Redding Tai Chi Meditation Garden Project Seeks Online Votes for Grant

The gentle force behind a proposed Redding Tai Chi Meditation Garden near the Sundial Bridge is seeking online votes for a monthlong grant competition that starts April 12.

Acupuncturist Michel Czehatowski and members of Redding Tai Chi have partnered with the Shasta County Arts Council and Turtle Bay Exploration Park to create a tai chi park near the Sundial Bridge.

A Redding Tai Chi Meditation Garden project video has been submitted to the “A Community Thrives” (ACT) grant competition, which runs from 8:59 a.m. PST April 12 to 8:59 a.m. PST May 12. You can vote once daily by viewing the submission at this link.

A News Café caught up with Michel, who runs Redding Acupuncture Health Care on Hartnell Avenue, to find out more about the garden project and what he hopes it will bring to the community.

Hi, Michel, and welcome to A News Café. For those who don’t know you, could you tell us briefly about yourself and your connection to Redding?

After attending and graduating from the San Francisco College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in 1984, we moved to Redding and I opened my first acupuncture practice that November. My daughter was 5 months old at the time; my son was born in Redding a couple years later. I consider Redding my home and enjoy living here very much.

Photos courtesy Michel Czehatowski / Foreground, Michel Czehatowski teaches tai chi.

Photos courtesy Michel Czehatowski / Foreground, Michel Czehatowski teaches tai chi.

I started learning tai chi in the mid-1970s and taught briefly in the early ‘80s and ‘90s. With a growing family and business, teaching tai chi was not a priority, but I always continued to practice on my own. A few years ago I started a class at Old City Hall and I also now teach through the Shasta College Community Education program. There are a lot of people in Redding interested in learning tai chi. When I offer a new class at either location, it always fills up quickly. I enjoy teaching and sharing my knowledge of tai chi and Oriental culture with my students.

We are glad you’re here—thank you for what you offer the community. A meditation garden seems like a natural fit for the Sundial Bridge. Could you walk us through how this concept originated and how its location was chosen?

My tai chi students and I practice tai chi outdoors in the McConnell Arboretum on the second Saturday of each month. It’s beautiful and peaceful there, and we really enjoy it.

Tai chi in the McConnell Arboretum on a cold January morning.

Tai chi in the McConnell Arboretum on a cold January morning.

Last summer I came across a news article about the David Chen Memorial Tai Chi Court in Rockville, Maryland. After David passed away, his tai chi students built an amazingly beautiful court for tai chi practice in his memory. I shared the article with my students, and we all thought how wonderful it would be to have one like that here in Redding. Because the arboretum is so beautiful and centrally located, our first thought was to build it inside the arboretum.

Yes, the arboretum is a lovely spot. Where did you take the meditation garden idea from there?

After deciding to go forward, we approached Debra Lucero of the Shasta County Arts Council. She liked the concept and offered to help. She introduced our project to several people, including Kim Niemer, Redding’s director of community services. Kim liked the idea also and after we expressed our desire to build in the McConnell Arboretum, she contacted Mike Warren, president and CEO of Turtle Bay Exploration Park. That led to a meeting with Mike and some of his staff members. Mike suggested a place at the northwest end of the Sundial Bridge.

The spot couldn’t be better. There’s a great view of the Sundial Bridge, the river, and easy public access. It’s a perfect location to enjoy the outdoors. This spot will utilize an area that previously was a staging area for construction of the Sundial Bridge. Because of the construction fill it is not easy to grow plants there, so creating a use for it that does not require more intensive watering works well.

Left to right, architects Terry Topolski and Ryan Russell, with Michel Czehatowski, look at the project plans at the site location.

Left to right, architects Terry Topolski and Ryan Russell, with Michel Czehatowski, look at the project plans at the site location.

That does sounds like an ideal location and use of landscape. What excites you most about this project?

I’m passionate about this project for several reasons. One, of course, is because I think tai chi is an exercise that could benefit a lot of people. Second, it will provide an area for seniors (and others) to practice low-impact meditative exercises and hopefully influence more to consider taking up those practices.

Another reason is that there are only two existing tai chi courts in the USA — one in Houston and one in Maryland. Ours will be the third in the country and the only tai chi court on the West Coast. With our central location we are sure to draw a lot of interest to Turtle Bay and the city of Redding.

That’s really interesting that it would be only the third tai chi court in the country. Would you give a basic description of what tai chi is and how it relates to yoga or other martial arts?

Tai chi is a low-impact, meditative exercise that originated in China. Because it is rejuvenating in nature, it is very popular with middle-aged and senior citizens. With most exercises you will peak at a certain point and eventually you will have to stop, but with tai chi you actually improve with age. It is quite common for people to actively practice tai chi into their 80s and beyond.

Tai chi increases flexibility and balance. It reduces stress. The movements are very slow, which encourage deep breathing and relaxation. Some people describe it as a standing form of yoga or standing meditation. That’s why we use the word “meditation” in the name of our project.

Tai chi is different from other martial arts in that we don’t emphasize the martial aspects. Truthfully, anyone can learn to fight in a few months. But to develop your inner self takes a meditative practice. Practicing tai chi can help tame the emotions and make you feel more harmonious in your environment.

What will the meditation garden look like?

The Tai Chi Meditation Garden will be about 50 feet in diameter or roughly 1,800 square feet and will be made of flagstone. By itself it will be a work of art – functional art – since we have a purpose for it. The design is that of the tai chi diagram which Americans commonly call the “yin yang symbol.” The tai chi diagram is where the exercise tai chi gets its name. The outer circle of the symbol represents the oneness of all things and the inner “fish”-shaped design represents the duality or opposites in all things, such as night and day, hot and cold, heavy and light, hard and soft, left and right.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Redding Tai Chi Meditation Garden.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Redding Tai Chi Meditation Garden.

How do you envision people actually utilizing the space on a given day? Will you teach classes out there? Can people do different activities on it at the same time?

I think people who practice tai chi will be there mostly in the early mornings or evenings. I plan to offer free instruction on Saturday mornings. This park is for everyone so we expect people who practice other low-impact exercises such yoga, dance, or breathing exercises like Qigong to also use it, and there’s no reason why this all can’t happen at once. There will be plenty of room. People can also sit on the benches and relax.

That sounds delightful. How much will it cost to build the garden? In addition to the ACT grant competition, how else are you seeking to raise funds?

We need $100,000 to build the park, and we must have those funds on hand before we are allowed to start construction. We believe that we have a good project for the ACT grant competition, but in order to be considered we need to be ranked in the top ten most popular videos in our category of “Wellness.” That’s why getting the word out and having people vote for the project is so important.

However, we are looking at other grants and we also accept donations. The Shasta County Arts Council is our fiscal sponsor so donations are tax-deductible. You can make a donation online with your credit card or paypal through their website.

Besides the people already mentioned, are there others working with you on this project?

First and foremost, the Wuwei Tai Chi Club in Rockville, Md., inspired us for the project. They have been sharing their experience in building their Tai Chi Court and most importantly they allowed us to use their architectural plans as a guideline for our project. We are very indebted to them for their help.

Besides our dedicated Redding Tai Chi students we have partnered with the Shasta County Arts Council. It was through the efforts of Debra Lucero and her awesome staff that we were able to make a top-notch video for the competition. Turtle Bay Exploration Park’s Lisa Endicott, who is their horicultural manager, will be designing the landscaping around the project. We also have two fine architects, Ryan Russell of Russell Studio and Terry Topolski, modifying our plans for the site. Former Redding resident Hannah Grgich of Hook and Ladder Design has been donating her graphic arts skill. She has designed our project logo, artist rendering of the project, and created animations for our video.

The project logo is composed of the tai chi symbol (yin yang symbol) and the Sundial Bridge. There's also a turtle in it for Turtle Bay (not everyone sees the turtle at first).

The project logo is composed of the tai chi symbol (yin yang symbol) and the Sundial Bridge. There’s also a turtle in it for Turtle Bay (not everyone sees the turtle at first).

Is there anything else you’d like to say about the project, or the upcoming grant competition?

This project will benefit the community on a lot of levels, and I believe it is a win-win for everybody. It provides a public area to increase health awareness and promote exercise, it creates a new feature to benefit Turtle Bay Exploration Park, and we hope it will increase tourism in our area. My goal is to have the park built when the Turtle Bay Sheraton Hotel opens.

This is a nationwide competition so you don’t have to live in Redding to vote on it. If you like this project, encourage your family and friends to vote also. Winning the grant would make all the difference in the world in making this happen and we’d love to have you be a part of our success.

Thank you, Michel.

You can view the Shasta County Arts Council video about the project here.

The top 10 voted submissions in the ACT grant competition will be reviewed by a panel of judges, who will award $50,000 or $100,000 each to their top three picks. Voting starts Wednesday here.

Follow project updates on Facebook – search for “Redding Tai Chi Meditation Garden Project.

Candace L. Brown

Candace L. Brown has been a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor since 1992, including eight years at the Redding Record Searchlight. She lives in Redding and can be reached at candace.freelance@gmail.com.

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