Nonagenarians find tai chi relaxing way to stay fit

Eleanor Peet of Rolling Meadows underwent knee replacement surgery several years ago and she has a mild form of spina bifida, but that doesn’t keep her down. At 90, she walks on her own and she easily stoops down to pick things up.

It turns out, she is one of two nonagenarians at the Taoist Tai Chi Center in Arlington Heights. Maxine Kitts of Glenview is the other one. She is 91 and teaches one of the classes at the center while leading two more at the Glenview Park District.

Both credit their good health and mobility to their nearly 20 years of practicing the ancient Chinese internal art.

“It’s kept me active enough that I don’t feel my age,” Kitts says.

During a recent class, more than 20 class members completed the flowing movements of a set in silence. There were no audible aches or pains, no moans or groans as they squatted and at times, balanced on one foot.

In fact, the only sound came when they finished. It sounded like this: “Ahhhh.”

“It relaxes you so much,” Kitts adds, “that afterward you just feel so good.”

Peet agrees, even though she is recovering from a nine-week rehab stay after injuring her leg in a car accident.

“Coming here, I just feel so much better,” Peet says.

The Arlington Heights Center is part of the Midwest branch of the Taoist Tai Chi Society. Formerly in Palatine, the center now is tucked away in International Plaza on Golf Road near Arlington Heights Road.

Tai Chi arts are designed to return both body and mind to their original nature. Each step in the training is intended to help the mind return to stillness, clarity and wisdom, and the body to a balanced, relaxed and healthy state.

Its flowing movements serve as a moving meditation, says Leslie Peet, Eleanor’s daughter and one of the teachers, that reduces stress and provides a way to cultivate body and mind.

Bud Mitchell of Arlington Heights says he was seeking just that when he began coming seven years ago. He started attending after having two knee replacements and he hoped the steps would increase his agility and mobility — and balance.

“It reduced my blood pressure,” Mitchell says, “and increased the strength in my legs. It just keeps me moving.”

Genevieve Benedict of Mount Prospect admits she was unsure of what Tai Chi was all about, but after attending a demonstration class nearly 10 years ago, she was hooked. She now is a beginning instructor.

“I love the relaxation it brings,” Benedict says, “and I never feel my arthritis in my left knee, as long as I keep coming.”

After their sets, members socialize and relax over a cup of tea. The Chinese lanterns and flags that decorate the center seem to underscore the calming, tranquil setting.

Members come from all walks of life to participate, and they enjoy socializing after completing their sets. But this much they know: Peet and Kitts are role models.

“They inspire us to keep coming back,” said Benedict. “It encourages people to stick with it, when you see the benefits like that.”

  Maxine Kitts, of Glenview, leads a class at the Taoist Tai Chi Center. George LeClaire/
  Tai Chi isnÂ’t just for women, Bud Mitchell of Arlington Heights and the other men in this Tai Chi class show. George LeClaire/
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