East Meets West, Calmly

2006 Feature in Domain Magazine

I run through the double doors of the East West Health Arts Center, frantic because I think I’m late. I haven’t even had time to wash the paint from work off my hands, and I tumble into the quietude of the giant burgundy studio. Several people are sitting cross-legged, others talk softly in groups, and I feel off balance bringing my hectic energy into this space.

But I am saved as a tall, graceful, blond man steps towards me with a smile and introduces himself as owner and teacher Bill Fagan. Turns out, I’m not even late. Bill invites me to join in the Tai Chi class, which is about to start.

“Your meditation starts now,” Bill intones to begin class. We spend twenty minutes stretching, practicing cleansing breaths, and moving chi through our body. I’m becoming more and more relaxed, and am no longer thinking that I may have parked my car in the wrong spot. I’m now focusing on the bright light coursing through my body.

Then we begin the first set, and I am amazed to find my body remembers the basic moves I learned years ago. I follow the flowing movements; the class moves as one, silently. For the second cycle, beginners break away and work on new moves, and I gamely decide to stay with the group. Then, as the third cycle begins, Bill motions me upstairs to his office.

When asked what the foundation of his practice is, he replies, “Meditation is, by far, the most valuable thing we teach; its ability to transform your life emotionally, physiologically and spiritually is incredible.” This principle is evident even in the aesthetic of the space—its exterior displaying vibrant mural of a tree growing, its interior, a soft, sacred red. There’s even a pond and a meditation path. An integral part of eastern health, meditation is often ignored in our fast-paced, quick-fix western society. However, some elements of the west are present in the space, as resistance machines line the mat. But even these exercises are undertaken with mindfulness.

Fagan explains that his particular blend of East-West comes from his own journey away from western psychology and toward the holistic discipline of eastern philosophy. “People thought I’d flipped my wig to leave the Harvard setting and come to SC to teach martial arts.” But even after twenty-two years, his commitment and passion are as strong as ever. “I have found from my own experience there is nothing more complete then the ancient traditional approach to health which is: good diet, exercise, and meditation.”

If there is one unifying goal Fagan promotes at East West Health Arts, it is the pursuit of spirituality, which he defines as, “a lack of fear, an open-heartedness, and an experience of non-defensive love.” Whether it’s Kung Fu, Tai Chi, kickboxing or yoga being practiced, East West encourages self-awareness. I left feeling calm and collected, glad I had made time in my day for quiet contemplation.

–Missie Peters