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Posted: Wednesday, August 25, 2010 12:00 pm | Updated: 9:16 am, Thu Aug 16, 2012.

By Alicia Lacy

Fort Hood Herald

The ancient practice of tai chi can help relieve stress.

Fort Hood's Functional Fitness Center began offering tai chi and qi gong classes to soldiers, family members and retirees in May to reduce stress and improve the health of its patrons.

Bringing balance and harmony, tai chi is a form of alternative medicine and offers several health benefits. Research on the link between the practice of tai chi and its health benefits is ongoing.

Tai chi originated in China as a form of martial arts and self-defense, but over time people began using the practice for health functions, according to information from the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website, nccam.nih.gov/health/taichi.

Tai chi is the abbreviated term for tai chi chuan, which translates to internal martial art, the website states.

It involves slow, gentle movements coupled with deep breathing, which ties in with the Chinese concepts of yin and yang and qi.

"Practicing tai chi is said to support a healthy balance of yin and yang, thereby aiding the flow of qi," or energy, the website states.

Tai chi can be done standing, in a bed or in a chair. Walking tai chi is available, but it's for more advanced practitioners, trainers at the center said.

The fitness center practices only the lower levels of tai chi, but has had guest instructors teach the advanced levels.

Millie Land, an instructor at the center, said tai chi is not just a class. It is also a way of life for a healthy, relaxed lifestyle.

Land said the class is ideal for the Fort Hood community because of the fast-paced, stressful military lifestyle. "(Tai chi) brings you down and relaxes you," she said.

Roxanne Ovalle, a trainer and tai chi instructor at the center, said tai chi relieves anxiety and stress.

The class began with Ovalle leading a series of movements and deep-breathing exercises.

Ovalle said there are 205 movements in tai chi, so each week she pulls from a variation of the movements.

The deep-breathing aspect of tai chi is important because "we don't know if we're supplying enough oxygen to all our organs" when breathing, Ovalle said.

Spc. Edward Griswold, with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, Warrior Transition Brigade, took his first tai chi class Aug. 18. Griswold, who suffered a back injury, was referred to the class by his physical therapist as a way to recondition his back.

Griswold, who does yoga three times a week, said he's going to implement the weekly tai chi class in his physical fitness routine to help him heal.

Pfc. Mario Gonzalez also tried tai chi for the first time Wednesday.

Gonzalez, who works at the center, said he heard tai chi was relaxing and he had seen others attend the class who didn't provide any negative feedback, so he decided to try it. Gonzalez said he thinks the practice will be "stress-relieving" for him.

Spc. Johnathan Bendle came to the class as a form of physical training. Bendle is a restricted soldier and is not able to do a lot physically. He said his chiropractor recommended the class because it would help his back.

Besides the stress relief tai chi can provide to those who practice it, some research suggests tai chi can enhance the immune system and lower blood pressure.

A varicella-zoster virus study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2007 suggested tai chi can improve the overall well being in older adults. Another study funded by the organization in 2008 found that tai chi reduced the blood pressure in 22 of 26 participants.

According to information from the fitness center, tai chi can aid in physical conditioning, muscle strength, coordination, flexibility and balance.

The classes are conducted every Wednesday from 3 to 3:45 p.m. Beginning in September, the classes will move to Thursdays at the same time.

For more information on the class, call (254) 287-5586.

Contact Alicia Lacy at alacy@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter @KDHfeatures.

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