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Seniors Find Health, Relaxation in Tai Chi

By Doreen Leggett - Marshfield Mariner
Veterans' Graves Officer Charles Kearney is a busy man for three seasons a year, working at the various cemeteries in town to ensure that fallen veterans are well cared for. In colder months, he had some time on his hands and "lazed around reading" - that is, until now.
He and 16 other men and women are spending an hour on Thursdays learning Tai Chi, a Chinese system of movement designed for meditation and self defense, with the Council on Aging at the Ventress Library.
"It is relaxing, rather than jumping up and down," said Kearney, who said his wife has been benefiting from yoga for 25 years.
He added that even after the introductory class on Jan. 30, he discovered muscles and joints that weren't working properly. "You don't realize how off center you are," He said.
During the first class last week, instructor Roger Whidden told the men and women assembled - who varied in age as well as fitness level - that they were responsible for their own learning and empowerment.
"You don't have to get up and race around to get your Chi (or life force) moving which makes it much preferable when you get older," said Whidden, a master teacher of martial arts who has several academic degrees, as well as national champion honors in Tai Chi fighting.
The class, which will cost approximately (see costs) and will run for 10 weeks, was a big hit.
"I thought it felt wonderful. I turned 80 a couple of weeks ago, and I've got to keep it going," a bubbly Eileen Pieri said with a grin.
Her friend Pat Galligan, who also keeps in shape by going to a local workout club, agreed. "I could get lost in it very easily. I felt like I was flowing with it," Galligan, 72, said.
She added that it helps with balance, which was one of the reasons she signed up for it.
At the beginning of the class, the group formed a circle and Whidden led them through a routine of seemingly easy moves that will enable the class to experience the three tenets of Tai Chi: to relax; feel the center of the body and connect the center of the body to its root (or the feet).
Everyone in the circle first bowed to the center and then shook parts of the body, starting with the wrists and then the elbows before finally culminating at the feet, so their whole body shook at once. The exercise is geared to give participants the idea that everything is connected to the feet.
"You start to feel your body much more strongly than you did before," Whidden explained. "And that is a good thing."
The class, at first awkwardly and then with more ease, followed the instructions of Whidden, who advised them to sway, like seaweed in the ocean.
"What is the use of doing things with such ease?" he asked rhetorically. "Because that is what disease is, lack of ease. If you want to be healthy practice ease, so simple but so profound."
As the class went on, everyone in the room appeared to relax. The only sound was the low tone of Whidden's voice, and the wave-like sounds of pant legs rubbing together.
Whidden instructed the group to give 70% of their effort to this class.
"I know what you're thinking, I'm an American I have to do 110%," he said. That is not the case with Tai Chi, which values form and fluidity.
The secret to the healing power of tai chi, Whidden said, is that it balances the body.
"We are in the process of uniting the body to move in the way it was made to move," he said. He added that western drugs are so powerful that if one takes something for the stomach, it throws off the liver. In Tai Chi, the body balances itself, said Whidden, He added Western drugs are necessary, and that the West and the East could both learn something from each other.
Whidden, a Rexhame resident, hopes to make the class at the senior center a long-term offering and said he was impressed with the interest it generated in the suburbs.
"People who want to learn something late in life are inspirational," he said.
Whidden, who also teaches a more aggressive style of Tai Chi, said the more relaxed style appeals to older people because younger people often don't realize the value of moving slow.
Tai Chi will also enable participants to walk a little bit smoother, be more relaxed, focus attention better, and have a good time, he said.
Whidden added that even as one gets older it is important to stay active, pointing out that being, as in human being is an active noun.
Tai Chi novice Marie O'Neil agreed that the martial art did more than relieve tension.
"The day after we went home you could feel it. it isn't only relaxing. you can feel it in your muscles," she said.
Towards the end of class Whidden informed his students about his dream about seeing a group of seniors gathered in a public square in Marshfield performing Tai Chi, similar to the public displays some of the retirees put on in China.
The class snickered but maybe at the end of 10 weeks, maybe they'll change their minds.

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