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Quest for fitness balances mind and Body

Students of all ages find a good workout in Tai Chi classes.
By Sophia Hernandez - MPG Newspapers
It's no wonder Nancy Stanga can keep up with her grandchildren. Every week this grandmother dons her workout gear and heads to a Tai Chi class at Whidden's School of Fitness.

On a recent trip to Disney World, Stanga said she had no problem keeping up with her energetic grandchildren, thanks to the strength, stamina, and inner calm she has gained from her Tai Chi class.

"It's the best thing I've ever done for myself," said Stanga, "now I can stay calm and enjoy them." wink

Tai Chi is a system of exercise movements especially designed for meditation and development of harmony and self-discipline. Tai Chi uses slow, controlled movements which encourage body-mind harmony and meditation.

"It's easier on the body than aerobics and you're still getting a good workout," said class member Sadie Ohlund, who used to take aerobics classes before discovering Tai Chi. She said aerobics were mechanical and purely external.

"Aerobics is just throwing your body around," she said.

"And it encourages bad knees," interjected Stanga.

Ohlund said Tai Chi deals with the movement of energy inside the body, and works from the inside out.

"It's really a mind-body thing," said Ohlund.

Whidden's School of Fitness offers a Tai Chi class that has become all the rage among the elderly. People in their 60's, 70's and even 80's participate in the class.

Shirley Jacobson, a senior who's been taking Tai Chi for about a year and a half, said she got involved through the council on aging. Tai Chi instructor Roger Whidden originally taught the class for seniors at the council on aging before moving into the building the school now occupies. Whidden said he had separate classes for middle-aged students, but realized the two groups could benefit from one another if they were in the same class.

"Middle-aged people can learn quite a bit from the seniors because seniors tend to sense the Chi much better," said Whidden, "That's an area of strength for them." Seniors benefit from the presence of middle aged members in the group because of the energy they bring to the class, he said.

Tai Chi is developed for the capabilities of people middle aged and beyond, according to Whidden. High impact exercises are good for younger people, but as they get older, they need to start to internalize and do softer, slower more mindful movements, according to Whidden.

Jacobson said Tai Chi is a great workout for seniors.

"The seniors love it," said Jacobson.

Having studies eastern philosophy, Whidden said he has a deep respect for seniors that they pick up on.

"We tend to be a youth oriented culture," said Whidden, "but there's no substitute for experience."

Whidden said he encourages them to share their wisdom and experience. "I want to validate their experience and wisdom and have them share that too," said Whidden.

Another benefit Jacobson noted is making friendships in the class. "We look forward to seeing each other," said Jacobson.

The oldest member of the class, Dorothea Dowd, is 82 years young. "She's our inspiration," said Ohlund.

Stanga said the Tai Chi classes help her maintain physical balance, which is one of the first things to go as people age. She said she has gained a sense of emotional and mental balance as well since taking the classes.

"You can handle things better, it makes you more focused," said Ohlund. She said the focus and calm she received from taking Tai Chi helped her deal with her husband's recent illness.

In addition to other physical and emotional benefits, Stanga says she has lowered her cholesterol since taking Tai Chi.

Marilyn Neri, who is also a black belt in karate, said she really enjoys Tai Chi and she loves Whidden's instruction. Neri said it is a different discipline but no less difficult.

"The more I learn, the more demanding it becomes," said Neri. It takes an incredible amount of balance to stay in position, she explained.

"It really makes you aware of your body," Neri said. She said Tai Chi extends the body's inner energy and it requires more mental focus. Neri said it also makes the body very relaxed.

"I don't think people realize you have to be relaxed to have power," said Neri. She said she likes that the classes at Whidden's school are 90 minutes long, because she gets more out of it.

The movements are slow and controlled, and the more skilled a person gets at it, the slower they can do the moves, according to Neri.

"It's very relaxing, it helps me with my flexibility and it's a wonderful stress reliever," said Roger Berg, who said he would describe Tai Chi as "moving meditation."

"It quiets your mind," said Stanga. She said she used to get winded walking up one flight of stairs, now she can do three with ease.

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