People often recognize Christine Killeen.
They’ve seen her practicing the ancient form of exercise around the Key, often at the Joan M. Durante Park pavilion.
What they might not know is that Killeen is often practicing tai chi even when they don’t notice it.
Take the checkout line of Publix.
While others may flip through a People magazine, she’ll often put one foot in front of the other, shifting her balance to one leg.
According to Killeen, a senior trainer at the Tai Chi Institute for Health, people can not only improve their strength through tai chi but also implement it into their everyday lives.
“It gives people a way to work on balance, coordination and strength,” she said.
Since 2008, Killeen has taught a form of tai chi developed by Australian physician Dr. Paul Lam that specifically targets back pain and arthritis. She has taught at condominiums, including Spanish Main Yacht Club and Grand Bay on the Key, as well as locations in Sarasota and Bradenton.
She sees the benefits of tai chi not only in terms of participants’ improved flexibility and coordination.
“People come in and they don’t really know each other,” Killeen said. “They start laughing … The next thing you know, you have new friendships developing.”
For Killeen, tai chi was love at first sight.
About 40 years ago, while she was studying English and psychology at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, she saw a man performing tai chi in Boston Gardens.
“It was the most beautiful thing,” Killeen said. “He was this little Asian man wearing a Mao jacket. He was just moving, and it was gorgeous.”
She first tried tai chi around 1977 with an old book of traditional exercises. She also built a practice as a licensed massage therapist while continuing to learn tai chi through videos, classes and workshops.
She became interested in Lam’s form of tai chi after buying his DVD, “The 24 Forms.” In 2007, Lam came to Florida to teach a workshop in which Killeen participated.
The next year, Killeen began teaching Tai Chi for Health programs with Paul Lam’s Tai Chi for Health Institute.
Today, most of Killeen’s students are beginners, although she has taught a group of women at Spanish Main Yacht Club for the past three winters who have moved up to an intermediate level and will resume classes this Thursday.
“It’s kind of like a furnace,” said Spanish Main Yacht Club resident Barb MacDonald. “It gets the system going and going strong, although it certainly isn’t strenuous. You feel the energy within you.”
“Tai chi is very grounding,” said Donna Leuchter, another member of the group. “You think, ‘Where are my feet?’ I think more about what I’m doing. It teaches you to be grounded, just more aware of what I’m doing.”
Leuchter said she tends to be hyper, but tai chi helps her calm down and focus. The deep-breathing techniques also help her quiet her mind if she is having trouble sleeping.Killeen may have a growing number of students on the Key, although her husband, Rusty Chinnis, isn’t among them.
Although she practices tai chi, he’s a yoga devotee.
“We each follow a different path,” she said.
Tai chi teachings
Christine Killeen will begin teaching an eight-week class that will run from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays, beginning Jan. 23, at Longboat Island Chapel’s Aging in Paradise Resource Center, 6200 Gulf of Mexico Drive.
The class is appropriate for beginners or anyone who hasn’t practiced tai chi for several years.
Cost is $7 per lesson.
For information, contact Killeen at 383-1924 or visit her website at taichiflowing.com.