PLEASANT HILL -- On a Tuesday evening, right on the cusp of spring, as rain swept the rooftops and streets, a group of people moved slowly, in cadence with the rain.

Students of the Taoist Tai Chi Society lifted arms like the stroke of a paintbrush, then made smooth pivots with their feet in unison as they followed instructor Sim Peyron's guidance.

His mother, Phyllis Peyron, once suffered from chronic back pain. She started practicing Tai Chi in Canada with relatives; over time, as her interest in the gentle martial art form increased, the pain in her back decreased.

"I cannot pinpoint exactly when the pain stopped. It's like all of a sudden, I don't need a pillow to use on the plane," said Phyllis Peyron. "They taught me fundamental exercises that aligned my back."

So she began to look for more Tai Chi classes in the Bay Area and found that the Taoist Tai Chi Society of the USA had classes in Palo Alto and San Francisco, but none closer. Peyron aimed to offer this form of Tai Chi in her own backyard, and with the help of instructors from San Francisco, Peyron began offering Tai Chi classes in the Kumon Learning Center in Pleasant Hill that she owns. Half of that building's space has now been designated specifically for Tai Chi classes.

On March 30, Peyron and fellow students celebrated the official opening of the Taoist Tai Chi Society of the USA's first permanent branch center in the Bay Area.

Existing branches in Palo Alto, San Francisco, Mendocino and Sonoma are rental, temporary facilities, said Alice Wong, the society's Bay Area president.


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"This is the only full-time location in the San Francisco Bay Area," said Wong.

She added that while the international headquarters is in Canada, where Master Moy Lin-Shin founded the society, there are branches all over the U.S. What makes this Tai Chi different from other forms is the society's mission to make the benefits and methods available to all, as well as to promote cultural exchange and help others receive the health-improving qualities of this internal and gentle martial art, Wong said.

Cheryl Arceneaux of Walnut Creek first discovered Tai Chi in 2009.

"I'm half Chinese and half African American and I've always been interested in the martial arts," said Arceneaux. "I would see people doing Tai Chi in the park and I said, 'Maybe one day I'll try that.' Then my daughter, who was 17 at the time, suggested she'll try it with me. I was intrigued how relaxing I felt after doing Tai Chi."

Arceneaux worked a stressful job at an insurance company, and remembers being a "gym rat" working out during her lunch break then heading back to work. She tried all kinds of different regimens but nothing seemed to fit.

While Tai Chi movements are slower paced, Arceneaux said she believes it's still a great way to move the body mindfully to prevent, as well as heal, injury.

Axel Duwe of Martinez said his sister-in-law, who had been practicing Tai Chi for 17 years, introduced him to the martial art. He was thrilled to find out there was a Tai Chi center so close to home.

"It's surprisingly good for strength," said Duwe, who teaches a microbiology class at Diablo Valley College. "Tai Chi helped me empathize with students--it makes you tolerant to learning new movements. It rejuvenates you in that respect."

Duwe said a chronically-bad shoulder plagued him but after only practicing Tai Chi for months, the shoulder pain stopped.

"It's good for concentration," he said. "I can't think of a better thing to do for older people. You can modify movements. You do what you can. I've seen a person in wheelchairs doing Tai Chi. It's a really nice social activity that's why they keep coming back. It's gets people out of the house."

Students say that Tai Chi isn't just for older adults. Peyron's son Sim is an instructor and Arceneaux's young adult children practice Tai Chi.

Frances Tompkins of Martinez said she was first introduced to Tai Chi by a high school instructor 10 years ago. She's only been practicing at the new center for two months and said she's hooked.

"It seems like a good fit, the society's mission to spread the benefits of Tai Chi and make it accessible to different types of people," Tompkins said. "It's been a mindful practice for me. There are moments of stillness that bring my brain to rest and I'm thinking of Tai Chi and not thinking of 10 other things."

Taoist Tai Chi Society of the USA-Pleasant Hill Branch
  • WHERE: 2601 Pleasant Hill Road, Pleasant Hill
  • INFORMATION: www.california.usa.taoist.org (click the Pleasant Hill link), and the International Taoist Tai Chi Society website at www.taoist.org. For queries about local classes and events, email pleasanthill.ca@taoist.org, call 925-979-5509.