Art Bauer calls tai chi "the health care of the future."

It's an interesting description of a practice that's been around for hundreds of years.

"The mind-set we're brought up with in the Western world is that we depend on somebody else to fix our problems," Bauer said during a recent session. "But there's always energy coming to us. If we think we're bringing in healthy energy, we are."

Originally developed in ancient China for self-defense purposes, the slower, relaxed movements of tai chi instead create healing, he said.

It's a natural process, Bauer tells the class.

"Our bodies talk to us through our feelings, our senses, our intuitions," he said. "Our bodies want us to relax throughout the day."

That doesn't mean just a big sigh at the end of the day.

"In order to completely relax, you have to relax the mind with the body," Bauer said. "It's the thought process that clears the mind and body, too; keep the mind focused on the breathing. You're pulling in beautiful, bright, healing energy and exhaling all the stagnation, tension and impurities that are breaking up and draining away."

Peggy Schmitz is a believer.

"The first time I came (to a session) seven years ago, I went out to my car afterwards and felt like I'd just had an hour-long massage," she said. "I wish I would've found this is my 30s. I'd love to bring my children, but they're all busy."

Schmitz smiled at the obvious irony, agreeing that they could probably use the stress-relief.

Dee Wilmot said she hasn't had the typical aches and pains that can accompany the aging process.

"I (take a) walk every day, twice a day, and I have no problems," she said. "This helps with balance and everything else."

While only four people accompanied Bauer in his tai chi exercises that day, there are often nearly a dozen, including some who are well into their 80s and 90s.

"We don't have to go from strong to fragile," he said. "We need to learn to release all the stresses and tensions in life. It only takes five or 10 minutes out of our day to start feeling better."

Bauer has been certified in medical chi kung since 1998, "but I call it health maintenance, because I'm no doctor," he said. "This goes hand in hand with Western medicine; it's integrated."

Indeed, the ancient art receives a nod from mayoclinic.com, which says "tai chi uses gentle flowing movements to reduce the stress of today's busy lifestyles and improve health."

Practicing tai chi, Bauer explained, "is like removing a limb from a stream. We relax our muscles, open our joints."

That process, he said, "realigns our skeletal structure so the energy flows through our bodies nice and strong, gets the blood moving faster."

Perhaps no one is more convinced than Shirley Deepsong, of Austin.

"Last year at this time, I was (using) a walker," she said. "I've had back problems all my life."

It was hard to believe, watching Deepsong bend effortlessly at the waist and touch her toes during a series of movements.

"This is very relaxing," she said. "It just makes you feel … better."

Mayo Clinic video