Story and photo provided by Stacy Delano, Stillwater Public Library, Adult Services Librarian
Tai Chi is a centuries old martial art that has become popular across the world and is now being taught at the Stillwater Public Library through its new health literacy series, “Simple Steps to Better Health.” The free training takes place weekly in four different classes.
The library planned the series, which includes health classes, healthy cooking classes, Tai Chi and other activities when it found out that Payne County earned D and F grades in several health areas in a statewide health report. To fund the activities, the library was awarded a grant from the Institute of Museums and Library Services and the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.
“We didn’t start out with the intention of offering Tai Chi,” said Lynda Reynolds, library director. “But across the country, we saw that libraries were getting the attention of their community members by offering it. We decided to provide weekly Tai Chi as an incentive for participants to come in to get other health information on topics like healthy hearts and lungs, immunizations, stroke prevention and eating more fruits and vegetables.”
The incentive has been extremely popular, with both Tai Chi classes offered in February filling up within a matter of weeks.
“We originally offered forty slots in total,” said Reynolds. “But, we quickly realized that we were going to have to add more classes to accommodate the demand.”
The library is sending several of its staff members to receive Tai Chi training through the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Reynolds expects the library will be able to offer four weekly classes from March through June which will accommodate 80 participants.
“I don’t remember a time when an incentive we have offered has been quite so popular,” said Reynolds. “In February, we had attendance of over 100 in the health classes we offered. I don’t think we would have had that many people coming in for health information if they hadn’t been motivated by getting to take Tai Chi.”
Currently, Tai Chi classes are taught by Dr. Mary Heitz, a professor of philosophy at OSU, and TaNiqua Ward from the Payne County TSET Healthy Living Program.
Ward became involved in Tai Chi while she was working at Total Health in Stillwater
“I had heard about a training opportunity for Tai Chi and thought the class would be a great addition to the Total Health schedule because there is always need for a class that focuses on balance. I am also interested in forms of mind-body exercises. Because Tai Chi is also known as ‘meditation in motion,’ it intrigued me.”
Heitz’s interest in the exercise goes back to 1988, when he began studying with Peter Wayne, whose instructor was a student of Cheng-man Ch’ing, the originator of the Yang Short Form style of Tai Chi.
“I am honored to be a third generation student of that Grand Master,” said Heitz.
Wayne was the author of “The Harvard Medical Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart and Sharp Mind” and now does research for Harvard Medical School on the effects of Tai Chi as well as Traditional Chinese Medicine.
According to Heitz and Wayne’s book, the benefits of Tai Chi are numerous.
“Some of the most prominent things people enjoy as a result of Tai Chi are improved balance, deep relaxation and improved flexibility and range of motion,” said Heitz. “It also provides improved circulation and immune function, muscle strengthening as well as greater bone density, a mild cardio-vascular exercise, peace of mind and improved mental clarity and a feeling of being centered and improved mood overall.
“Research also shows that Tai Chi improves quite a few medical issues. Certainly these benefits attract people to this art, as well as the fact that the movements are gentle and relatively easy to learn, making it appropriate for most people of all ages and physical abilities.”
John and Theo Yoast are two older students in the Monday Tai Chi classes who think they will benefit from the instruction.
“Knowing that the older we get we are not as stable makes the balance you gain from Tai Chi helpful,” said John Yoast. “I am also glad to see the strengthening that takes places in your train of thought. It takes a lot of focus to coordinate all of the moves we do.”
His wife Theo has also been excited about the information she and her husband have learned in the accompanying health classes.
“John and I altered our diets several years ago and we were glad to hear that we were taking the right steps. The class gave us even more information about what we should be eating and avoiding for a healthier heart.
Younger families are also benefitting from the instruction. Tai Chi student Heidi Castro said she learned facts about food that she had not known.
“I went into the heart health class thinking I might not learn anything because my heart is just fine. But I learned information that I was able to take back home and put into practice for the whole family.”
Sign-up for the library’s Tai Chi and health classes is available online at the library’s webpage.. Interested participants may also stop by the Help Desk or by calling (405) 372-3633 x8106. All classes are free and open to the public, though Tai Chi participants are requested to register for an informational class as well.
The library urges participants to follow Mayo Clinic advice that those who are pregnant or people with joint problems, back pain, fractures, severe osteoporosis or a hernia consult their health care provider before trying Tai Chi.
For more information about “Simple Steps to Better Health” visit the library’s webpage at http://library.stillwater.org/simple_steps_to_better_health.php.
The series is sponsored by local organizations, Payne County Health Department, Payne County OSU Extension, Payne County TSET Healthy Living Program and Stillwater Medical Center, and local businesses, Crepe Myrtle Asian Food Market, Magic Touch Massage Therapy, Knight Medical Supply, Food Pyramid, and the Stillwater Public Library Trust.