Shelley A. Sackett
Since 2014, John Benson has travelled from his Nahant home to the Swampscott Senior Center every Tuesday to practice Tai Chi with Nicanor Snow. For Benson, who was a professional copy editor for an academic journal specializing in Asian and Western religion and philosophy, having the subjects he learned about all these years fuse in a single physical and mental practice is “quite satisfying.”
“When you feel the breathing and the movement coming together, then you know you’ve reached that special zone where you want to be,” he said. He practices with Snow twice a week, also attending his class at the Marblehead Council on Aging.
Bonnie Harmon and Paula Peterson have also practiced twice a week for four years with Snow, known too by his spiritual name, Kāmpa Vāshi Déva. Tai chi has changed them both. “We’re always running around. With Tai Chi, you have to calm down and go slow and think. It’s very refreshing,” Peterson said.
Harmon thinks the biggest change she’s noticed in herself is that she is more peaceful. “When I concentrate, my body gets tight. Tai Chi makes me relax my body,” she said.
Snow describes Tai Chi as “meditation in motion”, a practice that helps regulate the body and increase serenity. “Tai Chi is great for balance, posture and other health benefits. It is perfect for adults and seniors who really have the time to give it,” he said.
The class meets every Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the Swampscott Senior Center at 200R Essex Street. Walk-ins are welcome. The fee is $5.00.
Snow teaches 16 Tai Chi classes a week at different community senior centers in Swampscott, Marblehead, Lynn, Boxford, Lynnfield, West Newbury and Newburyport. His classroom is multi-level, with newer and more experienced students grouped together at different ends of the room. “Everyone learns the same way. They start at the beginning of the classical form, practice it, and after they’ve mastered it, they move on to the next step,” he said.
Snow’s niche teaching at senior centers fell into his lap. Marilyn Hurwitz, director of the Swampscott Council on Aging, saw his Tai Chi Institute mentioned on the back of a Boston Globe magazine, explaining the benefits of Tai Chi. She called Snow to see if he would teach in Swampscott. Other senior centers followed suit and before long, he was up to 16 classes a week.
Born in the Philippines, Snow’s family moved to the U.S. when he was a toddler. He discovered Tai Chi as a 22-year-old, after becoming “burned out” by his many years practicing Okinawan Karate. “I needed a change in my life. I read about Qigong and Chinese energy work in the back of a Kung Fu magazine and I wondered, ‘Where do I find that? How can I get involved?”
He found a Tai Chi school in Boston and in the spring of 1983 he started training with Master Gin Soon Chu and his son. Two years later, he began his healing studies at the Lea Tam Acupuncture Center in Boston with Qigong Master Tom Tam and Dr. Ping C. Chan.
In 2000, Snow established the Seacoast Tai-Chi Club in Kittery, Maine, which he renamed the Seacoast Tai-Institute when he moved to Portsmouth, N.H. He is an instructor and trainer of Tai-Chi Chuan, Qigong healing and meditation and certified by the American Organization of Bodywork Therapy of Asia.
In addition to Tai Chi, Snow is offering “Sound Vibration Meditation” on Tuesdays at 2 p.m., right after Tai Chi. The class explores kirtan, or Hindu cultural singing, combined with light stretching and breathing exercises. The fee is by voluntary donation.
“Kirtan brings peace to the world in body, mind and soul. When you’re chanting these mantras (a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation), there is a spiritual connection that happens through sound vibration,” said Snow, who brings his harmonium to accompany the chanters. “There is a healing aspect to the vibrations.”
Dennis Scolamiero and his daughter, both of Swampscott, attended both the first Sound Meditation and will be back. “It’s very moving. I’m proud to have evolved in the ways that support this,” Dennis said. “He loves to sing,” his daughter added. “It’s a great activity that we can do together.”
To those who have never tried Tai Chi, Snow offers this advice. “You have to have a lot of patience and give it a try for longer than you think. I try to coach people so they can feel the practice. You have to really feel the external movements to develop an understanding of what it feels like on the inside,” he said.
Harmon, who hasn’t yet mastered the first form despite her four years of twice a week classes, agrees with the need to be patient. Asked if it is worth it, she replied with a huge smile, “We love him (Snow). That’s why we come.”