meditation in motion

She breathes deeply. Cropped gray hair atop a dancer’s body. Slowly she begins to move; gentle gliding motions in sync with the tranquil music. Behind her, the group mirrors the same mystic moves that have been reproduced for thousands of years. They are performing tai chi, and although the art was born in China, Mt. Lebanonites are now adopting it with enthusiasm.

Why? It makes them feel good again.

A year ago, Gurney Bolster began teaching Tai Chi for Health (which incorporates Tai Chi for Arthritis) at Mt. Lebanon Library with dramatic results.

“It’s a wonderful antidote to much of American culture,” she says, especially the pace and stress of today’s lifestyle.

Launched in 1997, Tai Chi for Arthritis was specifically designed to improve health. The program is short and easy to learn, and has been proven to increase flexibility, strength and cardiovascular endurance.

Mt. Lebanon’s Peg Nagem has experienced many of these benefits. She says she often arrives at Bolster’s class with headaches, but halfway through notices they are gone. Plus, she adds, if you do the warm-up exercises a few times per week, “you will see a difference in your balance.”

Tai chi moves are very controlled and slow. “Simply slowing down is very hard for people in western culture,” says tai chi instructor Gurney Bolster.

Similarly, Ulla Bagen—who travels from Peters Township to take Bolster’s class—says that after six months, she says she no longer needed her arthritis medicine. Plus, she adds, “Gurney makes it very easy to learn.”

No wonder. Bolster has been practicing tai chi for more than 30 years. After she earned her master’s degree in dance movement therapy, she taught dance, sensory awareness and movement analysis for 18 years in Montreal.

Bolster stresses that people of all ages can benefit from tai chi. “I started tai chi before I was 30,” she says, “I have students who started it in their 80s. It’s a mindset.”

In the 1500s, tai chi was developed as a martial art. “It’s described as the inner martial art,” says Bolster. These days, its health benefits have superseded its warrior qualities, and now, she says it’s sometimes described as “meditation in motion.”

This restorative quality makes tai chi a perfect complement for weekend warriors doing marathons, playing tennis or pulling all-nighters, says Bolster; the goal is to help people move efficiently. In addition, it has also been shown to benefit people with chronic illnesses such as Parkinson’s, diabetes and fatigue.

Bolster brought her tai chi knowledge to Mt. Lebanon in 2005, when she married Ted Sohier and moved to Barth Avenue. In 2008, she began teaching tai chi at CCAC. The Arthritis Foundation named Bolster the 2011 Joyce O’Connor Volunteer of the Year for being the only certified Tai Chi for Arthritis instructor in Western Pennsylvania.

These days Bolster teaches classes at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Contact her at 412-480-4492 or

—Anne Lutz Zacharias