Not 'a care in the world' Tai chi senior classes calm the mind, relax the body, students say

February 02, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

The tai chi class at Mount Airy Senior Center is a place to relax, after lifetimes spent raising children, earning a living and paying the mortgage.

Each Friday, students practice the fluid movements of the Chinese exercises and say they leave the 90-minute class feeling peaceful and refreshed.

"I go to exercise class, but this is different," said Marie Robertson, 72. "When you walk out, you feel like you don't have a care in the world."

The class is taught by Frances Gander, a licensed acupuncturist who runs a holistic health practice in Sykesville called Three Treasures. This is the first time she's taught a tai chi class solely for seniors. The combination works well, she's found.

"It's very kind to the joints and it's a gentle stretching and relaxing," Ms. Gander said.

Besides physical benefits of the exercise that seniors receive, they are ideally suited to accept the spiritual component of tai chi, Ms. Gander said.

"They have gone through life and gone through a lot of struggles and come out with a kind of simplicity," she said. "There's not a lot of mental garbage that gets in the way."

Ms. Gander defines tai chi as a series of meditative movements to calm the mind and relax the body. The exercise dates to 17th-century China and has its origins in humans imitating animal movements.

Tai chi began to develop a following in this country in the 1960s and became associated with the counterculture. Ms. Gander said interest in the exercise has grown with the emergence of the New Age movement and the recent emphasis on holistic health.

For Helen and Walter Malinak, who take Ms. Gander's class at Mount Airy Senior Center, tai chi is just one of the couple's many activities. They also take yoga, meditation and line dancing.

"It gives us the exercise we need instead of staying home and being couch potatoes," said Mrs. Malinak, 71. "It's really good for the brain and the body."

At a recent class, Ms. Gander instructed the class in a basic tai chi movement. Students began by circling their arms toward themselves and listened for Ms. Gander's directions.

She spoke in a quiet, soothing voice, telling her class how to achieve the correct body alignment.

"Think of the light spirit at the top of your head drawing you up to the heaven. Feel the energy rising up from the earth and sink into your feet," she said

Ms. Gander offered some tips to help the students master a move that requires balance.

"It's difficult holding the postures in the beginning. Don't change the weight all of a sudden, glide into it," she advised.

Students said Ms. Gander's voice contributes to the calming effect of the exercises.

"It's so soothing," Mrs. Malinak said. "She puts us into the mood or spell, or whatever it is."

After class, Ruth Kenefick said the tai chi movements helped her to achieve the desired effect -- relaxation.

"I'm pushing 80, so I really need that relaxation," she said.

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