FORT BRAGG, N.C. (March 30, 2012) -- The group that meets for tai chi twice weekly at Towle Courts Fitness Center is an eclectic one, said master instructor Norm Gill. It is comprised of wounded warriors, foreign liaison officers and those merely interested in the ancient Chinese art form.
From noon to 1 p.m., Tuesdays and Wednesdays, students learn that practicing tai chi requires discipline, attention and meditation.
In tai chi, the mind, chi (energy) and physical movement must merge into one unit, said Gill, a retired Army officer who was first introduced to the art form in 1995. "It is the school of patience and humility."
For Soldiers affected by traumatic brain injury, tai chi could aid in recovery.
"They usually are dizzy and have balance issues, and so to work with the breathing and the calming effect it has, it really helps them with their balance," said Wendi Sheets, a physical therapy assistant, Womack Army Medical Center.
The tai chi classes are a collaboration between WAMC, the Warrior Transition Battalion and the therapeutic recreation program at the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, said Theresa Shields, a therapeutic recreation specialist, FMWR, Recreation Division, Fitness, Sports and Aquatics.
Spc. A. J. Ashley, who is assigned to Company A, WTB, said that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and joined the class for the first time, March 21.
"It helps the chi to calm down and (gives me) patience," he said.
Capt. Lloyd Blackburn, Company C, WTB, said he had been looking for alternative treatment for an array of injuries, including a broken knee and ankle, torn rotator cuff, a bad back and fibromyalgia, a syndrome that is linked to tenderness in the joints and muscles and long-term body pain.
"(Tai chi) helps me get inner peace through meditation, getting in tune with your body," said Blackburn. "It's a good work out. You wouldn't think it's strenuous, but you will develop a sweat by slow, fluid motions," he said.
Having arrived on Fort Bragg from a world away, another Soldier said he understands the significance of taking part in the class.
"It's necessary and important -- very impressive," said Lt. Col. Christoph Boecker, a German army liaison staff officer with the XVIII Airborne Corps. "PTSD is a problem in Germany as it is in America,"
Gill, a 30-year Army veteran, said that he can relate to recovering from injuries suffered during an extensive military career.
"I've been where these guys are," Gill said.
Tai chi relies on slow, deliberate, methodical movements that enhance balance and teach harmony between the mind, body and spirit, said Gill.
"It teaches you to know yourself," he explained.
Harmony is accomplished through breathing techniques known as "qi gong," which means to align breathing and movement with energy.
There are no short cuts in tai chi, Gill said. But the exercises help to develop core muscles and to teach situational awareness.
"You go to a state of emptiness to return to a state of being," said Gill. "It depends on a person's energy."
For more information on tai chi classes, visit www.fortbraggmwr.com.