Villagers invaded the Wellness Center on Thursday to practice slow movements, deep breathing and heavy concentration in an attempt to reduce stress and become more flexible.

Those three components were integral in the first meeting of a Tai Chi class put on by Julie LaFrance, a Villager and Taoist Tai Chi Society instructor.

“The Taoist Tai Chi was developed by Master Moy Lin Shin, and the idea was to help people with their health ... to obtain better health,” LaFrance said. “So it’s especially good for your balance, for improving your flexibility and strength. It helps people avoid falls when they get older. It also can help with stabilizing out osteoporosis and so forth. We really want to be able to offer that to everyone who would like to be able to do that.

“He was born in China, and he eventually immigrated to Canada,” she added. “Basically, his philosophy was that he wanted to make this available to as many people as possible to help them with their health. He had been ill as a child ... and he found that through these practices, he was able to help regain his health.”

The origin of the Taoist Tai Chi arts can be traced to the earliest periods of Chinese history. Tai Chi synthesizes various existing practices with tendon-enabling exercises to help maintain and/or improve overall health through slow movements.

The first class attracted 20 participants, which leads LaFrance to believe there is a need for more classes.

“We’ve had very good success with these classes here in Tellico Village,” she said. “People seem to really enjoy it. When you go through the set ... it’s 108 movements in a set. Once you learn those movements, it’s like moving meditation, which is what it’s often referred to as. It is a martial art, but Taoist Tai Chi focuses on the health benefits of it. People have said that their doctors have recommended to them. There have been a number of studies that have shown the benefits of doing Tai Chi, so that’s why we’re here.”

John Schreiner decided to give the class a try and enjoyed learning different movements to help improve coordination.

“It was good instruction,” he said. “I can definitely see how it would help with balance and coordination. I’m sore already.”

Although Tai Chi can prove difficult for some, Lafrance encouraged participants to continue learning and practicing following the class.

“Well, what makes me want to continue is what the several instructors said,” Schreiner said. “It’s supposed to loosen you up and improve your overall body conditioning.”

LaFrance began Tai Chi three years ago and became a certified instructor for the Taoist Tai Chi Society last year.

She focused primarily on fundamental movements Thursday.

“We try to teach them the basic stance you go through so that you can be balanced and so that you’re stable,” LaFrance said. “We teach them the first few moves of the set, the first half dozen moves of the set. What we do is we review that, go over that several times. At the next class — maybe they’ve missed a class and that’s not a problem — we always review what we did previously. The set really builds on itself as you go along. Each move has its own specific name. There’s a beautiful set of moves called Wave Hands Like Clouds, and it’s one where people are moving their hands and moving.”

The four-month class is for beginners, but participants can graduate to more advanced classes.

“Once they complete the set, they can move onto the continuing class,” she said. “All of us teachers and so forth, we take a continuing class every week here so that we can improve our skills. The set changes from time to time. The reason for that is it benefits different parts of the body when you change it a little bit, and it also engages the mind.”

The class is offered at 10:30 a.m. Thursdays over the next four months at the Wellness Center. For more information, contact LaFrance at lafranceje@yahoo.com or 865-242-0563.