Retiree Doreen Kuehnhackl has fallen downstairs, fallen off horses and fallen down a mountain while skiing. Now she’s doing her best to prevent future falls by learning tai chi, an ancient Chinese martial art known for its many health benefits.
“I have lived life,” said Kuehnhackl, a Sebastopol resident who hints at her age by acknowledging she’s a baby boomer.
Kuehnhackl is among those studying tai chi with longtime instructor Garrett Chinn, who offers “Tai Chi — Boomers and Beyond,” a drop-in class for older adults at the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center.
It’s one of four class locations offered by Chinn in Sonoma County; four days a week he teaches tai chi in San Francisco, where he’s had a significant following for nearly 40 years.
Comfortably dressed in gray leggings and a loose-fitting blouse, Kuehnhackl was enthusiastic on a recent Friday morning about her fourth tai chi session.
“It’s just like meditation in motion,” she said. “I love it, and I love the spiritual part, the need to connect and stay focused.”
She’s hopeful the slow, repetitive movements will help her bothersome knee, strengthen her core and prevent future stumbles or falls.
Chinn, who specializes in tai chi for older adults, welcomes students like Kuehnhackl, who are proactive in their own health care.
His classes feature traditional form instruction and include an adapted sitting routine so he can accommodate students at all levels, including those using walkers or wheelchairs.
Newcomers like Kuehnhackl appreciate Chinn’s encouragement and patient instruction.
“I’m really, really impressed with the way he handles his classes,” she said. “There are students more experienced than me, but he still works me in.”
Chinn, 64, strives to help every student, from those who’ve practiced tai chi for years to those who’ve dropped in for their first session. Although some of his classes are semesterlong, others, as in Sebastopol, are drop-in programs.
“As a teacher with drop-ins, I have to come up with a class plan right away that addresses all different levels,” he said.
He brings decades of experience to the task. Chinn has taught tai chi to thousands of older adults, currently with 21 classes and nearly 500 students in San Francisco and Sonoma County.
He took his first class in the early 1970s, when he was doing community activist work in San Francisco during a period of unrest for underpaid laborers, like those in the garment industry. As tensions mounted, he figured knowing a martial art could be helpful.
“Tai chi really spoke to me. I could defend myself without hurting someone,” Chinn said.
He’s studied extensively with Benjamin Lo, a renowned master instructor who continues to share advanced tips and correct forms during their occasional visits.
A third-generation San Franciscan, Chinn moved to Sebastopol in 2015 so he and his wife could be midway between their extended families. Chinn expanded his tai chi instruction to Sebastopol and Santa Rosa a few months ago, offering his specialized expertise to older adults in his new community.
Earlier in his career, Chinn worked in San Francisco for three years as an emergency medical technician, often assisting elderly people who’d suffered falls.
Garrett Chinn teaches hour-long tai chi classes for all skill levels through the following programs in Sonoma County:
City of Santa Rosa Recreation and Parks Department Active Adults 50-Plus drop-in classes, 9 a.m. Fridays, Finley Center, 2060 W. College Ave., Santa Rosa. $5 per class. 707-543-3745, santarosarec.com
The Santa Rosa Junior College Older Adults Program, 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Shone Farm, 7450 Steve Olson Lane, Forestville and 10 a.m. Saturdays, Friends House, 684 Benicia Drive, Santa Rosa. Free. 707-527-4533, older-adults.santarosa.edu
Sebastopol Community Cultural Center, 11 a.m. Fridays, Annex side room, 425 Morris St. $15 per drop-in class, $50 per month or $80 for eight classes. 707-823-1511, seb.org