Entranced in T'ai Chi Chih


Evan Boucher

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

University of North Dakota


The undulating, controlled bodies of the diverse T’ai Chi Chih students remained totally entranced, in keeping with the quiet rustling breeze outside and gently moving grass.

Holy Family, a local church in Grand Forks, is an unusual host for an intermediate T’ai Chi Chih class sponsored by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI@UND) at The University of North Dakota. The location offers unfettered lawn space and quiet required for T’ai Chi Chih. Typically, T’ai Chi Chih is not associated with instructional university courses, but instructor Heather Helgeson thinks differently.

“I’ve been teaching T’ai Chi for 14 to 15 years,” said Helgeson. “I was asked to teach [for UND] three to four years ago … the program has grown and people are just interested.”

Within the course, UND physical therapy students observe and participate in activities, in order to further their knowledge of alternative therapies.

Trevor Northagen, a second year physical therapy student, discussed the clinical benefits of the T’ai Chi Chih. “There was an entire [UND] research project on T’ai Chi,” he said. “The [T’ai Chi] group has been accepting and they’ve been showing us a little here and there, while we’ve been giving them different ideas about how they can improve their motion.”

Craig Turnow, a third year physical therapy student, stated similar views. “We do the whole routine with them and it really compliments what we’ve read about. It was difficult at first, then I got used to the motions.”

T’ai Chi Chih originated as a Chinese martial art, focusing on longevity and channeling what is known as “chi.” Chi is released by realigning “chi channels.” As a result, T’ai Chi Chih focuses on contorting, motioning and maintaining body positions.

The give and take of the T’ai Chi Chih class is evident in the physical interactions between the participants. The OLLI students, between 55-65 years old, are now in an intermediate class for T’ai Chi Chih, giving them an advantage over the newly introduced physical therapy students. The students of physical therapy, nonetheless, are helping the OLLI participants maximize their range of motion by providing information on supplemental exercises.

Participant Carole Haselton started in Helgeson’s beginner course in the spring and she described herself as hooked. “I feel more relaxed … I don’t really get into the philosophy but I like to envision nature. I always think about a field, plants, water, and wind more than anything else.” She continued, “When I do T’ai Chi Chih by myself it’s less smooth … I can see the others here. You all flow together.”

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute originally started as an initiative through the generosity of philanthropist Bernard Osher. The Bernard Osher Foundation has 177 institutes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The goals of the institute are to promote lifelong learning without grades, directed at those at or above 50 years old.

T’ai Chi Chih is only one course offering of the OLLI program at The University of North Dakota. Other courses have been offered in fields like creative writing, cooking, and an upcoming retreat is scheduled titled “Radical Joy - How Much Joy Can You Stand?”