Tai chi event helps bring calmness through meditation and movement

Adriana Hernadez-Santana, Junior Feature Editor

The burst of warm weather paired perfectly with today’s tai chi class at Kiwanis Park Amphitheatre. 

What is tai chi?

The concept of tai chi, although fairly simple, is very different for everyone. This practice began 2000 years ago by Buddhist Monks that worked to develop their martial arts skills for not only protection purposes, but also mediation uses as well. It was thought that it would help people in the ways they handle stress, their health, and even their overall outlook on life. 

Now tai chi is considered a moving meditation.

Daniel Douglas, the program coordinator for the Academy of Lifelong Learning, explained how the program, along with many of their other programs, are offered to everyone. 

“What we basically do is we create content for what has typically been seniors … but we would also like to expand that out to young children, and potentially even parents,” Douglas said. “We’re not making any of our programs exclusive to anyone so everyone is free to join us.”  

Douglas said that he hopes to be able to “grow the program and continue to provide for these individuals now, and for future participants as well.”

The instructor of the class, Suzi Coffamn, guided the whole class through an hour-long class filled with gentle music, slow movements and thoughtful breathing. 

The event started with Coffman guiding everyone on how to properly breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth, but with a little added twist, hand movements. 

One of the breathing patterns was paired with a hand gesture called world hands, where the fingers were interlaced, and would move upwards on the inhale, and downwards on the exhale.

Participants also learned about the two basic stances used in tai chi, the willow stance and the bo stance. 

The willow stance had the individual have both their feet shoulder-width apart, and would have the person gently swaying their weight from one foot to the next. 

Bo stance would have one foot in back, with all of the body weight on it, and the foot in front would be weight-free.

As the class progressed, more gestures and body movement were added to the lesson. 

Tai chi is a practice that’s filled with slow body movements, but does not have to be perfect.

Coffman said the practice is more successful when the individual focuses on slow and controlled muscle memory and relaxation. It also helps with balance and flexibility. 

After the class, Coffman said she actually got into tai chi after trying to help a friend in need. 

A former sorority sister asked Coffman to help take over her class after she was undergoing cancer treatment. Coffman quickly learned that there was a problem. Everyone participating in the classes were of different levels, some more advanced as some just starting out. After working with the YMCA in Mattoon, they were able to successfully split the class into beginners and intermediate. 

Throughout her 10 years of teaching, one thing is for sure, there’s something in it for everybody. 

“I also do this at the homeless shelter, and that’s probably one of the most rewarding things for me,” Coffman said. “They’ll come to me and say, ‘Oh, this helps me so much! It helps me to calm down and control my anger and stress,’ and I think that just has to be one of the most rewarding things.” 

Retired Eastern Librarian Lois Dickenson said that she really likes this program, and has actually been coming to these sessions for quite some time now. She actually loves it so much that she even does this practice at home too! 

“Well, I just think, I mean, I’ve always been a walker, but I kept feeling like my muscles were tensing up a lot, and I felt like I needed something to help, so I tried yoga and it didn’t suit me” Dickenson said. “So I thought, ‘Okay, let’s try something a little bit more gentle,’ and then I found Tai Chi.” 


Adriana Hernandez-Santana can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].