With Minnesota's coronavirus stay-at-home order causing many local residents to feel increasingly confined and isolated, one Detroit Lakes neighborhood has found a solution: Nightly t'ai chi chih practice — while maintaining the proper social distancing, of course.

About a week ago, local resident Deanna Sinclair sent out an invitation via Facebook, asking her fellow Oak Hills neighborhood residents to join her in the cul-de-sac at the north end of Oak Hills Drive for a little easy, nonstrenuous exercise on the evening of Saturday, March 28.

Around 10 people participated in that first outdoor practice, and attendance at the nightly half-hour sessions (except on Sundays, when it takes place at noon) has been steady since then — weather permitting, of course.

Sinclair, who has practiced t'ai chi chih "on and off" for the past 28 to 30 years, said she began to be a more devoted practitioner after taking an eight-week class from certified TCC instructor Nancy Hebert at the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center.

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Though she is not certified to teach a class herself, Sinclair got the green light from Hebert to lead the informal practice sessions.

"Being isolated for six weeks is not good for anybody," said Hebert, who along with her fellow instructors at the DLCCC, has begun offering free, short Facebook Live workout sessions via the Center's Facebook page during the shutdown of its facilities.

T'ai chi chih is "very easy and non-strenuous," Sinclair told the Oak Hills group at Monday night's practice session. There were a few newcomers to the group, so she gave a short introduction to the art form before leading the participants into the first of about 14 of the basic movements, starting first from one side of the body, and then the other.

Hebert said anyone can practice t'ai chi chih, even from the comforts of their own home.

She herself undertook an intensive training course in Philadelphia in May 2019 to become an accredited instructor; this training course was the culmination of about five years of learning and practicing the discipline. The reason why certification is required, Hebert said, is that practitioners of t'ai chi chih are meant to show honor and respect to its creator, Justin Stone.

How did t'ai chi chih get started?

T'ai chi chih was originated by Stone, a t'ai chi ch'uan master, in 1974. He found the ancient form of tai chi ch'uan difficult for students to learn, requiring many years of practice to perfect in order to receive the benefits — so he began experimenting with simple movements that could be easily learned by anyone, with benefits derived in weeks instead of years. The result was the form he named t'ai chi chih, which means “Knowledge of Supreme Ultimate" in Chinese.

T'ai chi chih is a moving meditation; a series of 19 simple movements that are slow, gentle, and can be done by anyone, regardless of age or physical condition. The circular movements promote health in every part of the body by circulating and balancing the chi (i.e., vital life force).

The movements are designed to be done in a standing position, "but you can also do the whole thing from a seated position, in a chair," Hebert said, which is why the practice can be performed by senior citizens, physical therapy patients, and even those undergoing cancer treatments.

The movements involve no physical contact, but rather emphasize self-awareness, well-being and energy flow. "You don’t have to do all 19 movements," Hebert said, adding that practitioners can choose two or three of them and focus on mastering those. "It can be done for as short or long of a period as you want ... you're still going to get the benefits.

"I just think it’s wonderful that people are starting to open their mind and eyes and heart to a different type of practice that has so many huge health benefits," she continued. "It's just got this kind of calming effect ... especially with everything we're going through right now, I can't think of anybody that wouldn't benefit from doing it." Just slowing down and breathing. Just got this kind of calming effect. Especially with what we’re going through right now I can’t think of anybody that wouldn’t benefit from doing it."

Hebert said she will begin scheduling t'ai chi chih classes at the center again once it reopens to the public. For upcoming workshops, you can reach her at 218-849-6228 or nancyh@loretel.net.