May Term Students Find Yin and Yang in Chinese Yoga

Published: May 23, 2013
Associate Professor Steven Geisz, left, is teaching a May Term course on Chinese yoga, meditation and philosophy.
Associate Professor Steven Geisz, left, is teaching a May Term course on Chinese yoga, meditation and philosophy.
From left Nicole Guzman ’13 and Jean-Luc Angier ’14, center, perform moving yoga movements on the Plant Hall verandah.
From left Nicole Guzman ’13 and Jean-Luc Angier ’14, center, perform moving yoga movements on the Plant Hall verandah.
Nicholas Matu ’14, left, and Sami AlQatari ’14, right, warm up in the beginning movements of Chinese yoga called qigong.
Nicholas Matu ’14, left, and Sami AlQatari ’14, right, warm up in the beginning movements of Chinese yoga called qigong.
Associate Professor Steven Geisz, left, said there has been an increase in students’ interest in Asian philosophy at UT.
Associate Professor Steven Geisz, left, said there has been an increase in students’ interest in Asian philosophy at UT.

In two horizontal lines, about 25 students moved together almost simultaneously to the choreographed qigong exercises of Associate Professor Steven Geisz. It was like an early morning scene in a Beijing park, transported from China to the Plant Hall verandah.

This was experiential education at its definition.

“In most other classes you sit for hours,” said Katina Studzinski ’13. “This class you’re out and moving around. The time flies by.”

Studzinski enrolled in the May Term religion course, Chinese Yoga and Meditation, as a way to learn relaxation. She and the other students have spent the last two weeks immersed in Chinese history, learning a bit of the language and opening their minds to a different way of thought. The course takes parts of a worldview of Chinese Taoist philosophy and religion and brings them into practice with movement.

“I have a lot of anxiety, this has helped me learn how to de-stress and breathe,” said Studzinski, a criminology major from Naples, FL.

When Lauren Jenkins-Fazio ’13 gets home after class, she said she feels completely relaxed and at peace.

“It’s helped me to be more mindful,” said Jenkins-Fazio, an advertising and public relations major from Bethlehem, CT.

After a stressful senior year, Paul Collns ’13 is finishing up a few credits before he finishes his international business degree in August. He said he thought the May Term course through the meditation practices would help give him some focus on his next steps after graduation.

The goal, Geisz said, is to experience what it feels like to embody these worldviews in traditional forms of health practice, and to see what difference it can make to their health, their outlooks on the world and their overall happiness.

“Many believe this practice can make life transformative and happy, but that is hard to get from a textbook,” said Geisz.

Geisz has spent many years studying classical Chinese philosophy, including a month of training in 2012 in qigong and Taoist meditation practices with other teachers with the help of multiple UT grants. Most recently, he spent the Spring 2013 semester on sabbatical in northern Thailand doing teacher-training in one form of qigong that is taught by Mantak Chia, who is recognized by scholars as teaching authentic Daoist/Taoist practices.

He said the course begins with a broad picture of classical Chinese philosophy: the idea that at the root of all reality there is something we can only refer to as the Tao, or "the Way." He said they then look in detail at traditional Chinese cosmology and traditional Chinese medicine, “both of which see the universe and our bodies as somehow composed of qi, or vital energy, that divides into the yin and yang energy represented by the famous yin and yang symbol, and then further into five phases or elements and then even further into all the varied phenomena of the world,” Geisz said.

Moving out of the textbook, Geisz guides the students into putting the philosophy into practice with various traditional yoga forms and meditations that come out of Taoist traditions. While gentle and low-impact on the body, some students were surprised at how tired they felt after the second day of class.

“These exercises are fun, and they are foundational for various martial arts and healing practices,” Geisz said. “There is evidence that they can be quite good for health, regardless of whether or not one accepts the framework behind them.”

The course filled up almost immediately, perhaps a sign of the growing interest at UT in both the philosophy major, which Geisz said many students pursue as a second major that complements their other studies, and in the Asian studies minor.

“Students really get interested in the various traditional body practices associated with Asian philosophy and religion that we read about in some of my other classes. In this Chinese Yoga and Meditation course, we get to focus on those practices and really learn them. It's true experiential education,” Geisz said.

“And we do that while also reading critical, scholarly texts and talking about how these practices and the worldview behind them compares and contrasts with views of the body, health and the cosmos that come out of other traditions and out of contemporary scientific knowledge,” he said. “It's a wonderful way to do comparative, global philosophy.”

Have a story idea? Contact Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer 
Sign up for UT Web Alerts