tai chi at the Blaine Senior Center and then the Whatcom Fitness Center, before opening the Blaine Taiji Academy in 2009.

Wally Greenough, one of Cheng’s students, also overcame physical disabilities through tai chi. Years ago, she was hit by a bus in Peru and lost the ability to raise her elbow above her shoulder. “I couldn’t touch my toes,” Greenough said. “Now I can sweep the floor with my hands.”

In this year’s competition, where all competitors were between 50 and 75 years old, Greenough participated in individual events and with the Blaine Taiji Academy team. She won a gold medal in the Senior’s Tai Chi 24 event and two silvers in the Liu Xi Jue and Ba Duan Jin individual events. Team member Kelly Hong won a gold medal in the individual event, the novice Tai Chi 24 and a bronze medal in the novice Ba Duan Jin.

It was the group’s second year competing at the event, Cheng said. Last year they won a silver medal in a group Ba Duan Jin event.

 “I told the team not to expect anything, but to learn as much as they can,” Cheng said. “Since they practiced so hard, it wasn’t a huge surprise they won, but being the only American team out of more than 50 teams from around the world made it very special.”

Very special indeed. For more information on the Blaine Taiji Academy, visit