Woodward Elementary School students took part in an unique class this week that challenged them not on memorization, but on breathing and movement.
Delaware resident and tai chi instructor Mark Butler led classes through basic breathing and movement exercises in which he taught students the importance of controlling their mind and body.
“There’s a connection with their mind and their body,” Butler said after the class. “How they think and how they act, there’s a oneness there. Tai chi can help young people relax, it helps increase the focus and create oneness with the mind and body. Tai chi is a mind-body exercise similar to yoga, but yoga is pretty static, whereas tai chi is moving meditation.”
Butler said he’s only teaching the very basics of the martial art to students as a way for them to relax and control stress.
“(It’s about) helping develop these skills,” he said. “Their emotions are not set, so it can be hard for most of them to learn. They have to manage whatever is going on in their lives. I’m just trying to help in the process. I’m concentrating on their social-emotional standards and seeing how tai chi fits in.”
Butler said his lessons incorporate all the styles of tai chi as well as elements of Qigong, a martial art focused on cultivating energy.
“Young people have a lot of energy. This is the tai chi for them,” he said.
Butler began teaching tai chi in the schools in 2018 when he came after school to instruct students in the School-Age Child Care (SACC) program. Since then, he’s brought the program in during the school day and taken it the high school. Butler said Hayes High School Principal Ric Stranges has even reached out about creating a tai chi club for Hayes students.
“They’ve all been supportive,” Butler said. “I’d like to thank the school administration.”
Butler added he teaches free tai chi classes at four different libraries, including the main branch of the Delaware County Library. He enjoys teaching the free classes, because he wants to give back.
“This is my community service,” Butler said. “(I love) to see the young people get something that will help them in their daily lives, whether it be the classroom or at home. They all can do it. Movement is natural for the young people. We get older and lock ourselves in. It takes them back to that basic way of breathing. Not everyone is going to like it, but that’s life. It’s a good start.”
Butler said he was thankful to be able to give back to students, especially during Black History Month.
“This can be a contribution to my community as an African American,” Butler said. “I want to be of service, and I believe this can help people. There’s a lot of good tai chi classes, but I’m not in competition with any of them. I want to be supportive of tai chi.”
After Butler’s lesson Thursday at Woodward, students thanked him, and many of them said they were feeling more calm and relaxed.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.