Mt. Lebanon T'ai Chi teacher touts martial art's ability to work out body, soothe mind

Matthew Santoni
| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

In the sun-flooded choir room at Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park, eight ladies moved their arms in sweeping, circular motions, pivoting their feet and waists, and lifting their legs like a silent, slow-motion dance or martial-arts fight.

At the head of the class, David Clippinger led them through the 15-minute warmup to that day's T'ai Chi class, a form of meditative exercise that he said is gaining traction in the region as a low-impact means of lowering blood pressure, working muscles and relaxing joints.

“When I first came to Pittsburgh, very few people were doing T'ai Chi,” said Clippinger, 45, who founded Still Mountain T'ai Chi 10 years ago in Mt. Lebanon. “There's been a wellness movement in the last 15 years, people are moving away from ... relying heavily on medications, to owning their health a little bit more.”

After the warmup, Clippinger talked the class — one of 11 regular classes he holds every week, along with about 15 physical therapy sessions and other private lessons — through different combinations of moves. He instructed the students on how they should use their muscles and shift their weight to turn the seemingly placid, fluid movements into exercise.

“It should look effortless, but there should be so much going on internally,” he told the class.

“You work every muscle in your body, but slowly,” said Helen Seese, 64, of Upper St. Clair.

Karen Hinerman, 69, of Bethel Park said participating in the classes at the church during the past five years has helped her fibromyalgia. She said the workouts are meditative, helping her relax.

“It works a lot more than you'd think it does,” she said. “If you try to start thinking about other things, you really can't.”

Clippinger formed Still Mountain as a response to friends asking him for lessons in T'ai Chi, which he'd practiced and learned over decades before his wife took a job at the University of Pittsburgh and moved the family to Mt. Lebanon. He said teaching one church friend and his wife turned to teaching their friends, then more friends of friends and co-workers until he had a thriving practice.

A client who runs employee wellness programs at UPMC enlisted Clippinger's help to run regular T'ai Chi sessions in the U.S. Steel Tower. He also teaches at corporate retreats and for employee wellness programs.

A firm believer in T'ai Chi's therapeutic properties, especially for people with arthritis, high blood pressure or recovering from chemotherapy for cancer, Clippinger has written articles and given lectures about its benefits.

On Saturday, first-timers or those looking to practice T'ai Chi outdoors are invited to Pittsburgh's “World T'ai Chi Day” event in Mt. Lebanon's Bird Park. It is aimed at bringing newcomers to the practice, Clippinger said.

“I don't have a lot of opportunities to reach out beyond classes, so this is a great opportunity for people to discover us,” he said.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or

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