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Tai Chi Qigong for Health >> Tai Chi Qigong for Mental Health

Grace Under Fire
- The Stories of a Tai Chi Teacher with Schizophrenia

by Caroline Hatfield, ATCQA Certified Tai Chi Instructor (Level III), published in April 2018

Before finding Tai Chi and Qigong in 1988, I had been recovering from 5 years of illness, including being homeless at one point. It is not easy to recover from losing everything you have in life, including your mind, and experiencing a disintegration of your personality, even losing your "place" in the family-if you understand "family dynamics," you can understand what a great loss this was for me.

I started learning the practices of Tai Chi and Qigong as a method to quit smoking, and I immediately fell in love with these practices. Not only did I quit the nasty habit of smoking for 20 years just 5 weeks after beginning Tai Chi and Qigong, but I also found the relaxation from the practices entering me at a deeper level to heal me further.

Not until 2001 did I know that the study and practice of Tai Chi and Qigong had given me many of the skills I would need to fulfill another important mission in my life that had found its way to me.

In that year, I received a "spiritual" calling to reach out to families of mentally ill loved ones and to the ill family member themselves. I had "been there," and was primed to help families of ill loved ones understand what the illness is like from the inside looking out, rather than from the outside looking in, and to give them hope.

I started going to AMI (Alliance for Mental Illness) meetings for the families of ill loved ones to do just that. I just walked through doing so, not really knowing if it would be appreciated, or even knowing what I might say. My heart and mind were warmed, as it was always well-received and appreciated, and I was asked to return. I have felt guided whenever I have answered this calling and I learned to trust that.

Later, feeling compelled to more directly reach out to persons with mental illness, I eventually taught a Self-Esteem Workshop for over a year at a day treatment facility for people with mental illness-largely schizophrenia, bi-polar, depressive disorder, and OCD. This allowed me to serve the ill person at different stages of recovery directly. This workshop was based on my mother's book, "Secrets of Self-Esteem with a 30-Day Program for Self-Esteem Development" ( by Shirley J. Mangini, M.A., L.M.F.T. (Mom is now passed, but her book, which has been credited by many readers as having changed their life, while others saying it "saved" their life, is available at During this workshop, I was affectionately called, "Grace under Fire".

Photo courtesy of nopparats01 from

It was Tai Chi and Qigong that gave me the poise to handle such a workshop without any previous experience, not to mention walking coldly into an AMI meeting to try to address what mental illness was to me without any preparation to do so.

I would never have been able to answer this calling, nor likely receive it, if I weren't ready. And a huge part of being ready was directly because of the personal growth I had made through studying, practicing, demonstrating Tai Chi, and being urged by my first Sifu to teach a small class, or to assist him in large classes sponsored by the Learning Tree University-a local school that offered a variety of personal development classes. He seemed to always encourage me and, eventually, I learned how to speak to groups and to teach. Tai Chi literally grew my confidence by giving me a reason to do things that required walking through my very great fear of being in front of a group. One time Sifu told someone in front of me that I was his best student, and in response, I said, "he's just saying that." I meant it, but he angrily said, "I'm not just saying that!" OK, I shut-up then, and took in the praise.

I was still very much in recovery when Tai Chi and Qigong both served to "ground" me, something I sorely needed. I would say that next to finding the right medicine that works for the illness, without overmedicating (I still take mine, and not overmedicating is just as important as medicating is important), access to good mental health support services, family support, and also time to heal, "grounding" is very important. Having mental illness serves to completely "unground" someone. "Grounding" was important in growing my emotional and mental balance, which went along with finding my physical balance through the practice of Tai Chi; and I believe the "grounding" itself helped me to stay on the path of recovery and not to re-enter instability. For anyone who has experienced mental illness, recovery lasts a lifetime.

Eventually, the recovery is more like continued personal growth-once a growing person, always a growing person-which is where I am now. Tai Chi and Qigong have given me a positive focus from which to grow. As my Tai Chi and Qigong grows, I grow. Without a positive focus in the life of anyone suffering from mental illness, the growth may stagnate or stay shallow. There are many avenues of positive focus in the world, for me, it was and is Tai Chi and Qigong.




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