Finding Balance: Tai Chi Classes in Mililani Offer Mental and Physical Health Benefits

McGwire Ishikawa, Reporter

     Created in 1670 in ancient China, tai chi became a very popular martial art. Over 50 years ago, Herbert Pong, a tai chi instructor, started teaching classes at North Shore. In 1999, Pong founded Mililani Tai Chi, a free class adapted from the Cheng Man-Ch’ing style. Today, dozens of people actively participate in the classes that are available four days a week. 

     “I think every older adult should have something that they can believe in, that they can work with, that they can improve their health with. That was the main reason why our founder, Mr. Pong, started the tai chi class, cause he wanted older adults to follow his example and achieve much better health,” said instructor Russell Yanagida.

      Alongside the Cheng Man-Ch’ing set, Mililani Tai Chi teaches their students multiple sets of moves during their classes. These sets include a qigong set, a Yang-style National Form 24 tai chi set and a Yang-style tai chi sword set. Starting in April, the Thursday classes will be changed so that beginners can learn the qigong moveset. 

      The art of tai chi is very beneficial for physicality, providing those who practice it with improved balance, flexibility, muscle strength and longevity. It also helps to stimulate the brain, since students have to connect consecutive movements. 

     “I’m a former marathon runner — I always believed my legs and core muscles were strong. What a surprise to discover how weak they were. I also learned meditation 30 plus years ago; tai chi is a wonderful compliment to my meditation routine,” said member and website manager Jeffrey Agader. 

       For elders, tai chi helps people get exercise in a slow and progressive way that allows little chance of injury in the process. Members of Mililani Tai Chi also have a chance to socialize with others because of the classes. 

       “Although we live in Mililani, this gives an opportunity to meet people and talk to them and learn about things that they have done,” said member Myron Yamashiro. 

       Instructor Susan Yanagida added, “I think they got stronger, ‘cause I noticed that when we had our students begin the class, a lot of them are not able to bend their knees and stand on one foot. As we go on within a year’s time, they’re able to balance on one foot.”

     The art of tai chi helps with relaxation, which can be very beneficial for anyone who needs to de-stress.  

        “There’s a lot of things happening to a teenager in high school. This is a good opportunity to learn how to get themself to meditate and to help them get into the relaxed state whenever they feel too anxious or too many things coming at them,” said Susan Yanagida. 

     Member Dawn Suzuki added, “I think it’s a very calming martial art. It’s a moving meditation.”

     Classes are from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at Holaniali‘i Neighborhood Park, or on Saturdays at Mililani Mauka District Park. For more information, visit