You've probably seen them in the background of some movie shot in New York's Central Park — or perhaps you've seen them in person somewhere — a group of 30, 40, perhaps 50 people moving slowly, gracefully in unison, turning, stretching, punching, their arms lifted, extended, or slightly tucked in, gliding as one, like some slow-motion Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, only without the high kicks and glitzy costumes.
They're doing tai chi, an 11th-century Chinese martial art that in modern times has developed a branch that provides a gentle, low-impact aerobic workout (calling it "exercise" would take out all the fun, so I won't). It's ideal for just about everyone.
Minute-for-minute, you can burn more calories doing tai chi than surfing and almost as many as downhill skiing, according to the Nutristrategy Nutrition and Fitness web site. And it is as good for you as taking a brisk walk, according to University of Toronto researchers.
And as a tai chi newbie, I can add that it's challenging, feels good and is not boring.
There are all styles of tai chi, from the fast, action type you see in the movies and video games to the gentle, slow, routines that provide health and fitness benefits.
I'm into the soft stuff, namely the set developed by the late Master Moy Lin-shin, founder of the Taoist Tai Chi Society in Toronto. It has spread to 25 countries, has branches in more than half of the United States and is taught at several places in the Tampa Bay area by volunteers who are trained at their own expense and simply want to share the benefits of this art with as many people as possible.
To that end, an instructor from the Taoist Tai Chi Society is holding four free, introductory sessions at the Hudson Regional Library off Fivay Road in Hudson at 11 a.m. Jan. 6, 13 and 20 and Feb. 3. The instructor is Maria Hanna, who has studied tai chi for a dozen years and attends workshops and events throughout the year to sharpen her technique and keep up with any changes in the 108 movements in the Taoist Tai Chi set.
The library classes are a chance to see the moves done by her and experienced students and also a chance to learn a few of the moves yourself. Wear comfortable clothes and flat shoes that won't slip on a wooden floor.
You can register at the Hudson Library reference desk from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays, or 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays (closed Dec. 24 and 31), or you can take a chance there will be room and just show up at class time. The Friends of the Hudson Library are making a donation to the society in appreciation for the classes.
If you enjoy them, you can sign up at the New Port Richey Recreation Center, where beginners classes are from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and/or 5 to 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday starting Jan. 4. The cost is $30 a month, more or less, depending on whether you live in the city, and whether you are a member of the rec center. Call (727) 841-4560 for details. You can find other classes in the area at taoist.org.
I started in mid-session about two months ago, and I highly recommend getting in at the beginning. A beginner class will get you through the 108 basic moves, but, like golfing and piano playing, it takes years of practice to become really proficient.
As I struggle to remember the first five of the 108 moves, I often think of writer Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000-Hour Rule in Outliers. Researchers have found that among people of equal ability — musicians, basketball players, writers, ice skaters, chess players, even master criminals — only those who practiced much, much more than the others reached the top, and, over and over, the magic number of hours of practice is 10,000, thus the "10,000-Hour Rule."
At my current pace, I should get there around the year 2024.