Andrea Lepcio leads a tai chi class at Destination Health in Bar Harbor. She also teaches at Sonogee and Birch Bay Village. ISLANDER PHOTO BY BECKY PRITCHARD

Finding balance with tai chi

BAR HARBOR — Andrea Lepcio of Bar Harbor discovered the ancient practice of tai chi about a year ago. She has already noticed a change in herself, from regular practice, she said, and would love to see the meditative martial art form catch on here.

A personal trainer, she has been doing her part, teaching classes in multiple venues around Mount Desert Island.

Her first tai chi training was with master trainer Patricia Lawson in 2017, and she hasn’t looked back.

“I started teaching right away, and loved it,” Lepcio said.

She added to her initial training by attending a six-day conference in Oregon hosted by the Tai Chi for Health Institute. There, she learned a long 73 form sequence to share with students. She plans to go back next year.

Health benefits of the discipline, she said, include improving posture. “You’re always sending your energy to the sky.”

Regular tai chi practice has also been shown to help ease the symptoms of arthritis. The “slow and continuous movement” helps build strength, she said. “You get really strong.”

Because it is a slow-moving martial art, she explained, “it’s great for balance.” Practicing tai chi may reduce older adults’ risk of falls.

“You’re always aware of where your weight is” as you move from one position to another,” she said. “It’s like breaking down everyday life into teeny tiny pieces. You think about everything.”

As a personal trainer, Lepcio has taught many exercise programs, most of which require modifications when clients have injuries or limitations.

“Tai chi is really safe for all people, regardless of physical ability,” she said. “I never need to make modifications,” she said, other than sitting or standing. She teaches a monthly class at Sonogee that is entirely seated.

“I love that tai chi is for everybody, regardless of what level they are.”

Since she has been practicing and teaching tai chi, Lepcio said she feels “more focused and deliberate in what I’m doing.” She said there is also a spiritual aspect of the practice: “It’s a moving meditation. I love how it quiets [the] mind.”

Lepcio mostly practices Sun tai chi, which is the youngest branch of tai chi, starting in the twentieth century. This is a slow and controlled variation. There is also the older Yang tai chi which dates to the nineteenth century, and Chin Tai Chi, which is older still.

It is unclear when Chin started, but Lepcio said it “became officially verifiable” in the seventeenth century. She practices some Chin as well, which she describes as more fast-paced and closer to its martial arts roots.

As well as teaching at Sonogee and Birch Bay Village, Lepcio also has a weekly class at Destination Health. She will also offer a tai chi course through Acadia Senior College in the spring. She has plans eventually to offer free tai chi sessions open to the public. “I want to create community time for tai chi, not teaching, just practice,” she said.

“Perfection is not the goal,” Lepcio observed. “It’s moving and learning.” And in doing so, she said, each participant is “finding their own perfect.”


Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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