Tai chi in Istanbul: ancient practice in modern life
The Chinese martial art of Tai Chi has become a popular form of exercise around the world. Emphasizing the balance of body and mind, the practice provides a healthy and tranquil lifestyle and has a growing following in Istanbul.

Combing the technique of fighting and Taoism—a Chinese philosophical tradition—tai chi (short for tai chi chuan) is one of the best-known internal martial arts, focusing on the balance between external movement and inner peace. 

The term tai chi refers to the supreme principle of universe in Taoism. Based on this concept, tai chi chuan consists of flowing movements reflecting the harmony of opposites: such as fast and slow, up and down, defense and attack, solidity and relaxation, breath and action, body and mind. The ultimate aim of practicing it is to achieve the perfect balance between the individual and the world.

Ataç (middle) and his students practicing at OM Yoga studio

Some call tai chi a moving meditation because it not only improves balance and flexibility but also boosts mental wellbeing. The health benefits and its laid-back philosophy have attracted the attention of many modern urbanites. Like yoga, more and more people are taking up this ancient practice.

In Istanbul, you can also find a growing community practicing tai chi. If you happen to see a group of people moving mysteriously slowly, yet smoothly in Maçka Park, it is likely to be Esat Ataç—one of the few qualified tai chi instructors in the city—and his devoted students.

Ataç told The Guide Istanbul that before becoming dedicated to this practice he was dissatisfied with his life as a manager working in the textile design industry. He first learned about tai chi from a friend in 1999. After years of practicing, he decided to travel to Wudang Mountain in China—believed to be the birthplace of tai chi chuan—and completed the certified training in 2011. Practicing every day either by himself or with his students, Ataç believes that the process of learning tai chi never ends. “We are always on the path of becoming,” he said.

Ataç says that, after almost 20 years of practice, the health benefits are huge, but the most important aspect of his practice is that it has become a lifestyle. “Because I love it, my life is my holiday,” he said with a beam.

Although it might look easy, mastering the slow, fluid, and graceful movements requires a lot of practice. Ataç points out that, the more you persevere, the more you benefit. Ataç does not have a particular method of introducing such a different concept and practice to people in Turkey. For him, just like the central concept of Taoism, everything just goes with the flow. “Come and experience it yourself,” he suggested. “If you like it, you will stay.”

Where to find tai chi lessons in Istanbul

  • Esat Ataç’s classes take place at OM Yoga studio; students can also join the afterclass practice at Maçka Park every morning. @omyogamerkezi; www.omyogamerkezi.com
  • Dancentrum holds a seasonal program at Endless Art Studio by Master Yang Fu Lin, who trained in Shaolin Monastery for 11 years. @dancentrum; T: 0212 230 02 94

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