When Noel Tarver left her job as a system engineer at IBM, she had no idea it would lead her to traditional Chinese medicine — and eventually, a 25-year career as a Chinese martial arts competitor and instructor.
After working at IBM, Tarver became increasingly interested in psychology, which she studied at the University of Hawaii. She then pursued a master’s program at San Diego State University.
“Although I got into a PhD program, my interests started to shift to the mind-body connection and human health,” says Tarver, now an acupuncturist and tai chi instructor at the Sewall Healthy Living Center at Sharp Coronado Hospital. “I decided to pursue studying Chinese medicine so I could help address both the mind and body.”
As she learned more, Tarver was fascinated with the many applications of Chinese medicine and how it could be used to help treat a variety of conditions, including allergies, digestive issues, hormone imbalances, insomnia, headaches, pain, anxiety and depression.
While she was studying traditional Chinese medicine, Tarver discovered another passion: tai chi, a Chinese martial art.
Finding peace through a new passion
In 2001, she began practicing martial arts, studying under Master Ma Jing Long from China, a well-known competitor who won the Chinese national championship title in 1985. After continuing to learn other types of martial arts, Tarver’s instructor suggested she try tai chi — an ancient form of martial arts that involves slow, focused movements and deep breathing. Although it was originally intended for self-defense training, tai chi is a more meditative type of exercise.
“At first, I was not so much interested in tai chi since I wanted to learn more kicking and punching,” Tarver recalls. “However, now I am so grateful that I learned it, as it is so much more versatile than other forms of martial arts.”
Tarver’s favorite part of tai chi is the sense of peace it can bring to daily life.
“When we are practicing tai chi, movements are so gentle, and we can move our body with breathing. It feels like floating and is quite relaxing.”
Tarver has won 15 gold medals, five silver medals and one bronze medal competing in martial arts competitions for wushu, a modern form of traditional martial arts, and tai chi. In addition to improving her own skills, she also loves to help others learn about tai chi by teaching classes.
Sharing her expertise at Sewell
Her love of Chinese medicine and martial arts eventually led Tarver to join the team at the Sewall Healthy Living Center at Sharp Coronado, where she is an acupuncturist as well as an instructor of tai chi and qi gong — an ancient Chinese healing art that involves meditation, controlled breathing and movement exercises.
“My favorite part of being an acupuncturist is that I am able to walk people through healing, and I am able to see their smile after the treatment.”
In addition to her classes and acupuncture sessions, Tarver enjoys giving back by putting on performances at the hospital and volunteering to lead tai chi sessions at the annual Sharp Women’s Health Conference.
Tarver enjoys teaching martial arts, and specifically tai chi, because it brings many benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, tai chi can help decrease stress, improve mood, increase energy and stamina, increase flexibility, and strengthen muscles. With the extra stress and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tarver says it is especially important for people to take the time to relax and be peaceful.
“Now we are living under such a stressed environment and circumstances,” Tarver says. “We definitely need to calm down and reduce stress. Tai chi gives you more energy and calmness at the same time.”
Tips for your own practice
Tarver shares these tips for anyone who wants to try tai chi:
- Take a group class to learn from others and help master the movements.
- Wear comfortable clothing and flat shoes.
- Have patience and keep practicing.
“Tai chi is not easy; it takes a while to get used to the movements,” Tarver says. “It challenges your brain and coordination.”
And for the best results, Tarver recommends practicing outside on the beach or under a tree so people can be one with their surroundings.
Although she was originally on a different path, Tarver is so grateful for discovering her love of tai chi and martial arts, and all the lessons she has learned.
“Tai chi has taught me the importance of calmness and stillness during chaotic times,” she says. “All tai chi movements are precise, effortless, efficient and fluid. It needs to be done with harmony. I would like to live my life like that. Well, I try my best.”
If you would like to experience the sense of calm that tai chi can bring, Tarver teaches online classes for beginners on Saturdays at 10:30 am (via Zoom) and in-person classes at 11:30 am at the Sewall Healthy Living Center at Sharp Coronado. To register or learn more, visit sharp.com/healthylivingcenter or call 619-522-3798.