Stretch, Strengthen With Tai Chi


Twittering birds are the only sound Saturday morning, amidst the serenity of Green Valley Park, where several seniors silently practice fluid, graceful movements beneath a shady awning of tree branches.

Laoshir, or teacher, Rick Clark directs participants in the art of Tai Chi Chaun, an ancient martial art that incorporates a series of coordinated movements and steady, relaxed breathing.


Rick Galloway, left, instructor Rick Clark and Grace Johns practice Tai Chi at Green Valley Park.

"It's a moving mediation exercise that gradually stretches and strengthens the body," said Clark, who offers free classes for seniors. "It's not real aerobic or strenuous."

Clark has been an instructor in Payson for more than 10 years. He teachers Yang style, one of five traditional styles originating in China. It includes repetitions of 37 different body stances.

"The forms can be modified to wherever you are physically," Clark said. "It is geared towards balancing everything physically and mentally."

Tai Chi ChaunWhen: 9 to 10 a.m. SaturdaysWhere: Rim Country Health and Retirement Community, 807 W. Longhorn RoadEligibility: All ages may attend classes from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays at Green Valley Park. $5 per class. Free for those 50 years and older.

Clark said he tailors certain moves to help seniors.

For instance, rolling the abdomen aids with digestion, moving internal organs that become stagnant when older people stop exercising as much, Clark said.

Grace Johns, 89, has been practicing Tai Chi for more than five years.

"I'm much more limber and I have better balance," said Johns, who attends classes three times a week. "The moves individually are not difficult, but remembering the routines and sequences are."

Benefits from continued practice are noticeable, Johns said.

"You do the exercises ... and gradually realize you're able to do things that you couldn't before," Johns said.

Johns is one of three local students who attended a seniors adoption ceremony in Albuquerque, N.M., on World Tai Chi and Quigong Day in late April.

Seniors practicing Tai Chi for a minimum of five years were welcomed into Clark's kung fu family, or martial arts community, Clark said.

"They've shown their dedication to Tai Chi and to spread it to others," Clark said.

Rick Galloway, 56, said he values Tai Chi, not only for its physical rewards, but for its ability to instill mental calm.

"For me, it is more about the meditative aspects," Galloway said. "It quiets your mind and teaches you."

"The concentration it requires puts your mind at ease," Johns said.

Galloway practiced Tai Chi for several years in his early 20s. He said he recently decided to pick it up again in an effort to reconnect with things he enjoys in life.

"Tai Chi slows me down in a rapidly clogged universe," said Galloway, noting the modern distractions of cell phones and television. "Getting back into it, I realize how much I pull myself through life with ideas. Tai Chi is a more intuitive, organic process."

Even though Galloway has only taken three classes so far, he said the moves are coming back to him.

"It is more of a body memory," Galloway said. "However, its apparent simplicity is deceptive."

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