Is the “Fountain of Youth” in Chinatown? Interview by Hosea Sandstrom
In an attempt to explore the Eastern approach to curtailing the aging process, I interviewed William Fagan of East West Health Arts, a Charleston icon of health and fitness and a devoted proponent of Tai Chi and Kung Fu as health systems. As Team Manager at Mt. Pleasant’s “Whole Foods” I meet a lot of health conscious people. I have not met a better example of someone whose appearance, energy and vitality are that of someone a decade or two his junior.
Hosea: You’ve obviously mastered the art of keeping “Father Time” at bay. How much of that is the Tai Chi and Kung Fu you’ve been teaching for the past 20 years?
William Fagan: Thank you, Hosea. Those arts contribute heavily to my well being. Health is a commitment and a discipline. I’m a great believer in health, youthfulness and beauty moving from the inside to the outside. Our culture is more cosmetically oriented and very impatient. Everyone wants the appearance of health and youth rather than the real thing requiring self discipline and research.
WF: Yes, like looking into Dr Barry Sears research demonstrating the remarkable effect of omega–3’s on the aging process, or vitamin C on collagen and elastin or the effects of dhea or arginine on retarding and, to a degree, reversing the aging process. The use of trace minerals, vitamins and herbs. Recent studies on exercise as an natural antidepressant superior to any pharmaceutical antidepressant and the research on meditation’s effect on age reversal and brain development.
H: Self discipline?
WF: Health is a practice and a discipline. The ancient Asian health systems, like Kung Fu/Tai Chi require daily cardiovascular activity, breathing exercises (Chi Gong), and meditation. My experience, training athletes for 25 years, has made it crystal clear that the human body deteriorates rapidly (ages) when it is not stimulated vigorously (exercise) on a regular basis.
H: Your parents were medical professionals, you were a psychologist. When did you turn East for mental and physical health?
WF: Back in the 80’s I left my position running psychiatric emergency room and a private practice to teach and practice a health modality that incorporated eastern health wisdom and techniques with western science. I had the good fortune to be employed and training as a therapist at the Harvard Medical School mental health system but found the education I was getting across the city in Chinatown to be much more impressive.
H: For example?
WF: I had a knee injury that kept getting worse with each visit to the Harvard Health Clinic. It was cured by a humble Chinese acupuncturist in two visits. I could get no relief from my lifetime sinus problems until I followed the directions of an Asian herbologist. Mentally and physically I found myself far more exhilerated and mood elevated following my Kung Fu/Tai Chi classes than I did from my required psychotherapy sessions with a senior Harvard psychiatrist. The turning point for me was taking a course offering by the medical school on the “Eastern Approach to Psychotherapy” taught by a brilliant and enlightened Buddhist monk with a medical degree. I was blown away. I realized they have been examining and pondering the body and mind for thousands of years. I’ve been meditating 1-3 times a day ever since.
WF: Research on meditation shows us that the internal organs of practitioners in their 50’s had the internal organs of humans in their 30’s. Thirteen known endorphins and hormones of youth flood the bloodstream in meditation. Secretions that are natural antidepressants, immune system stimulants, cancer fighters and actually burn fat, build muscle and soothe the nervous system. Recent research on monks who have meditated for years demonstrated that do to their increased gamma wave production their intelligence was enhanced as was their capacity for joy. Ironically modern science technology is pointing to Ancient Eastern techniques as the “fountain of youth.”
H: Final thoughts on health and aging?
WF: One of my Kung Fu students doing his neurology residency told me that we have two ages. Chronological, the accumulation of your birthdays; and biological, determined by your cardio-vascular fitness, fat to muscle ratio and immune system functioning, all of which are reflected in our appearance. So, regardless of one’s chronological age, one can look and feel decades younger or older than the sum of one’s birthdays. This has given me great comfort as my birthdays have mounted over the past half century.
Hosea Sandstrom: Team Manager for “Whole Foods” of Mt. Pleasant, Kung Fu and Tai Chi practitioner, avid surfer and fitness buff.
William Fagan: Founder of East West Health Arts; former psychologist; health food store owner; chaplain; Martial Arts Instructor; avid surfer and snowboarder; winner of “Best Personal Trainer in Charleston” for 3 years running; and proud father of 4.
One of the many things that sets Bill Fagan apart from other personal trainers is the depth of his commitment. He is dedicated to his clients as both a motivator, teacher and friend. His goals for each one of us goes past physical results; he relentlessly works to instill the concepts of balance and health – because he genuinely believes these tenets integral to being successful in all of life’s challenges.
Ann Marie Casesa, MD, Psychiatrist
The combination of Kung Fu and Tai Chi at East West helped me quit smoking. I’d been addicted for ten years before I was finally able to quit for good. The aerobic benefits of Kung Fu made me want to quit because I felt the need for more lung capacity, and the stress relief of the Tai Chi made it easier for me get through the nicotine withdrawals. It’s now been four years since I’ve had a cigarette.
Christopher Bryan Peary
Not only does my body and mind feel better, I have a new found confidence about myself. It has helped me calm my mind and focus my energy towards my goal of self improvement and self enlightenment.
James Hartnett, Contractor
Before I met Sifu Fagan my life was filled with anxiety, stress and uncertainty. Thanks to Bill and his vast knowledge of these timeless arts, I’m in a much better place both physically and mentally.
Jim Cody, Landscape Architect
Since starting Tai Chi I have had a completely different outlook on my daily life. I never really understood the benefit of meditation until now and it has helped me in every aspect of my life, and has DRAMATICALLY helped me fight a nasty bout of depression (caused by a failed relationship). Externally, with Kung Fu I have already noticed an improvement in my muscle tone and physical well being, something that I have not achieved (or could achieve) by running or walking. I cannot say enough about how glad I am that I joined East West.
After a half a lifetime of being on prescription anti-depressants, I have discovered that a disciplined practice of Tai Chi, Kung Fu and weight training are the ultimate panacea for my depression. I have not taken a prescription anti-depressant in the three years I have been in practice. It’s always noticeable, though, when I backslide or skip training. It’s just like skipping a dose of medicine! It’s an overall committment to keeping yourself well and the only thing that seems to work for me, personally, in fighting my depression.
Amy Perrin, Paralegal
Thanks to Bill and East West I dropped 3 dress sizes in 12 weeks…that has a great effect on my feelings about myself. I was able to get off Paxil as a result.
Pamela Murray, Accountant
Everything Bill told me was true…I look better, I feel better, I am better. I’m 50 I was on heavy narcotics from a cracked vertabrae and ruptured disc for 4 1/2 years. I’m also recovering from depression from a separation. Exercise has changed my body chemistry. My back is the best it’s been in years. All those endorphins from exercise have a psychological effect. I’m not depressed…just the opposite. I feel great. God meant for us to keep our mental and physical health by taking care of our bodies through exercise and diet. It’s natural self medication.
Dave McCarter, Boat Engine repair
I started taking Kung Fu and Tai Chi 2 years ago. It’s changed my life in ways I can’t even explain but I see things differently…I’m more patient, reflective, aware. I’m a happier, healthier person
Boo Walker, Stockbroker
This Eastern approach to health has not only changed my life. It’s extended it. I was a high stress, hot tempered perfectionist with irritable bowel, high blood pressure and bouts of insomnia. I’m a different person now… younger, stronger, in control. Spiritually and emotionally I’m more in tune with myself and my fellow man. I sleep like a baby thanks to Tai Chi and can drop my blood pressure 12 points in two minutes with meditation. Bill has shown me a path less travelled. It’s had many rewards.
Dwayne Rice, Contractor
The coordination, concentration, focus, and attention to one’s body needed and enhanced by Kung Fu and Tai Chi has helped in a thousand ways, whether I’m writing news articles, cleaning the house, playing guitar, or even walking down a crowded street. And not that I needed it, but the training has made me better in bed too.