Vryn, along with about 50 other students, were learning the basics of the Chinese arts of tai chi and chi kung. The slow-motion, flowing movements were a far cry from the fast kicks of karate.
“It’s peaceful and tranquil. I have enough rushing around in my life,” Vryn said. “There’s no hurry up and rush to do anything.”
On a recent Monday, instructor Lee Holbrook and assistants George Klein and Craig Giovanni lead the group through exercises designed to strengthen the internal organs and promote good health.
The group, consisting mostly of senior citizens, sat through a classroom session before going out in the garden on the campus of Sandhills Community College.
Holbrook said his students have ranged in age from 12 to 104. He said the slow movements of tai chi and chi kung are ideal for people looking for a low-impact work-out.
“I hear some people say they don’t like exercise,” Holbrook told the class. “Well, I don’t either. The older I get, the less I like it.”
The disciplines of tai chi and chi kung are similar, Holbrook explained. The difference is that tai chi is a martial art, while chi kung is purely an exercise.
Holbrook explained the “five elements” of chi kung, which is also known as qigong – metal, water, wood, fire and earth.
Each element has a movement associated with it, and each movement is designed to benefit a different set of human organs.
Metal, for instance, helps the lungs and large intestine. Water benefits the kidneys and bladder. Fire is supposed to help the heart and small intestines.
The movements associated with the elements are slow and sweeping, with descriptive names such as “White Crane Spreads Wings.” The movements are coordinated with the exercisers’ inhalation and exhalation of breath.
Holbrook said the movements tie in with the Chinese concept of “chi,” or life force.
“Many Westerners have trouble picking up this concept of chi,” Holbrook said. “The Chinese view of health and exercise is really not parallel to the view of health and exercise in the West.”
But the students in Holbrook’s class were game to give it a try. After the classroom session, the instructor led his students out to a dew-soaked lawn outside the garden’s visitor center.
There, the students followed Holbrook’s sweeping motions as he led them through the five elements.
Later in the morning, Klein and Giovanni took the students out into the garden, where oleander, holly and many other plants bloom.
After the exercises, which can take as little as five minutes, the students pronounced themselves rejuvenated.
“It’s improved my lower back and circulation,” said Rose Caminiti. “I don’t know why it’s so great. It does something.”
Carolyn Rush said tai chi and chi kung have benefited her more than any other exercise she’s tried.
“I’ve done workouts. I’ve done fitness. I’ve done self-defense,” Rush said. “This is the best.”
The instructors extolled the health and relaxation benefits of the exercises.
Giovanni said he is an ex-Marine who has practiced martial arts since he was a small boy. He said tai chi and chi kung help him deal with daily stresses.
The instructor said his three children, ages 10 to 17, are sold on the exercise.
“They call it ‘The Force,’ ” Giovanni said. “They kid around with me, tell me I’m using Jedi mind tricks on them. But it’s helped all of them and it’s helped me to be a better father.”
Tai chi and chi kung classes will be offered in the spring, but a date has not been set. Call 910-695-3882 for details.