How We Work Out: T'ai Chi in Catonsville

The room is in a state of tranquil silence as six women slowly move their arms and legs in unison. They listen as instructor Jeff Herrod guides them through the precise, fluid motions of t'ai chi ch'uan. Herrod tells the women exactly how and when to step, turn, breathe and pose.

Who they are: Mostly women in their mid- to late 60s and some younger class members. They meet on Saturdays at 9 a.m. at the Elementary T'ai Chi studio on Frederick Road in Catonsville. For more than 18 years, Herrod has owned and taught at the studio.

Herrod was first introduced to tai chi in 1973 and eventually went on to study it in China but said that he does not consider his nearly 40 years of experience an especially long time.

"It seems that way," he said, "but I look at my teachers and they all had 30 or 40 years" of experience.

What they do: Tai chi is a traditional Chinese practice that links the body to the spirit and mind through deep breathing and a series of slow, rhythmic movements. There are three types of tai chi. Herrod said he prefers to teach t'ai chi ch'uan because it allows the body to be sensitive and soft during practice, while the other types are more aggressive.

A typical class: The group stands facing a mirrored wall as Herrod leads from the front of the room. Members warm up slowly with one or two postures at first.

After each resting period, they restart from the beginning of the series, and Herrod gradually adds more postures into the flow. The group pauses occasionally if someone has a question or comment.

"It appears kind of simple, but it works your whole body," said Marion Ware, 65, of Sykesville. "It's beautiful," she said.

Ware has practiced with Herrod for the past year and a half. She said she enjoys Herrod's sense of humor and his skilled instruction.

"He's very precise, he's very patient," she said. "You don't feel pressure to be perfect."

Why they like it: Class members say that the physical and mental benefits of the exercises are what keep them coming back for more.

"There is a purpose more than trying a different form of exercise," said Laura Sweeney, 65, of Catonsville. "I had balance issues, and this class has helped with that."

Linda Uphoff, 69, began practicing 20 years ago to improve her health. Now she teaches tai chi at a studio in Greenbelt, something she has done for the past 17 years. Uphoff drives to Catonsville every weekend to attend one of Herrod's classes.

"I always learn something new," she said. "It's self-cultivation. It takes a long time for things to soak in."

How to get involved: In addition to his Catonsville studio, Herrod said he teaches at facilities in Perry Hall, Towson and Mount Washington. For more information, go to

If you have a group that meets regularly to exercise, tell us about it so we can feature you in our Health & Style pages. We'll want basic information about your group (how often you meet, number of people in the group, what you do and why you do it), as well as a photo if you have one. Send to or Catherine Mallette, Features, The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21201.

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