THE ageing population in Ilkley has been targeted by a former VAT inspector who has introduced a less taxing form of keeping fit to the town.

Forget playing sport or learning aerobics, Doran Waclawiak believes that Tai Chi, the ancient Chinese form of exercise, is just what is needed to keep the local population fit.

She doesn't have grand ideas of packing Ilkley's central car park in the way that the Chinese crowd in to Beijing's Tiananmen Square to show off their Tai Chi exercises. But Doran does believe Tai Chi will grown in popularity.

Last month Doran began taking classes at the Clarke Foley Centre in Cunliffe Road, and has already attracted a keen following.

Tai Chi has links with martial arts but is best known as a gentle form of exercise that is most suitable for older or disabled people who cannot take part in conventional aerobics or weight training.

Through correct breathing and gentle exercises it helps balance the human energy levels and eliminates points of stress that themselves can be the cause or poor health.

She was already running classes in Keighley, when she came to Ilkley on the recommendation of Rotary Club member Philip Chinque.

Mr Chinque said: "Ilkley is well provided with first class facilities for people who want to get fit or to take part in a wide range of sporting activities. There is little provision however for supporting those who are unable because of age or illness or injury, to attend sports clubs or fitness centres.

"One answer is Tai Chi. Everybody can exploit what has been described as 'a kind of gently mobile yoga'.

"From talking to people in Ilkley I know of the interest in Tai Chi as an alternative exercise form. I am glad that we were able to bring together some local residents who want to do Tai Chi."

Doran, who lives in Haworth, is an accredited teacher with the 'Jason Chan Organisation' that teaches and arranges workshops throughout the United Kingdom as well as overseas.

In addition to her private work with individuals who need support through holistic healing techniques, she also works for local health trusts with patients who are unable to undertake recommended swimming or aerobic sessions.

Before starting her class at the end of February, she said: "My interest in Tai Chi goes back many years. Initially for my own health reasons and than as a means towards helping others improve their own health.

"I was delighted when Philip suggested that I might start a class in Ilkley. We could not have a better or more convenient venue.

"Although we mainly expect to attract people who have difficulty doing 'normal' exercise, Tai Chi is a very powerful tool in helping athletes and other sports people maximise their physical potential. This certainly applies to some members who attend my classes in Keighley and Ilkley."

Doran's practise of martial arts led her to take an interest in Tai Chi and her progress in the discipline enabled her to realise a long held ambition to make a career change.

After a rigorous training period of three years she quit her job at the Inland Revenue and became a full-time Tai Chi instructor.

"I probably earn about one-quarter of what I would have been earning as a VAT inspector, but I am much happier and I see the world differently now," she said.

In the east, Tai Chi and Chi Kung have been practised for thousands of years for martial, medical and spiritual purposes.

At the heart of this practice is a belief that the material world arises from and is therefore dependant upon the vibrational energy of the cosmos, a view similar to that of modern quantum physics.

Through centuries of observation, study and practice, eastern philosophers have sought to understand the nature of this 'Cosmic Energy' and the natural cycles of life arising from it in order to better understand the essential nature of humanity.

From this observation and practice have evolved many series of exercises which cultivate cosmic and earth energies through movement, concentration and breathing.

Tai Chi and Chi Kung harness these energies for health and personal development. Gentle but powerful rhythmic movements are co-ordinated with deep diaphragmatic breathing through the use of soft mental focus.

The aim is to balance, harmonise and direct energy internally within the body.

Doran said: "The overall effect can be likened to a state of moving meditation, which induces a state of relaxed alertness and a profound sense of well-being.

"Unlike many exercises in the west, these movements do not strain joints or tendons or further weaken those with impaired health. Tai Chi and Chi Kung are suitable for all levels of fitness and can be tailored to the needs of the disabled.

"In China, they are used in hospitals alongside traditional and western medicine to promote recovery from chronic and acute illness. They are also taught to prevent disease and extend life."

The exercises are traditionally practised each morning in parks by the Chinese where they can be seen waving their hands in co-ordinated movements. Tai Chi is designed to relax and loosen the spine, strengthens and flexes muscles and tendons as well as improving circulation and respiration.

"The form I teach is designed to be simple, but above all practical. A typical session would include warm-ups, standing Chi King to improve stamina, circulation and respiration, and moving Tai Chi for flexibility and inner stillness.

"Time is also available for a relaxation, guided visualisation or meditation sessions, or a talk about some aspects of practice or philosophy."

Already around 15 people have joined Doran's class. Mr Chinque said: "The majority, but not all, find aerobics or weight training beyond their capabilities. Perhaps to be expected, the majority come from my own Rotary Club members and their wives."

Those wanting more information about Tai Chi, or details of the Ilkley classes should telephone Doran on 07905 332018.

She said that there were also relaxation classes being held in the evening at Ben Rhydding, which incorporate Tai Chi exercises with a different instructor. Anyone taking part in the sessions should wear loose clothing such as sweat shirts, T-shirts and jogging bottoms.