Meditation in Motion

<I>DAMIAN MULINIX photos</I><BR>Ed Culbertson, who first learned of Tai Chi while serving in China during World War II, leads Peninsula seniors in the ancient Chinese form of exercise. Below, the Seniors Center is the scene of serious pinochle on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.

Interesting activities found at senior centerOCEAN PARK - Hands sweep slowly through the air in a circular motion, moving upward with deep breaths and minds set in meditation.

The ancient Chinese exercise of Tai Chi has often been referred to as "meditation in motion."

This exercise has been practiced for several years locally by a group now meeting at the Peninsula Senior Activity Center.

Tai Chi is one of ten activity groups that meet at the senior center throughout each month. Also included are yoga, pinochle and bridge, crafters and knitting, plus various food functions, such as dinners and ice cream socials.

"We started sponsoring Tai Chi when we weren't even a senior center, but an organization," says Delores Butcher, treasurer and past president for the senior center.

"There was a man in Ocean Park, Ron, who was a barber, and he took Tai Chi. He asked if anyone would like to take it as well," says Butcher of the origin of the group. "It was surprising how many people came out the first time."

Since that time, six years ago, the group has gained popularity as well as size, currently drawing 20 to 30 per session.

Prior to the senior center building being constructed, the Tai Chi group found itself floating from venue to venue, including spending time in private garages, empty buildings and at the Ocean Park Lutheran Church.

"It's an exercise that you can work with for the rest of your life. You can be 95 and still going strong with it," says Ed Culbertson, who instructs the group regularly. "It is absolutely contrary to that 'no pain, no gain' theory."

Culbertson leads the group with over 25 years of experience in the oriental exercise, which he first came in contact with while stationed in China during World War II.

"I got a chance to see them doing it [Tai Chi]. Of course, we looked at them like they were these crazy people out there in their little white masks and their quilted clothing, you know." Culbertson's skepticism didn't last long, however. "It kinda hooked me. And then my wife and I took a college course in it later."

The group, who meet twice a week on Monday and Thursday mornings, would prefer it, though, if you didn't call them a class.

"We don't actually consider this a class," says Culbertson, "It's a bunch of real nice people that get together twice a week and we do this together. We leave it open-ended so that we get new people or visitors."

Now, when interested people do attend the group, Culbertson makes sure they understand three common misconceptions.

"Tai Chi is not a religion." Culbertson explains, however, that there are those who use Tai Chi as part of their religious practice. "It has a spiritual side, of course."

Next Culbertson tells newcomers it is not a competition.

"There are international Tai Chi competitions, professionals in the business, but the way we practice it, it's for our own pleasure," says Culbertson.

And lastly, it is not aerobics.

"People are afraid of, sometimes, exercise groups or exercise meetings of this type. They figure we're going to have them down on the floor and bouncing off the walls and stuff, and we don't do that," jokes Culbertson.

A normal session includes five minutes of silent meditation to start out, followed by 30 minutes of warm-up exercises, then the final half hour doing the Tai Chi forms.

"We concentrate on balance. That's probably the most important thing, and the most critical for older people," says Culbertson. "Leg strength is another. We get that from a posture that we take, and it makes stair climbing easier."

When Culbertson started instructing the group, he decided to create his own Tai Chi form, specially tailored for the kind of people attending. As Culbertson puts it, "Most of the people would qualify as seniors, so we eliminated the acrobatic and things that are highly athletic, to get away from the danger of falls and broken bones. And so far we've had absolutely no problem at all because we don't put any limitations or requirements on anyone. All and all, it's a very enjoyable activity."

Though the group is attended by people of all ages, it is not for everyone.

This is certainly one of the reasons why the senior center sponsors a wide variety of activities, including those that are not physical at all, geared more toward social interaction.

"Ace of clubs. I'll say nine hearts. I'll pass. Ten clubs. Okay, we'll play'em like we had'em."

Words that can be overheard while visiting one of the best attended activities at the center, the card game pinochle, offered twice a week on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.

The sessions usually attract between 30 to 40 participants on a regular basis, including some who have been playing for a long time.

Estelle Elaschke will be turning 100 years old soon and continues to make her way down to her weekly card game. And she doesn't take the bus either, but drives her car. "I don't go off the Peninsula, but I still drive around," says Elaschke. And on this day she is winning too.

"She's either smarter or luckier," says one of the players at her table, Ruth Toner. "She definitely has more experience."

The pinochle group also was without a home for a while prior to the senior center being built, spending time between their private homes and the fire hall.

Keeping these activities at the senior center takes money and so everyone attending an event is asked to donate a dollar. This, of course, does not generate the kind of revenue needed to keep the doors open and the lights on, so the center relies heavily on donations and grants as well as the rental of the facility for events such as wedding receptions.

"We built this building without any federal or state money," says treasurer Butcher, "We've worked long and hard to get this, but its here. And we're going to keep it without any state or federal money. Hopefully. Hopefully."

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