BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Aside from youth sports, Columbia Park is a great destination to take a jog along their trail, walk your dog, play tennis or pickleball, or join a pick-up basketball game. -- Now, thanks to Berkeley Heights resident Charlie Pratt, there are tai chi classes under the pavilion on Thursday evenings at 6:45 p.m. RSVP by emailing charliepratt45@gmail.com.

The inaugural class was held a few weeks ago when a handful of residents came out to give tai chi a try. Pratt has been practicing tai chi for most his adult life and explained how tai chi can help people through injury. I don't want to mislead anybody, there is no magic -- you [can't] sprinkle some dust on it and boom, you're thirty years younger, he said to break the ice with the participants.  "It is something you have to focus on, you practice it," he said.

Tai chi is an ancient martial art developed in China that's often referred to as a "moving meditation." The movements are working with what is called "qi" or life force, a type of "flow" that, according to tai chi practitioners, everyone has.

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Pratt shared lessons learned from instructors across the country. He stressed to not push past injuries. 

Tai chi combines balance, fluidity and mind connection. The group started with a "simple warm-up" to loosen up and advanced to moves, including the "two fish -- yin-yang figure eight." He worked into self defense  moves and ended with the tai chi walk which looks like a graceful form of dance. 

Tai chi's slow, graceful movements are accompanied by deep circular breathing. Though tai chi is practiced slowly for health benefits, stress relief, improved balance and flexibility -- it can be sped up and used as a fighting form.

Pratt gave his students homework -- to practice the moves. He reminded them to follow the tai chi rule: "hands never move -- body moves and hands follow." 

Tai chi works the following body areas:

Core: You use your core muscles as you flow from move to move.

Arms: Your arms are part of the movements in these gentle martial arts.

Legs: You do the movements standing up, but legs are not worked in an intense way.

Glutes:  The exercises don’t include positions that specifically target the glutes, but those muscles will be working as you move.

Back: Tai chi use your whole body, including the muscles in your back.

The gentle, flowing movements are also easy on the joints.