OLDS — In some ways, the COVID-19 lockdown didn’t really affect the Olds Tai Chi Association. But on the other hand, when the rules were relaxed, members were sure happy to see each other again.
Tai chi was originally developed as a self defence martial art, but has since evolved into a form of exercise. In a slow, graceful manner, participants undertake a series of movements and stretches without stopping.
Participants go through as many as 108 movements over the span of about half an hour.
Proponents say it not only provides exercise, but also a sense of calmness and relaxation.
The association has 15 to 20 paid members who live throughout Mountain View County as well as Penhold and even Red Deer.
They range in age from about 35 or 40 to senior instructor Carley Cole, who is 85 years young and has been practising tai chi for about 20 years.
They meet Tuesday and Thursday evenings in the basement of the Olds Chiropractic Centre building. Usually between two and 10 members participate in any given session.
Most stopped gathering there when the lockdown started in March and didn’t get together again until they held a session in a parking lot in early June.
“Because tai chi is a moving health practice, it works well with social distancing. The postures require synchronized movement in all directions. This means each participant wants – and needs – space. The parking lot provides ample space to take advantage of,” Cole wrote in an email.
Between those two dates, some members practised tai chi at home, but some continued to gather in the studio.
“Most of the members chose – for various reasons – to not come. And that was OK; it worked well,” Cole said.
“Some of them were working in the essential (businesses) – the businesses that stayed open. Because they did contact the public in general, they chose not to come.
“Others just felt their health might be compromised and they didn’t want to do it.”
However, four members continued to meet in the studio.
“We could keep our social distancing in the studio quite easily,” Cole said.
The instructor said she always knew camaraderie is a big part of the appeal of tai chi – several members usually stick around for tea and conversation afterwards.
“I call it a therapeutic session. We tell our sad stories and we tell our humorous stories and usually have good laughs,” she said.
But that first session outdoors in early June proved just how important that sense of togetherness is.
“I knew that the camaraderie was really important. But when we gathered back together in the parking lot there, it was quite obvious. There was a definite sense that they enjoyed it.”
In fact, Cole said some members were so enthusiastic she had to “lecture” them, reminding them to practise social distancing, as there was lots of room to do so in the parking lot.
She also encouraged them to wear face masks, and many did.
Cole has noticed an upsurge in attendance, when usually the opposite occurs at this time of year, as people get busy in the garden or head out on vacation.
“Here we are in June and we’ve had no less than eight. And one evening here in June we had 11,” she said.
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