Tai chi instructor Robin Reardon gives corrections to his continuing tai chi class. Student Pearl Lowry of Clearwater, wearing pink, was a week away from her 91st birthday as she participated in the class.
DUNEDIN – In total silence, the students of tai chi carefully flow through the meditative movements, gliding through a series of specific poses – each with different levels of range and flexibility.
The wooden floors of the Taoist Tai Chi Society of Tampa Bay’s center in Dunedin barely register the movement of the Thursday “continuing” class July 12. The main room features large windows and round, red paper lanterns hung from the ceiling and a Taoist shrine, fringed in yellow tapestries and curtains.
A poster at the back of the room lists the 108 movements the class is performing in their proper order. The movements are named things like “carry the tiger over the mountain,” “creeping low like a snake” and “go back to ward off monkey.”
The class finishes with “closing of tai chi,” and instructor Robin Reardon turns to offer correction to his students, starting with a tricky movement that involves balancing on one foot at the end.
“The more you focus on pushing that foot into the floor, the easier it is to pick the other foot up,” he says.
The group watches as he demonstrates, his demeanor relaxed and descriptions laconic, the shape of a properly performed “push needle to sea bottom.”
“Questions? No?” he asks the silently absorbed class. “You’re all going to do it just like that.”
Reardon has been an instructor for the society for 16 years. A volunteer like the rest of the instructors, he teaches the continuing classes, the more advanced classes after introductory and beginning levels. He leads the class three times a week and rotates with the other four continuing instructors every fourth Friday.
Reardon said he is a perfect example of the end results students of tai chi can achieve with persistence. He has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic disease that he used to treat with acupuncture.
“I got use of my hands back when I started doing tai chi,” he said.
Other students report improvements to bad knees, bad backs, inflammation and various aches and pains.
“Not everything can be fixed with tai chi, but a lot can,” Reardon said. “It enhances the flow of your immune system. The more you do, the better the system works.”
The practice also affects your demeanor, allowing students to become calmer, more reflective and react to external forces the way they choose, he said. Reardon said he adheres to the philosophy of Taoism, which teaches personal responsibility and respect for others, but doesn’t practice it as a religion.
Among the students in Reardon’s class was Pearl Lowry of Clearwater, who turned 91 on July 19. She began attending Taoist Tai Chi Society classes three years ago, she said.
“I just decided I needed exercise. Where I live, everybody sits on their butt all day and watches TV, and I didn’t want to do that,” she said.
The silver-haired lady has a stooped back, but kept pace with the other students through all 108 movements of the set.
“I think it helps, so you can keep moving and not have to worry about winding up with a wheelchair,” she explained. “That’s what I want to avoid. I try not to have a walker much less a wheelchair.”
The Taoist Tai Chi Society of Tampa Bay offers classes from its main location at 1370 Main St., but also at the Dunedin Senior Center, Indian Shores Town Hall, the Oakhurst United Methodist Church in Seminole and the Oldsmar Senior Center. Call 877-398-1108 or visit dunedin.florida.usa.taoist.org.