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Tai-Chi Classes Help Students Exercise Mind, Body

St. Peters residents are taking Tai-Chi classes at the YMCA as a way to exercise.

When one looks to make a change for the better, sometimes it helps to search the past.

And some are looking to Tai Chi—an ancient form of martial arts—to provide both exercise, relaxation, and piece of mind.

“One of the main premises of this is that it’s a mind-body connection,” Tai Chi Instructor Charlotte Williams said. “You can clear your mind and almost meditate when you’re doing the exercises.”

Williams—who teaches Tai Chi at the in St. Peters—started practicing the ancient martial arts system eight years ago and began teaching a year ago. Williams started practicing Tai Chi for stress reduction—the instructor said the deep breathing involved in Tai-Chi serves as a stress reducer. Tai Chi is also a solid form of exercise because it required coordination.

“You work all parts of the body,” she said. “You work your feet and arms together. The range of motion is improved because you concentrate on moving your body in every possible direction.”

Eight of the nine students in William’s recent class Tai-Chi class were senior citizens. They worked their way through a variety of postures which required breathing as well as placement of the hands and feet in different areas around the body. Williams said senior citizens and people with debilitating illness are attracted to the art because they have trouble with their balance and Tai-Chi strengthens it.     

“Older people know it’s a martial art, but if they really wanted a martial art they’d move onto something else,” she said. “But there’s no reason why it has to be just seniors; in China they start doing this as toddlers.”

Tai Chi originated in China in the 1500s. In contemporary China Tai Chi is still practiced at work and in public places. Williams calls it a “gentle form of martial arts” because it’s defensive and there is not a lot of punching and kicking.

There are many different forms of Tai Chi that have evolved since its inception. Williams teaches the Chen style—the oldest form—which was developed by a Chinese general Chen Wangting. For the practitioner, it differs in other forms of exercise practiced in gyms around the country because of the amount of concentration it requires.

“This requires a little more concentration than other forms of aerobic exercise,” Williams said. “They don’t give you quite the boost in heart rate that other forms of exercise do but it requires more concentration because it requires more steps. You have to be sure that your hands are in the right place and that your feet are in the right place. You’re constantly having to think about what you are doing.” 

Williams said those wishing to lose weight should combine Tai-Chi with another form of exercise such as jogging or swimming.  

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