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'Testing the waters'

Local martial arts school soothes senses, calms the spirit and relaxes the body.

By Matt Pueschel - MPG Newspapers

MARSHFIELD - A wave of energy seems to circulate through the circle of people as t'ai chi instructor Roger Whidden directs them with soothing words. He directs them to draw their hands back and forth from their stomachs as if they are adrawing their energy in and softly reflecting it outward. "Raise the spirit, energize the brain," Whidden says as he concentrates to follow his own instruction.

It's a late Thursday morning at Whidden's School of Fitness on Webster Street. This Oriental Movements class is one of Whidden's favorites. Whidden suddenly stops and asks the group of mostly senior citizens around the room to share what they felt during the exercize. "I felt like seaweed lapping in the waves," said one woman. Another said she felt a spiraling feeling in her spine.

Whidden jokes with the group about some of the answers, but seems pleased. "The biggest thing is the belief system," he says. "You're jumping in and testing the waters because (t'ai chi) is not in mainstream society." Allowing one's energy or "bio-electricity" to flow through oneself seems to be the aim of the exercise. It's about using one's mind and body to achieve a peaceful feeling. That feeling is called the "Chi."

"It relaxes your mind and your body," said Betty Reardon, one of several seniors enrolled in the Oriental Movements class. Whidden, 44, said the class is beneficial to seniors both physically and mentally. "They have a high degree of sensitivity and experience in life and t'ai chi really taps into their experience in life in terms of developing inner peace," he said . "And the use of movements helps the with basic activities of daily living. It's just a joy for them to get that back."

The people in the class seem refreshed as the shuffle from Whidden's top line self-designed exercise floor into the waiting room to put their shoes on. "I like the whole mind-body connection thing that goes on," said Carol Creed. "It just gives you a wonderful sense of inner peace that's inexplainable, a wonderful sense of balance physically and mentally."

Betty Brien agrees, but said it took several classes before she caught on. "I just love the whole thing and it's taken me a year to get what they're talking about," she said. "I'm really getting into it now, the Chi feeling, and I could lick the world this afternoon."

Bea Gray said she wishes all seniors in town would take the class. "If someone is looking for a little camaraderie or a nice way to meet people (this is the place)," added Shirley Jacobs. The fitness school, which opened last September, offers a variety of t'ai chi, karate, yoga, dance and exercise classes for people of all ages and skill levels. "Life is really fast and t'ai chi and karate are really antidotes to hectic lifestyles," said Whidden, a national t'ai chi champion who holds a master's degree in Education and has taught martial arts in the Boston area since 1976. He opened the school with his wife Mary, a fitness instructor with over 20 years of experience. "We worked in Boston for over 20 years," Roger said. But since the Whiddens live in Marshfield they wanted to try to provide a service they thought lacking in the area. So far the fitness school has been a success. "We had a great start and really feel like we were the right people in the right place," he said "People have really responded."

Some 20 seniors and 30 or 40 others have enrolled in classes at the school, which are taught by the Whiddens and a variety of instructors. "I also do a small aerobic program," said Mary, who is 43. "It's more personalized attention. Many people don't feel comfortable with all the noise and weight machines (of a health club). My focus is to welcome people who are new to exercise."

Owning their own fitness studio seems to be a dream come true for the Whiddens. "It took 25 years to get to this point," Roger said. "It's pretty much about developing a strong sense of community here. It's a real match."

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