By Natalie Strom
Where do doctors, nurses, teachers, factory workers, contractors, realtors, engineers, dancers, karate black belts, retirees, athletes and business professionals all come together on a Wednesday evening on Marco Island? At the YMCA for Tai Chi class, of course.
“I don’t have any lawyers,” jokes Instructor, Jane Kiester. “I challenge a lawyer to come to my class!” One of the greatest attributes of Tai Chi, explains Jane, is that people of all ages and all walks of life can benefit from the ancient Chinese form of martial arts. Jane, herself, is a perfect example of how Tai Chi can transform a life.
“For me, if I had to exercise all the time, that would be my personal hell. But I walked into the Tai Chi class one day just to try it, and I fell in love.” Jane took her first class ten years ago at the same Marco Island YMCA that she teaches at today. It was 2002 and she had recently moved to Marco after teaching middle school French and English for 31 years.
Urged to move to a warmer climate by her rheumatologist in Gainesville, Jane found Marco’s weather to be helpful, but it was her new commitment to Tai Chi that brought relief to her aching joints. “My arthritis is now a non-issue. My health has completely improved,” she states. “My students and I who are in our late sixties on up, see ourselves moving so comfortably and demonstrating such strength and flexibility, we just delight at what terrific shape we’re in because we practice Tai Chi.”
Developed in the 13th century by Taoist monks in China, the slow-moving martial art focuses on balance, relaxation, and self-defense. This provides many other positive side-effects such as improving cardiovascular health, reducing blood pressure, building overall strength, promoting healthy sleep patterns, and promoting stress relief. “To me, it’s beautiful,” adds Jane. “It’s dancing; it’s meditation; it’s calming. It’s one of the only times when my mind is at rest.”
Tai Chi has been such a moving force in her life, that Jane is currently studying the Chinese language and has traveled to China three times in the last five years; twice studying with Mastersof the Tai Chi art form. “We studied with a Master who has never worked with westerners. We worked with a Taoist priest in the WuDang Mountains. There were no other westerners there and only local public transportation. We had to walk up 800 to 1500 steps to the temples, and we were on a mountain that is 7,000 feet high.”
In all her travels to China, Jane was among other Marco Islanders, including Carla Botalla, an instructor at the YMCA. Carla teaches a Qigong class and uses Qigong as a warm-up exercise in her other classes. Jane is currently learning two other forms of Tai Chi here on Marco. One week a month, a Tai Chi Master works with her, teaching her Tai Chi Swords. She studied with another Master in Rockville, Maryland, this summer and practices daily.
“I’ve probably practiced thousands of hours because, as the Chinese say, I ‘play’ Tai Chi every day,” adds Jane. After her first 300 hours, she was certified to teach by a Master who judges Tai Chi competitions. Applying for a beginning level certification, Jane was awarded second level certification.
Jane currently teaches the Yang 108 Style to her students at the Y. The Yang Style is a 300-year-old style of Tai Chi which is characterized by even, large, slow movements. It is very gentle and smooth and can even be done by those in a wheelchair, by using their arms.
“One of the best arguments I know for why others should take Tai Chi is the two 86-year olds who accompanied us on our last trip. One teaches Tai Chi swords at her assisted living. In the Wu Dang Mountains, we climbed over a thousand steps to various temples in the morning, in the afternoon we studied with a Taoist priest for two to three hours in the afternoon, and they kept up with us! Why? Because their bodies had been conditioned and strengthened by Tai Chi.”
Jane Kiester teaches all levels of Tai Chi on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and Wednesday evenings at the Greater Marco Island Family YMCA. Members of the Y can attend free of charge, walk-ins pay $10. For more information visit www.marcoislandymca.org or call 239-394-YMCA.