ODESSA – Think of tai chi as a mix between martial arts and meditation. It’s a way to relax the body and mind while learning self-defense.
OK, relaxation ► while ◄ learning to defend yourself don’t often go together, but instructor Bonnie Birdsall said that not only do the two belong together, but that her
Birdsall teaches tai chi at libraries throughout Hillsborough County. On a recent night at the Austin Davis Library in Odessa, she explained the principles behind tai chi and why so many people — mostly seniors — take part.
“I started taking the program after my mother died,” Birdsall said. “I wanted something completely different in my life and I found out that tai chi is good for three of the most important things in life — health, fitness and energy. I got certified by several masters of the art and I’ve been teaching it for more than two years at the county libraries.”
The classes usually run about 90 minutes. With soft music in the background and the lights dimmed, the students practice yoga-like movements while stretching and relaxing. Tai chi is different from yoga, which involves many set positions while tai chi is constant, slow movement.
Birdsall’s students encompass all ages. She has students in their 20s to some in their mid-70s.“I can modify everything,” Birdsall said. “I can have anything, from a person who practices karate to someone working out of a chair. Anyone can do it.”
Wendy Prasad is a student of Birdsall’s and a class regular.
“It’s all about balance,” she said. “It’s great at lowering blood pressure and destressing yourself. This program has grown to become an important part of the community and the library.”
Birdsall has many students at each of the library branches. It has become a passion for her, and since many of the class members are seniors, she said it gives them a chance to get back to the libraries for everything else they have to offer.
Sandy Kling is another regular in the class. She said tai chi has changed her lifestyle and plans to keep coming back.
“It keeps me flexible,” Kling said. “It keeps me balanced and as you get older, it helps in almost every way. I like to be active and I can’t sit still, so this gives me a way to be active and relax at the same time.”
At the end of a long day as an employee of the library, Shane Gazi said he looks forward to the class, even if it takes as much as 90 minutes.
“At the end of a long day, I can’t tell you how relaxed I feel two hours after the class is done,” Gazi said. “I can relieve all of the stress and get everything out. It’s the best way I know of to get the stress out and just relax.”