Tai Chi helps seniors find mental and physical strength

Allen Wells teaches Tai Chi at the Bella Vida senior center. Matt Fernandez/The Signal
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People may not be kung fu fighting at the Bella Vida senior center, but they are able to find balance and exercise through the center’s biweekly tai chi classes. 

Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that is valued for both its meditative nature and defensive capabilities, but is perhaps more renowned for its health benefits. According to instructor Allen Wells, there are 108 moves in tai chi arranged in specific, ordered sequences that he teaches his students.

“The whole point of tai chi is to bring a weight-bearing type of exercise to a generation that can’t do a lot of moving,” Wells said. “By moving slowly and doing weight-bearing exercise, you’re building muscle and tendons, improving coordination and exercising your brain without potentially damaging yourself like in other forms of exercise.”

Wells, who has taught the class for the past seven years, first started taking tai chi with the senior center and took over when the last instructor, Sharon Chang, died. 

“It wasn’t that I wanted to be in charge, but when she died, we had nobody left to teach — and I didn’t want to see the class just dissipate, so I took over,” Wells said. “It’s exciting to be teaching the class and coming from having been a beginner having to watch everyone to now having everyone watching me is a humbling experience.”

Penni Perrault and her husband, Art, have attended the class twice a week for the past few  months and said they appreciate Wells’ patient teaching style. 

“After I retired, I began to check out the senior center and I had no idea what tai chi was but it sounded interesting,” Penni said. “Tai chi really helps with focus and concentration on top of the physical, so it’s all-around very beneficial. We really like how Allen repeats the material so it becomes more comfortable.”

“What drew me to this was that all the techniques can be used in fighting,” added Art, who holds a black belt in tae kwon do, “but we’re taught balance, coordination, heart and how to control ourselves. It’s also an art form that’s really pretty to watch.”

Mary Rooke attended her first class on Tuesday and said she has long known about the benefits of tai chi from friends who have studied it, but was previously unable to take any classes herself. Rooke regularly visits the Granada Hills Woman’s Club and said she was relieved to find a place closer to her Agua Dulce home that offered tai chi.

“I wanted to try tai chi to improve my balance and I need to exercise, which for me is harder to do by myself,” she said. “As a senior you get scared of falling so I knew I needed to do something about that. Trying the class made me realize how much I really need to continue to do this because it was hard balancing on one foot, so I will be back.”

Allen Wells teaches his tai chi class at the Bella Vida senior center on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 to 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

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