B.J. Charbonneau said it didn't take long for her to recognize the benefits of tai chi.

When I first started, I weighed probably 215 and my blood pressure and cholesterol were not good," she said. "About three months in, I go for a routine checkup, and my doctor calls and asks, 'B.J. What are you doing different,' and I said "I'm teaching tai chi,' and she said 'aha, keep doing it.' Because I lost six or seven pounds by then and all my numbers were in the normal range."

Charbonneau now teaches the "soft martial art," as well as flexibility classes at 4 p.m. Wednesdays at Grace Episcopal Church.

Grace is one of several churches that allow people to host exercise classes at the church. Martha Stoodley, who has 22 years experience, teaches yoga classes Monday mornings at Presbyterian Church of Muskogee.

Charbonneau, who has been a eucharistic minister at Grace, credits tai chi for keeping her healthy. She said that in the past 10 years, she's only been sick "one morning and one afternoon."

"My numbers have stayed in the desirable range. My weight stayed down until this past year, when I sat on my butt during COVID," she said. "I am flexible. My balance is very good. I'm in really good shape for someone who is 75."

She said she got into teaching tai chi 11 years ago when she asked about classes at Muskogee Swim and Fitness. A manager there said a tai chi instructor was coming to teach instructors, Charbonneau recalled.

"It was kind of serendipity. I just kind of came into it by accident,"  she said. 

Charbonneau began teaching soon afterward and has taught classes in Wagoner and Okay. She said she has students from that first year. 

The church classes began about three years ago.

"It has some amazing benefits you don't think about when you first start doing it," she said. "This particular form specifically for balance, range of motion and flexibility."

She combines the tai chi with lessons in how to ease arthritis by improving flexibility.

"It's kind of fun, the 60s music for the flex, and the tai chi is relaxing," she said.

Class member Selby Minner said the class helps her improve balance.

"You move one foot after the other for 45 minutes and the top of your body is doing all sorts of things, and your feet get kind of energized," Minner said.

LaShaun Luckey said she started the class to improve her balance.

"But I enjoy it," she said. "It's peaceful. It keeps me on track to do other things."

Stoodley said she has taught yoga at several churches around Muskogee over the years. She said each of her current classes has 14 people. 

"They're partially standing, partially sitting in the chair, partially holding onto a chair," she said. "It's a range of stretches. We do more stretches than we do classic yoga poses. If we do classic yoga poses, we do them supported by a chair."

She said yoga is good for "everything from keeping your spine flexible to improving your breathing and blood circulation." 

"We have a lot of fun, because it's good for your heart," she said. 

Stoodley said that over the past 22 years, her classes have changed as her students have matured.

"There is a small group that has been with me the whole 22 years," she said.

If you go

WHAT: Tai Chi and FLEX.

WHEN: 4 p.m. Wednesdays.

WHERE: Grace Episcopal Church Parish Hall, 218 N. Sixth St.

ADMISSION: Free.

WHAT: Yoga Classes.

WHEN: 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. Mondays.

WHERE: Presbyterian Church of Muskogee, 2000 Haskell Blvd.

COST: $5 per class. 

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