Balancing act

Published 6:38 pm Saturday, March 12, 2005

By By RANDI K. PICKLEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES - The Senior Citizen Center at 1109 Bell Road in Niles brings a little of the far east to town each week.
Edna Ellis of Niles has been attending the Tai Chi class since its origin two years ago. "It has helped me to get my balance and recover from a broken heel," she said. She adds, "That's partly why they recommend it for seniors."
Faye Walker of Niles added, "I couldn't do aerobics anymore." But since the impact on the body is low with Tai Chi, Walker said, "I've been moving every muscle, every bone in my body with this gentle exercise."
Originating in China, Japan, and Korea, Tai Chi is an ancient form of martial arts that is both graceful and healthy. It promotes good health by teaching participants how to breathe properly, how to center their balance, and how to practice "body awareness," all through a routine of dance-like movements.
Although anyone is welcome to participate in the Tai Chi program offered at the Senior Center at no cost, the class is presently attended mostly by senior ladies.
Tai Chi classes are offered on Mondays from 3:30 to 5 p.m. and on Wednesdays and Fridays from 2 until 3:30 p.m. at the center.
Naomi Chilson of Niles took up Tai Chi because her daughter in Iowa had already learned the art and was enthusiastic about its benefits. "It really helps my balance," she said. Walker enjoys the exercise routines of Tai Chi, particularly when she can share them with her daughter. She adds, "My daughter visits my class when she comes home, and the motions are pretty much the same."
New to Tai Chi by only a few weeks, Clare Hoinville of Niles and Marge Goodwin of Niles Township, are enthusiastic about the class. They glide through the motions as if they had been doing them for a long time.
Clare said, "I heard about it from a fellow member who really enjoys it."
The ladies in the class are like a circle of friends who talk and laugh between exercises. And they all love to tease their instructor, Josef Martinu, who takes it all in good humor.
Martinu was born in the Czech Republic near Prague. Over the years he became interested in Tai Chi and began to study it to help him deal with high pressure jobs. After moving to Michigan, he wanted to do something for the Niles community, volunteering to teach the course at the Senior Center.
The program includes more than just physical exercise. Martinu explains, "We talk about energy flow, digestion, and breathing. We also talk about the benefits and dangers of certain foods, and how bad hydrogenated foods are. We don't touch it if it has "hydrogenated" on the label."
Martinu also mentions that participants learn to concentrate better and heal from illness better.
The form of Tai Chi that Martinu teaches is called Okinawa Shorin Ryu, a Japanese version which is related to the Shaolin form of China, made familiar to Americans by the television show, "Kung Fu", starring David Carradine.
Shorin Ryu begins with relaxing warm up movements seated on floor mats, then continues on into the dance-like movements while standing.
Soothing, oriental style music is played in the background as the dance unfolds, added to by a soft running dialogue through which Martinu explains the next motion. The class is focused and relaxed, and the flow of movement is unified. They are progressing through the Yang form of Tai Chi which involves 24 moves.
On the wall is a banner with black and white Ying and Yang symbols. Martinu explains, "The symbols represent the balance of positive and negative in the world." Because the Ying and Yang are combined together into one circle, Martinu adds, "They symbolize the opposite but complimentary nature of the human race." According to Martinu, we need to accept the good and bad within us and learn to be in balance. Tai Chi is a way of achieving that balance, both physically and mentally.
By the expression on the participants faces as they move through the motions, they seem to agree.