by Rhiannon Fabian

It can increase strength, muscle tone, flexibility and immune power. It can reduce tension, depression, anger, fatigue, blood pressure and anxiety. Another fast-fix, miracle drug? No, it's T'ai Chi and QiGong and for a limited time only, it's free. So let's recap: health, longevity and happiness all for the low price of an open mind. But wait, if you act now, we'll throw in protection against tuberculosis, diabetes and maybe even tumor cells.

Beginning at 10 am this Saturday, those who've been swept up in the beauty and tradition of T'ai Chi and QiGong (and those who have never tried but remain curious) will gather at the clock tower in Riverfront Park to practice this ancient Chinese martial art. World T'ai Chi and QiGong Day starts at the earliest time zone in Australia and ends with the latest in Hawaii. Each time zone begins at 10 am so there will be a constant flow of energy all day long throughout the world.

"It's a really great way to get the whole T'ai Chi community together," says Bryan Knack, owner and instructor of Northwest T'ai Chi. "It's a nice way of everybody's energy coming together."

T'ai Chi is a series of dance/martial art movements continuously linked together in one flowing motion. It's considered to be the moving form of QiGong. T'ai Chi means supreme, ultimate boxing while QiGong literally translates to mean breath skill or exercise of the Chi.

"The Chi is like your life force," says Knack as he compares it to "The Force" in the movie Star Wars. "Everyone has Chi. Everything has energy."

"It's a very slow, smooth martial art. It's practiced slow, but used fast," says Knack. "There is self-defense behind it."

"T'ai Chi is the oldest form of movement for health," says John Lien, instructor at Cannon Fist T'ai Chi. "There are things you will do that will automatically cause the body to react a certain way." For example, Lien says if you ever get the chills, simply push your shoulders down. This movement not only produces better posture, but your chills will disappear.

Throughout the last century, T'ai Chi and QiGong have been gaining momentum around the world as people realize the potential for benefits. Even World T'ai Chi and QiGong Day, which started with only a handful of participants, has spread to thousands of cities.

"It's a chance for everyone in T'ai Chi to see what everyone else is doing," says Lien. "It's also to get people to know that there's a T'ai Chi community here. I learned my T'ai Chi in Hawaii, and I'll have a bunch of students there to do the set we study. My T'ai Chi set is very martial art. Mine really has a lot of self-defense. Even though it's soft, it's learning to protect yourself."

Protecting yourself is only one of the many benefits T'ai Chi and QiGong provide. The possibilities for health improvement have made this such a popular form of exercise.

"It's being accepted as a treatment for modern day problems," says Knack. "The benefits are endless." He cites Prevention and Modern Maturity as magazines that have bought into the numerous health benefits.

Both Knack and Lien see this Saturday as a way to bring awareness to people who have yet to discover T'ai Chi. They encourage everyone to come check it out.

"Even if they just watch, they can see how it feels and ask questions," says Knack. Lien, on the other hand, wants more than spectators, he wants participants.

"Everybody's going to do some T'ai Chi," he says.

World T'ai Chi and QiGong Day will begin Saturday, April 7, at 10 am at the clock tower in Riverfront Park. A free workshop will precede the event at 9 am. Call: 742-1354. There will also be free T'ai Chi workshops at Manito Park through April. Call: 499-1264.

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