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For the mind and body

Group of people doing t'ai chi
Carol Raleigh, Jim LaViolet, Shelly Vanness, Ann Murphy, Diane Widi and Anne Tennis participate in a t’ai chi event. T’ai chi is a meditation exercise form of low-impact movements that originated in 13th-century China as a form of martial arts handed down from generation to generation. Eva Westein photo

Once an ancient form of martial arts, t’ai chi becomes local wellness activity

By Eva Westein

Contributing Writer

GREEN BAY – On Wednesday mornings at Voyageur Park, members of the Brown County Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) can be found under the shade of the trees practicing the slow, serene movements of t’ai chi while being serenaded by chirping birds and meditative music.

At the head of the group is Shelly Vanness, a retired occupational therapist who now volunteers her skills and passion for the practice of t’ai chi at the ADRC as a beginner-level instructor.

Vanness first had the opportunity to learn about t’ai chi back in 2000 when she received a mailing about t’ai chi training for therapists.

Initially, she had just set the mailing aside and forgot about it, but she picked it up again a few months later and decided to look into it.

She then took several workshops for about a year and a half.

After training at the T’ai Chi Center of Madison, she eventually decided to teach it herself.

Vanness later got certified to teach t’ai chi and has voluntarily taught it to others for 22 years, eight of which have been at the ADRC.

“I feel like it was a gift that I received in my life, so I like to share it with other people,” she stated.

T’ai chi is a meditation exercise form of low-impact movements that originated in 13th-century China as a form of martial arts handed down from generation to generation.

It is now practiced as an art form, meditation technique, or mind, body and spirit exercise that is becoming increasingly popular across the United States.

It is an especially convenient method of exercise because it can be practiced alone or in a group setting and does not require specialized equipment or clothing.

T’ai chi can be practiced by anyone.

“Many seniors are interested in it. It is very meditative and works on concentration and balance too, which is good for us all,” says Jean Huxtable-Hamersky, a community member who has been taking Shelly’s t’ai chi class at the ADRC in downtown Green Bay for several months now.

T’ai chi also boasts many other health benefits such as improved posture, body awareness, blood pressure control, flexibility, cardiovascular and respiratory function, pain relief, emotional wellness and more.

In fact, the National Institute of Health has introduced grants to be used by organizations such as the ADRC to create opportunities for community members to practice t’ai chi and other similar exercises in an effort to reduce balance-related falls in the elderly.

While the practice of t’ai chi is accessible to anyone, Shelly warns that it can be a long process.

“Be very patient with yourself because it takes a good long while, I would say if you’re really interested it takes about 9-12 months before you feel like you can really do one of the forms well,” Vanness explained.

For beginners, she also recommends finding something online that you can follow along with at home, even if it’s just 15 minutes a day.

If you are interested in participating in a local in-person t’ai chi session, check out the following offerings: call 920-448-4300 for the Aging and Disability Resource Center in Green Bay’s sessions with Shelly on Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m.; contact Eric Peters at 920-366-0899 for beginner, intermediate and advanced sessions held on Tuesdays from 9-10 a.m. at GBASO on 2351 Holmgren Way, Suite 102; and call the YWCA of Green Bay at 920-432-5581 for t’ai chi sessions in the water on Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m. and t’ai chi sessions in the classroom on Thursdays at 10 a.m.

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