According to local tai chi instructors, the tai chi movement - as well as Eastern meditative and yoga practices in general - are taking hold in Juneau.
When instructors Jo Boehme and Barb Greening started one Tai Chi for Health class in 2005, they had seven participants doing this kind of Chinese-style yoga. Now they - along with newly certified instructors Glen Ray and Judi Hayden - average eight classes a year, more than 175 Juneau students in four years.
"I think there's just more of a concern about health in general and also different ways of expressing spirituality," Ray said of the reason tai chi has become more popular.
Greening, a 26-year Juneau resident, said tai chi is a "nice way to get started back into exercise."
"People who haven't been exercising are now realizing they need to do something for their body and their mind, because it is changing and they need to help it," she said.
Greening also believes the students themselves are the best advertisement for such exercise.
"These exercises are so gentle and yet so physically and mentally stimulating, and they've proven themselves," Greening said. "They've proven to help, especially people going through stressful times: ailing loved ones, loss of a spouse, dealing with cancer."
Boehme, a 15-year Juneau resident, said the demographic in her classes have been more women than men, approximately 85 percent women to 15 percent men, all between the ages of 28 and 80.
When asked why tai chi is beneficial, Boehme quoted Dr. Paul Lam, the founder of their program:
"Tai chi is probably the most effective exercise to improve health and well-being. You can start and continue to progress to higher level no matter your age or physical condition. More importantly, tai chi helps you to know and like yourself better. This will lead you to health and harmony within yourself and with others."
When he came to town about 30 years ago, Ray said the only venue for tai chi, yoga or meditation was the Yoga Den, now Rainforest Yoga. Now there are three yoga hot spots - Taproot Yoga in the Mendenhall Valley, and Rainforest Yoga and Raven Yoga Shala in downtown Juneau.
Stephanie Quigley, owner of Raven Yoga Shala, started her business in May 2008 to "fill the need of an expanding ashtanga yoga community in Juneau."
"As students become aware of the greatness of full body awareness, the practice is no longer an option - it becomes a lifestyle," Quigley said. "These practices bring all of us freedom to be present in our lives with less stress and more mindfulness and compassion for all living things and our environment."
Now there also are various public and private locations that provide meditation in Zen, Buddhist and Tibetan styles. Although meditation is quite different than tai chi and yoga, Ray feels it has mushroomed similarly over the years.
"The interest in this area has far surpassed the population growth," Ray said. "But the meditation people are not the same as the people interested in yoga. There's suprisingly a small overlap, although meditation is a yoga practice. But the two things aren't exactly overlapped."
There has been a general growing interest in Eastern-developed exercise and meditation - "these things we've associated with China, India, Japan and Korea," Ray said.
Quigley believes such Eastern disciplines are beneficial because they work.
"They have been around for about 5,000 years and have a proven track record of success," she said. "I know this in my personal life experience and have witnessed the physical and spiritual changes in all students who are devoted to a discipline such as yoga, tai chi or meditation. It is finding yourself from the inside - deep within, you sort out you and bring your spirit to the outside."
Tai chi originated in ancient China as a martial art. It is a standing gentle exercise with slow, continuous movement.
Basically there are four styles: Chen, Wu, Yang and Sun. Ray, Hayden, Boehme and Greening are certified in Sun tai chi, which is a gentle tai chi form that uses upright stances, soft arm movements and slow, gentle weight transference.
"Medical research shows that tai chi can help prevent injury and disability in adults by improving balance, flexibility and muscle strength; it also promotes relaxation," Boehme said. "Many people who practice tai chi benefit from the tranquility it creates in the mind and body in addition to the medical benefits."
Scientific studies show tai chi works to improve leg and abdominal strength, and balance control. Tai chi movements emphasize controlled weight transference to help balance and reduce falls.
The Sydney Australia Health Promotion Unit conducted the largest fall prevention study involving nearly 700 people. The results showed that after 16 weeks of regular practice, tai chi significantly reduced the number of falls by almost 35 percent.
The study concludes: "Compared with other falls prevention interventions the trial showed that Tai Chi is one of the most effective ways of preventing falls in older people."
A 2003 study in the "Journal of Rheumatology" conducted with women who suffer from osteoarthritis concluded that compared to the control group, the tai chi group had 35 percent less pain, 29 percent less stiffness, 29 percent more ability to perform daily tasks (like climbing stairs), as well as improved abdominal muscles and better balance.
Exertion can be adjusted for people of all levels of ability. The only physical requirement is being able to stand for a moderate time with good comfort and control. Sun style tai chi can also be modified for seated position.
Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.