MOHAWK - After taking the initiative to learn Tai Chi, Darlene Basto thought it would be a good idea to offer the practice in classes in the Copper Country.
"I call it my health insurance policy," she said. "It really made a difference in my own health."
After discovering the practice of Tai Chi, she began mastering the series of contrasting, slow and gentle movements. It then became her mission to began teaching the Tai Chi Easy method every Tuesday night at Keweenaw Krayons in Mohawk with the aim to share the unique movements and relaxing techniques.
"One form of Tai Chi is as a healing art," she said.
The method incorporates a series of gentle, fluid movements easily performed by people of all ages, Basto said. In fact, that's one of the reasons she chose to offer the class - to provide a safe and calm practice to people interested in learning relaxing methods.
"I learned a traditional form when my son was little," she said of first getting involved with Tai Chi. "I needed something to keep my mind moving."
Basto found that Tai Chi helped her keep vitality and before long, she would be teaching the method to others. She said it was something that took a long time and persistence to learn. Basto discovered Qigong, a form of Tai Chi, used to explore the essence of life and increase vitality, longevity and inner peace.
"When I found Qigong, I was thrilled because I knew a lot of people could access it," she said.
Basto became certified with the Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi.
Her classes introduce the basics of Tai Chi, which start with deep breathing and discovery of body, breath and mind. The class then uses a series of vitality movements, including strengthening and breath practices. Some practices are done sitting and some standing, she said.
"I encourage people to come in an adapt it to their needs," she said. "Qigong is based on not pushing through things but staying in your comfort zone."
Basto said people often say how calm they are after leaving the class and find their stress reduced. The vitality movements are intended to reduce stress while strengthening the core of the body, she said.
"There are so many benefits, like flexibility and coordination," she said.
Basto has worked with people ranging from high school students to older people, the latter who use the techniques to prevent falls and mishaps. When she first started delivering classes, they mainly consisted of older women, but over the years, she has seen several men become comfortable with the practice and participate.
"I'm seeing more younger people come in, too," she said.
She even knows an individual who used to take ibuprofen daily to easy the pain of her fibromyalgia, and after learning Tai Chi, she has a better handle on her health without relying on the pain medication.
Although it seems so easy that it may be hard to believe any changes are happening within the body, Basto said there are definitely changes going on. Just from doing several movements, the body already reaps the healthy benefits.
The class is taught year-round she said, with another class opening up at Finlandia University soon. Ultimately, Basto said she hopes participants take away the knowledge available to them.
"I hope they take away enough tools that they can do the practices on their own and keep the health benefits going," she said.
"Most people find it takes a class, or takes a while, but some people can go forward and do the practices on their own."