Tai Chi promotes health at Heardmont

What do you get if you mingle exercise and relaxation, play and imagination?

Well, for one, it’s Tai Chi, pronounced tie chee, an ancient Chinese art form.

I recently chatted with instructor Charles Fechter, who leads a Tai Chi class at Heardmont Senior Center at 9:30 a.m. every Monday.

Fechter was living in Los Angeles, a music teacher in 1989 when he turned to Tai Chi for exercise. His native soil calling him home, he returned to Birmingham. Now he teaches many local classes, including this one at Heardmont.

“There are many levels to Tai Chi,” Fechter said. “On the surface it’s a good exercise, promotes natural motions of muscles and joints. It relaxes, stretches in interesting ways.”

Then Fechter spoke of a National Institute of Health (NIH) study showing Tai Chi brings arthritis relief, improves balance and range of motion.

“Tai Chi movements strip away layers of tension,” he said.

There are many styles of Tai Chi, but Fechter teaches for health improvement. He told of one person bothered by chronic shoulder pain, which treatments didn’t help. After a few months of Tai Chi they became pain free, off medication.

“One primary rule of thumb: if it hurts, don’t do it. Always stay in your range of comfort with exercise,” Fetcher said.

Then he explained how a student learns to pay attention to his or her body; they use imagination. Fechter teaches class with a backdrop of soothing music.

He referred to a term called, “BodyMind,” a melding of these human aspects. The mind-body connection is a relatively new concept in Western medicine. The ancient Chinese were clearly ahead of the game.

One exercise described by Fechter took me to my college days and an acting workshop class.

“We call this exercise ‘water legs’,” he said. “Pretend we’re playing in water, current is tugging, retarding movement. Play is important, not just for children.”

So, I stepped onto the floor with the group led by Fechter and tried “water legs.” In moments I felt knee deep in swift current, hands on beach balls, body being tugged and whipped by winds and currents. Not really, but you get the point.

This play at Tai Chi is the gentlest workout I’ve ever tried, and left me feeling relaxed. Another fun drill is called the “shivering pony.” I’ll let your imagination take you to that one.

For more information on the Tai Chi class, call 991-5742.