The same impulse that compelled Deerfield resident Andrew Serlin to wind down his law career to become a Doctor of Chiropractic inspired him to lead a weekly Tai chi class at B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Deerfield, where he is a member.
Every Thursday at 7:30 a.m., Serlin, a certified instructor, shares "the bedrock of my life" with congregants.
Serlin, 51, is the medical director at LifeWave Institute LLC in Northbrook. He has also served as the Deerfield American Youth Soccer Organization Safety Director for the last eight years. His law license is still active. He uses it primarily to serve as an arbitrator for Cook County's Mandatory Arbitration Program.
But his early career as a lawyer left him unfulfilled, he said.
"Helping people is what I am about, and it did not feel like I was able to pursue my more altruistic interests," he said. "I speak Spanish and for one two-year period of my career, I opened a practice in the Pilsen neighborhood. I felt like I was always fighting against the other 85,000 attorneys that were registered in Illinois to practice law to the extent that it became something that left me ungratified. Often my best efforts did not really end up helping people — one less practicing attorney was not going to make much of a difference."
Serlin has been involved with chiropractic care since 2005. About two decades earlier, it had helped heal him following a horrific accident in Spain where he was studying law. Another car hit the taxi he was riding in. Pharmaceutical treatments impaired his ability to function, he said.
"I sought out a Doctor of Chiropractic, and within a couple of treatments, 50 percent of the pain was gone," he recalled. "I was able to study and sleep at night."
Flash forward to 2000, when he was an arbitrator for an accident case in which the defense referred to the plaintiff's medical practitioner as a "chiroquackter" and swayed the other two arbitrators.
Serlin, who is married with two young children, "went home and had a long restless night. When I woke up, I decided I was going to make the (career) change."
He went to chiropractic school while winding down his caseload and received his certification.
"It was challenging to say the least," he said.
His involvement with Tai chi dates back to his days as an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Plagued with knee injuries, he took up the ancient Chinese martial art at the encouragement of a close friend. He credits Tai chi with relieving his asthma.
"I can't tell you the last day I didn't wake up and go through my exercises," he said.
Tai chi is a low-impact form of exercise comprised of a series of graceful, flowing movements. It is considered effective for reducing stress, increasing flexibility, energy and stamina. Serlin devotes half of his sessions to Qigong, another meditative form of Tai chi which translates to "energy work" and which also increases energy and promotes better breathing, Serlin said. He is certified to teach both.
The synagogue has offered other types of meditation classes, such as yoga, Serlin said.
"I thought a lot of (congregants) would benefit from Tai chi," he said. "The temple has this beautiful courtyard in its center in which I could envision a group of people participating."
The class is growing "slowly but surely," he said. "Anything we can do to promote good health within the community is important. From the synagogue standpoint, we put a Jewish flavor into the sessions. We do some prayers before we begin. Everyone is encouraged to add to this spiritual experience. If they find something that reaches out to them, we encourage them to bring it to the discussion."
Tai chi, Serlin added, is a kindred spirit to morning prayers in the Jewish heritage that speak of awakening and "the reunification that happens when we become conscious again of spirit and body."
Once someone has learned the basics of Tai chi, Serlin said, "They can take their workout with them wherever they go, wherever there is a beautiful place or patch of open ground. But when we come together to practice it's a different experience than it is when we practice at home
"When I'm with other people and sharing their energy in class, it changes what I experience. We have this greater sense of unity, this greater sense of energy within ourselves that we bring into the greater congregation as a whole. In simple terms, it increases the intensity of the spirituality."