Tai Chi Classes Considered ‘Walking Medication’

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Last week I tried my hand at martial arts. You can bet I wasn’t boxing, fighting or practicing self-defense, instead I was practicing an art Harvard Medical School calls “walking medication” — Tai Chi.

One day my copy of St. George Neighborhoods brought news of a number of classes offered at the Red Hills Wellness Center. Among belly dancing and Zumba classes was Yang Long style Tai Chi, and I was interested. I’d only ever heard good things about Tai Chi and since I left my finger cymbals at home, I gave the Martial Arts a shot. 

Located at 301 North 200 East, Suite 2C, the Wellness Center overlooks St. George with a beautiful view. I was ready with stretch pants and cash at 10 a.m. sharp, but when I realized my husband and I were the only students in Wednesday’s class I worried just a bit about my amateur status. It became apparent, however, that five dollars was a small price to pay for a private instructor and personal training.

The three of us proceeded to go through a series of motions while serene music played softly. I was surprised at the slow-motion exercise since I had fully expected a combative style of Kung Fu. “This will be simple,” I thought. “I can totally excel at these poses.” I was surprised, though, when halfway through the set my breathing picked up. It wasn’t difficult, per se, but rather a mild form of exercise that worked my muscles.

 “The body doesn’t like moving slowly,” Tai Chi Master Gary Whitehead said. “What we’re doing is forcing the body to move slower with movements so it works you out. It’s a slow and controlled exercise, with general health benefits.”

The exercise I called simple not only works as a preventative medicine, but it also reduces stress, builds the immune system and improves coordination, memory and flexibility. And you don’t even have to break a sweat.

Whitehead was first interested in Kung Fu, but when he saw Tai Chi in action he knew he had to learn. But when his teacher couldn’t be in class one day, Whitehead was left to lead. After that, Whitehead began teaching new students and later picked up his own classes in St. George.

In addition to the Wellness Center, Whitehead offers Tai Chi classes at the Dixie State College campus, Zion’s Way Healing Arts Center and the SunRiver Fitness Center. Among plenty of college students, middle-aged students and elderly students, Whitehead said he’s had students as old as 89 years participate in his Tai Chi classes.

If someone in their eighties can do it, I figured I can handle the 36 movements. However, Whitehead said Yang Long Style includes a whole 108 movements and I only experienced one-third of the whole form.

“You modify it though,” Whitehead said. “Tai Chi is passed down from generation to generation with little change, but depending on the difficulty level you modify it to new versions. Different people have different reactions to it and what they expect from it.”

He must have had a positive reaction though, because Whitehead’s DSC classes fill up to about 18-20 students each semester. In fact, this spring Dixie State will even open up an intermediate class for any students looking to advance their knowledge of Tai Chi.

At the end of my first class I was definitely feeling the benefit of stress reduction. In fact I felt so good I went home and took a three hour nap. Thank you Tai Chi for the much needed break.

Whitehead said his favorite part of the class was similar to my experience.

“I have to pay close attention because it relaxes me so much I forget what I’m doing,” he said. “It really calms me down. I really enjoy the way I feel after a class.”

To learn more about Whitehead’s Tai Chi classes, call him at (435) 673-2260.