BRIDGTON – Judy Melcher-King and her nine students bow gently, breathe deeply and rest their eyes on the eight precepts of the eastern philosophy of Tai Chi.

They silently begin a physical routine that to some may appear to be in slow motion. They execute the 108 movements required of the philosophy with such names as white stork spreads wings, left grasp bird’s tail, needle at bottom of the sea, wave hands like the clouds, and creeping low like a snake. It requires about 20 minutes. Then they bow again, in respect, and end the first set.

The entire routine is done in silence, and the faces of the six women and four men are at peace.

The Tai Chi Society group in Bridgton is one of few in Maine, but one of thousands spread across the world.

Members aim to make the health and body routine available to all who wish it, to promote the health-improving qualities of Taoist (pronounced Daoist) Tai Chi, to encourage cultural exchange and to help others.

As the routine progresses, each participant breaths deeper and deeper. That is the goal, said Melcher-King, a continuing instructor in the ancient art and president of the New England Taoist Society. She lives in Westbrook.

“We try to go back to our original nature,” she said. “These are all natural movements.”

The physical routine was developed by a master, Moy Lin-Shin from China, who, as a youngster under the Maoist regime, could not be healed with traditional methods. He went to a Taoist monastery and learned the connection between body and mind, and was healed.

Each Wednesday night the group gathers in a quietly decorated studio, dotted with green plants, on Depot Street. Other classes are also offered, and nearly 60 people are members.

“I can come in emotionally crabby and come out calm,” said Toni Forsythe, a massage therapist from Harrison who has practiced the gentle art for four years. “It gives me flexibility, strength and balance and increases energy.”

“It’s based on the martial arts, but quieter,” said Melcher-King, a natural food store employee who has been practicing it for nine years.

“It’s good for joints, strength and health recovery. The mind and body become one.”

This particular Tai Chi aspect is known as Tai Chi Chuan, which concentrates on the physical. Melcher-King is learning meditation and chanting, but cannot yet teach it.

Stan and Carol Rothenberg of Waterford have been taking part in the weekly gathering for years. He’s a retired math teacher and she a retired speech and language pathologist.

They found they can travel anywhere that might have a Tai Chi Society and immediately fit into a group practicing the routine.

They were in San Francisco a while ago and took part with others who didn’t speak English.

“There was a very nice spirit,” Stan said.

Carol said the routine makes her feel like she’s flying. It’s perfect elation.

Melcher-King said Tai Chi means balance. The symbol – the yin and yang – depicts that. Tai Chi itself means life force, or the grand ultimate with a goal of world peace.

Patricia Logan of Otisfield is a massage therapist who has attended classes for five years.

“It’s meditative moving. It has helped me regain balance,” she said.

And David Bull, a retired telephone company employee from Denmark, has practiced Tai Chi Chuan ever since he stopped doing martial arts. He has taken part in groups all over the country.

“It’s peaceful,” he said.


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