How tai chi gave her back her health

SINGAPORE - It was nearly 50 years ago that MsKoh picked up martial arts, first learning judo in secondary school and then taekwon-do while she was working in the chemical plating and semiconductor industry.

The gentle movements of taiji never appealed to her until she watched the 1993 movie, Tai Chi Master, starring Chinese action superstar Jet Li.

Even though the 50-year-old was aware of the health benefits of taiji, she felt she was too young to learn it.

It was only in 2003, after she discovered she had high blood pressure and cholesterol that she decided to take up taiji.

About three years later, she resigned from her job and threw herself into studying it seriously.

She kept upgrading her skills under different teachers in Singapore and overseas.

She not only brought her blood pressure and cholesterol under control, she also went on to win several medals in taiji competitions.

In 2008, she started her own taiji group called Risen Wushu and now has about 60 to 80 students. She is single and lives alone in a housing board flat in Clementi.

What do you do to keep fit?

I teach at least one taiji class every day, from Mondays to Sundays. When I teach, I get to practise too.

I also attend classes with a taiji master for about an hour twice a week, to upgrade my skills. Has there been a time when you were not fit and fabulous?

In my early working years, I used to play squash and tennis with my colleagues.

But I stopped when I was in my late 30s. I was too busy with work, so much so that sometimes I would forget to eat. I started to experience gastric pain.

I was also born with a heart that is slightly bigger than normal. This used to make me breathless at times.

But after I stopped exercising, I noticed my breathlessness became worse. I could not climb a flight of stairs linked to an overhead bridge without stopping to catch my breath.

However, I did not get worried until I went for a check-up in 2003 and found I had high blood pressure and cholesterol. It was then that I decided to take up taiji.

What difference has taiji made to your health?

When I returned for a check-up four months later, my cholesterol level had dropped from more than 300mg/dL to 200mg/dL, without medication.

I was very encouraged and decided to continue practising taiji.

The first thing I noticed about taiji was that it made me perspire.

Gradually, I began to notice other benefits of taiji.

For instance, I am not as breathless as before. I no longer need to stop to catch my breath while climbing stairs.

I don't catch a cold so easily. If I feel a cold coming on, I will just practise taiji and that will somehow keep it at bay.

I am also able to sleep better at night. My sleep is more restful and I wake up feeling more energised.

Colleagues and friends who have not seen me in years say I look younger.

What is your diet like?

I hardly cook because I live alone. For breakfast, I eat bread (usually with peanut butter, kaya or egg) or I go downstairs to buy food such as chee cheong fun (rice flour rolls), yong tau foo (a mix of soya bean curd cooked in a variety of ways) and fried bee hoon.

For lunch and dinner, I usually eat chicken or char siew (roast pork) rice. Nowadays, I also try to eat more fish. I like the Japanese unagi (eel) and cod.

I don't really like vegetables but I try to eat them whenever I can.

I still take tea breaks and suppers but I keep them light. And I must have a cup of milo before I sleep. I cannot sleep on an empty stomach.

What are your indulgences?

I love seafood and meat, especially pork and pig's trotters. I used to eat them almost every day but I try to eat less of them these days.

What do you do to relax and how do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?

It can be tiring teaching two to three consecutive classes of taiji, so I try to take afternoon naps whenever I can.

I also take videos of my students during the classes. I enjoy editing the videos and going through them in my free time.

I enjoy watching students improve as well as studying their errors and thinking of new ways to correct them.

I show the videos to my students and post them on my website,, so that they can watch themselves and learn from their mistakes.

I also organise outings in Singapore or overseas for my students. As I teach in three venues - Bras Basah, Bishan and Clementi - these outings allow students to meet one another.

Once a year, I go on a short overseas trip on my own, just to relax.

What are the three most important things in your life?

Health, my job and my friends and family (I am the fourth of five children). Would you go for plastic surgery?

No. I would do it only if it were necessary, for instance, if I were disfigured in an accident. I feel that if a person has a healthy lifestyle and sleeps well, her natural beauty will emerge. Do you think you are sexy?

No. Sexiness to me means being ladylike and wearing sexy dresses. I don't even own a dress these days. I have grown more comfortable wearing trousers over the years.

I don't mind not being sexy. I am just glad to be healthy and fit.

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