People passing through the Lakefront Medical Center lobby on Tuesday mornings often do a double-take at the large circle of people off to the side, delicately raising their hands to the sky or twisting their legs.
“Now scoop up the lotus, oil the wrist joints. We’re sending out inspiration,” says a silver-haired woman at the head of the circle. The rest of the circle mirrors her slow, calculated movements. The woman’s name is Lynn Baumhardt, and every week she leads a group of 25 seniors in tai chi at Weiss.
Instructor Lynn Baumhardt has practiced tai chi for 35 years.
Tai chi originated in China as a form of low-impact exercise, which focuses on slow movements to relax the muscles. Baumhardt—who also teaches at Oakton Community College, the Chicago Cultural Center and the Chicago Botanic Garden—has taught at Weiss for the past two years. She has been practicing the exercise for 35 years.
She credits tai chi with increasing flexibility and lowering blood pressure, “all very good for seniors,” she adds.
Throughout the hour-long session, Baumhardt talks the class through several movements, reminding them to constantly inhale and exhale. “You’re opening and embracing that good energy,” she says.
Local senior Veronica Wade has attended the sessions for almost two years. “They keep me healthy, my bones and my joints operating,” she says. “It’s interesting, too, and I like the people—especially the teacher.”
Baumhardt teaches a type of tai chi called Qi Gong. Similar to yoga, Qi Gong focuses on breathing regulation, body control and deep relaxation. Also like yoga, its popularity is growing in the United States.
In China, people use Qi Gong to prevent and treat disease, as well as to promote longevity. They practice outdoors during sunrise because they believe “chi,” the body’s energy, is best harnessed at that time and place.
At Weiss, the class takes place every Tuesday from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. As Baumhardt leads the class into a completely silent movement, without her voice coaching them through, she reminds them that there is no time limit. “Just relax. Do the best tai chi you can do on this day, November 30th.”
Regulars at Weiss practice tai chi each week.
Towards the end of class, she asks everyone to think of people they know who could use healing energy. “Let’s send it off to them,” she says, squatting low, then raising her hands upward. The rest of the circle follows.
They all clap at the end of the session and Baumhardt thanks them for coming. “Have a wonderful week. I love starting my day with you,” she says.