John Fletcher suffered from a chronic back pain which left him unable to even put on his shoes and socks.

But as he began learning a centuries-old martial art, something remarkable happened.

"I don't have a problem with back pain anymore," Fletcher said.

"If I don't do my tai chi, I stiffen up over the course of a few days, but nowadays I am practicing every day.

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"I am focused on keeping that movement and flexibility."

As he recovered, Fletcher decided he wanted to give back to others, beginning health recovery classes with the Tauranga Taoist Tai Chi Society.

"There is such learning for me in being able to help people with their health issues. The joy in seeing them make a change, and indeed improve, is remarkable."

Although the benefits of tai chi were not proven, the Accident Compensation Corporation has encouraged its use to prevent falls among the older population.

For Julia Milne, the tai chi set taught at the class has proven a tonic for her health.

"Anxiety has always been an issue for me," Milne said.

"Even as I first learned the set, I still felt anxious because I didn't get it right the first time. But the environment was so supportive that that didn't matter.

"Doing tai chi, we call it a moving meditation. You have that wonderful opportunity for stillness and focus - you have an opportunity for the mind to be still and relax. Slowly you realise just what a relief that is."

Yet another positive endorsement comes from Ben Allan who two decades ago was involved in a serious car crash which left him with a brain injury.

"My balance was knocked out," Allan said. "So we had a look into tai chi, we found this group.

"Your body feels good when you are doing all the movements, it feels aligned. It's magic."

Allan's support person Stephen Alach came along to sit in on one of the classes, and he too was now a convert.

"I could see how Ben was enjoying it," Alach said.

"It looked interesting and I thought I would give it a go. I've noticed it has helped my back immensely.

"Normally, I would be in and out of the physio, maybe two or three times a year having my back realigned and crunched back into place.

"Since doing tai chi, I haven't been back once."

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