{Ancient Chinese Art Stands Test of Modern Times} {Ancient Chinese Art Stands the Modern Test of Time}

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TWENTY years ago, exercise was all about "the burn".

We responded to Olivia Newton-John's entreaties to get physical; donning ourselves in lycra shorts, headbands and leg-warmers and working out until it hurt.

But at around the same time as we sweated and burned in the name of health and fitness, a very different kind of exercise came to Toowoomba.

New for regional centres such as this, it was nevertheless a form of exercise dating back many hundreds of years and promising well-being without the pain.

It was tai chi - and Toowoomba man Lindsay Sheedy became one of its very first proponents.

"I guess back then, anyone who did things like tai chi was considered to be a bit of a hippy," the St Ursula's teacher of math and science says.

"But I was attracted to the relaxation that tai chi could bring, and interested in holistic exercise that brought together the body and the mind.

"Going to the gym and working out might be some people's thing, but I found I could get a real workout from tai chi, without putting any stress on my limbs."

In two short decades, the numbers of people involved in tai chi in Toowoomba has grown by more than 200%; from just a handful to a decent-sized and enthusiastic crowd.

At least four different groups are based in town, all of whom meet in Queens Park every Saturday morning to exercise together.

"The growth has been massive," Lindsay says.

"I think this reflects on modern society, which is so fast and stressful - we all need to learn to slow down, which is something tai chi forces you to do.

"As time goes on, the need for activities such as tai chi will become increasingly important as more and more people recognise its advantages."

For those who are unfamiliar with tai chi, it can be most simply explained as a series of slow and graceful movements which improve balance, increase circulation, strengthen bones, and encourage mental focus and deep breathing.

Fans swear that it helps improve concentration and can even bring about better health while assisting overall fitness - and more than one billion Chinese would agree with them.

"Tai chi has been going since the time of the Yellow Emperor, and is based on Chinese philosophy, Chinese medicine, and martial arts," Lindsay says.

"Everywhere you go in China you see little children in schools practicing tai chi movements, which would indicate that it is useful as a preventative measure for good health, and not just recuperative. But it is also common for doctors in China to prescribe tai chi as part of a treatment plan for patients."

Two people willing to speak for the recuperative benefits of tai chi are Margaret and Michael Craft, who have been attending classes for the past year.

"I was told by my doctors that I needed to exercise, but for me, that's a dirty word," Margaret says.

"My health problems got to the point where it hurt even to walk, so any exercise I did had to be gentle and effective. I found that I was able to do tai chi, and it has helped. …

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