FEATURED PRESENTER OF THE MONTH
Melissa “Mati” Elstein, RYT, Esq.
Interview by Sarah McElwain
Melissa “Mati” Elstein, RYT, Esq., is a certified Yoga, ballet, and Pilates mat teacher, a Tai Chi Easy™/Qigong facilitator, and a Reiki practitioner. Melissa completed teacher trainings at Integral Yoga, Rasa Yoga, the Breathing Project, Yoga Works, and Alvin Ailey Extension. She has taught Yoga and Qigong classes at Integral Yoga, the Open Center, Upper West Side Yoga and Wellness, DOROT for Seniors, Gilda’s Club for cancer patients, Visions for the Blind, and the Omega Institute.
What inspired you to create your Tai Chi Easy ™ and Chair Yoga Fusion Class?
As a Yoga teacher who has more than a decade of experience working with students in their “golden years,” I find that the most common desire expressed by that population is to improve balance and prevent falls. I agree with the practicality and necessity of those goals, as preventing falls is lifesaving, especially as we age. Studies consistently demonstrate that the weight-shifting aspects of Tai Chi improve balance. Here’s one recent article discussing this health benefit: https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20181002/adding-tai-chi-helps-seniors-avoid-dangerous-falls
When I studied with Dr. Roger Jahnke, who created Tai Chi Easy™, this style of Tai Chi versus the longer traditional forms resonated with me. Because this form is shorter and simplified, it is immediately accessible to students, compared with a longer Tai Chi choreography that can take years for students to memorize and whose complexity often leads to large student attrition rates. Although Tai Chi Easy™ is easier to learn, it is no less effective, thanks to its practice of multidirectional and mindful Tai Chi walking as well as other weight-shifting exercises.
In addition to Tai Chi walking, Tai Chi Easy™ includes the ancient practice of Qigong (energy cultivation) and standing meditations. Just as in Yoga, these practices help to focus and calm the mind and increase our life force energy (chi or prana).
A year after my Tai Chi Easy™ training, I completed the Chair Yoga training with Hamsa and Achala at Integral Yoga Institute. I felt that combining aspects of both modalities created a truly comprehensive movement class, given my goal of bringing practical skills to students as well as a sense of peace and tranquillity. Thus, my fusion class starts with seated Chair Yoga warm-ups, joint-freeing movements, leg and core strengthening exercises, and seated stretches that prepare the body for the standing and walking Tai Chi/Qigong second part of the class. We end the class with more Yoga, such as legs up the wall or over a chair, savasana, and a short seated meditation.
What do you hope students will get from this class?
I hope that my students will find that their balance and coordination have improved, that their confidence about walking and navigating the city streets is enhanced, and that they are physically stronger than before practicing with me. I hope that once students learn the class skills, they will be inspired to practice them at home as well. I also hope that the calming aspects of Tai Chi, Qigong, and Yoga will bring a sense of peace and tranquillity to class participants. After all, most if not all New Yorkers could use easy-to-learn stress reduction techniques in our fast-paced and stressful modern society. It never fails to amaze me that the ancient practices of Yoga and Qigong, developed thousands of years ago, are still relevant and beneficial in 2020!
What experience did you bring to the development of the class?
In addition to the trainings mentioned above, my experience as a professional ballet dancer has also helped to inform my knowledge of teaching movement skills and balance. My teaching style tends to be more fluid than static, and that stems from my lifelong passion for dance, especially ballet. I’m certified in Pilates mat for core strengthening, and that factors into my movement choices for this and other classes. A strong and flexible core (abdominals and back muscles) is key to preventing injuries, increasing longevity, and improving balance. As a former practicing attorney, I tend to think very pragmatically; thus, everything I teach has a practical purpose, with the goal of assisting students not just in the class but also in their everyday lives physically, mentally, and spiritually.
What other projects are you currently working on?
For many years, I have been teaching a telephone version of this class to seniors, some of them home-bound, through the DOROT Center (and more recently with the Queens Library’s Mail-a-Book program). Because it is in a conference call format, the entire class is conducted seated, and we have more discussion and readings from Dr. Jahnke’s books and other resources. (All students receive the written materials and movement diagrams when they sign up for the course.) We also do self-massage techniques that are part of the Tai Chi Easy™ protocol, and loving-kindness metta meditations. I love hearing from my telephone students that they feel the benefits of the practice, even while done seated or lying down.
I continue to teach other types of Yoga classes and workshops, as well as ballet for children and adults. My full teaching schedule and class descriptions are at www.melissa-mati.com
When I’m not teaching movement classes, I’m engaging in community work through my UWS neighborhood nonprofit, the West 80s Neighborhood Association. My interest in environmental issues and the city’s quality-of-life improvements are other passions of mine, and I am currently actively involved with multiple New York City coalitions, such as the Urban Forest Task Force, the NYC Pollinators Working Group, NY/NJ Plastic Free Waters, Reusable NYC, and Stop the Chop NY/NJ. In 2014, I organized the “Yoga & Spirituality” contingent of the historic New York City People’s Climate March. My community work websites are www.west80s.org and www.loveyourstreettreeday.com
Here are some recent reviews of my fusion class from several Integral Yoga students:
Melissa’s Tai Chi/Chair Yoga class is both challenging and serene. The Chair Yoga provides a good workout, and the Tai Chi helps with balance and mindful focus, and there’s also time for breathing and relaxation exercises. — Janet Levy
Melissa Mati and her class inspire me to find peace and confidence. A unique combination of stretching, breathing, and Tai Chi Easy™ movements in the beautiful IYI Yoga rooms creates calm and spiritual renewal in our hectic world. I am grateful for the opportunity to take Melissa’s classes and experience her caring and knowledgeable teaching. — Peggy Leibowitz, attorney and mediator
Tai Chi Easy™ and Chair Yoga: A Fusion Class [formerly Chair, Chi, and Prana™] has been one of my favorite IYI classes since 2016. Melissa has designed the class so that all postures and movements can be modified for differing abilities, and she usually demonstrates two or three alternatives. Movements in this class can be challenging but safe and gentle on joints. — Jeanine Botta, patient educator and navigator
I am lucky to be a cancer survivor, but I have some neuropathy in my feet from the chemo and am vulnerable to getting lymphedema in one arm after losing lymph nodes. Melissa’s combination of Yoga, Chi Gong, and Tai Chi Easy™ is the best exercise I have found to address those issues. Since I am a senior, I also have some strength and balance problems, and the class is very helpful. It is also fun, and Melissa is a wonderful teacher. — Paulette Sinclair