Q&A: Bob Riehl, an Instructor for the Taoist Tai Chi™ Society of Knoxville

Bob Riehl is a continuing instructor for the Taoist Tai Chi™ Society of Knoxville (co-presidents are Susan Benner and Jenny Arthur), which will hold an open house and free one-hour demonstration at its Happy Holler facility (1205 N. Central St.) on Saturday, Jan. 11 beginning at 11 a.m.

Does "Taoist" Tai Chi make it different than ordinary tai chi?

Taoists teach acceptance, and encourage you to be a good person. The spiritual base is not something we push, but there is a very strong community bond here. We're into mind, body, and spirit—as part of that, we want to help people get more fit. We're a non-profit, part of an international group with chapters in 28 countries, and all our instructors are volunteers, and they pay dues. We have a certification process; it takes about three years to become a beginner's instructor. The format is 108 moves, all part of one continuous motion. It takes two, two and a half months for a person to learn to do them with a group.

What are the benefits?

It's excellent for balance, strength, and flexibility—and it improves your mental circulation and relieves stress. Now it's even being proven helpful to people with Parkinson's—it helps them be more functional.

How often do you meet?

We have classes every day of the week at our center in Happy Holler, and we give classes at the O'Connor Senior Center and through the Sequoyah Hills Presbyterian Church. We try to make Taoist Tai Chi available to everybody, and we have about 200 members in the Knoxville branch. It's grown in the 12-13 years that we've had the group.

Have you been with it the whole time?

I have. I started when I was around 55, and my body wasn't working well. I tried yoga, but it was a little too slow for me. Taoist Tai Chi is more suited to my personality—part of it is growing community and building relationships.

How do you keep it affordable for people?

In the beginning, we became part of the national organization based in Tallahassee. The supplied the funds for rent for our center, and to remodel. All the branches pool our dollars to help where needed, and we also use our mutual funds for international aid—for disaster relief during a tsunami, for example. We all support each other.

What's this open house about?

We start four classes a year, and the next one is starting right after the open house.

Is there a typical target class member?

Not really. We have young people, and we go all the way up—one member will turn 100 this year. But the age skews to the 50-plus. You can practice Taoist Tai Chi your whole life—it's not like tennis, where you get good and then your knees give out. I use it to be able to keep riding my bicycle, and I'm 70 now.

Are you really claiming anyone can do this?

We say that the most important of all the moves is coming through the door. We guarantee a person can master this—I guess we'd even give them their money back if not. But I've seen it time and again. After just a couple of weeks, people are just moving so much better. And after a few months you're able to wash the bottom of the refrigerator again, and play with the grandchildren, keep up with people. Most important, maybe, you come in and move together for an hour, and the stress melts away.

For more information, go to usa.taoist.org, select the link to Tennessee groups, and then find Knoxville.