Get Active: Tai chi in Canning Town – a very peaceful workout

PUBLISHED: 12:00 29 August 2015

Freddy Mayhew, left, Iain Burns, centre and Keith Abraham, right.

Freddy Mayhew, left, Iain Burns, centre and Keith Abraham, right.


Keith Abraham could probably make a fortune by recording himself chatting idly about the weather, such is the potency of his profoundly peaceful voice.

Mila Komarova, left, comes to the lessons to relax.Mila Komarova, left, comes to the lessons to relax.

But rather than take that easy option in life, he has chosen instead to teach the equally peaceful martial art of tai chi.

“Aggression isn’t a word we use here,” he tells me with a relaxed smile, just before his class begins. “There is no competition – but that’s not to say it can’t be physically demanding. It’s great if you’re out of shape and looking to get fit – it works your muscles while going easy on your joints. It’s ideal.”

And so, with those words echoing in my mind, traditional Chinese music plucking repetitively away in the corner, Keith began.

The first thing we did – after I overcame the urge to think of sitting cross-legged in an ocean of daisies while singing Kumbaya (a natural reaction to Keith’s Woganesque tones) – was breathe.

Iain and Freddy push away the negative energy.Iain and Freddy push away the negative energy.

Now, this isn’t your everyday breathing – this is proper breathing. And, despite my suspicions about the miraculous powers of ancient Eastern wisdom, I did feel an instant effect.

It wasn’t long before we advanced to drawing bows, holding big balls and poking foes in the eye (all mimed, of course) – and in no time at all, it seemed, I had my head well south of my hips.

And though it may have looked amusing – well, judge for yourself – it felt reassuringly good for the joints, which sounded like baby elephants doing roly-polies on a bubble wrap carpet.

As for cardio: while the session may have resembled a footballer’s warm-up in super-slow motion, it tired us all out enough to appreciate the two breaks we had to rest and sip a beautiful Chinese tea – and it got us sweating enough to be very grateful when Keith opened the balcony door mid-chi.

The dexterous Keith Abraham, who was a paratrooper in the British Army for nine years.The dexterous Keith Abraham, who was a paratrooper in the British Army for nine years.

Oddly enough, the opening of that door encapsulated everything that is unique about this form of exercise.

Outside, tower blocks loomed in the darkening night, sirens screamed in all directions and motorbikes growled along like chainsaws.

There could not possibly have been a starker contrast between that world and the world of tai chi, where such things are forgotten amid the slow and elegant choreography of an ancient martial art.

As Mila Komarova, 29, a management consultant who dropped CrossFit because it drained her, said to me: “This keeps me fit, but it also relaxes me. It clears my mind after a day at work. This is the antidote.”

Keith hosts sessions on Monday and Thursday evenings, 7–9pm, at St Margaret’s Church Hall, Barking Road, Canning Town and charges £10 a lesson. For more, see

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