BENNINGTON -- Rich Marantz has good cause to be aware of the benefits of tai chi - he recovered from a spinal injury with the use of the meditative martial art - and he shares those benefits with students throughout southwestern Vermont.

The West Pawlet resident teaches tai chi to participants in a substance abuse program in Wallingford, to seniors in Manchester, Arlington, and Pawlet, and now at Bennington Project Independence and Karma Cat Yoga in Bennington.

"(BPI) got a grant from the Southern Vermont Council on Aging for an eight-week program for seniors," Marantz said. "And at Karma Cat Yoga, I teach every three weeks for two hours.

That's not simplified, like I do with the seniors." The yoga studio program is experimental, and will be reviewed after another three sessions to determine whether Marantz will continue it.

Marantz brought his classes farther south after he was invited to the United Counseling Service's wellness fair, and found a great deal of interest in the Bennington area.

"It's a little bit of a drive. That's why, when I set up at Karma Cat, we do it every three weeks," he said. He noted that the BPI class, too, is well attended.

Marantz teaches tai chi in a variety of ways. There's a formal adult class in Manchester, and he works in schools a lot, adapting tai chi for participants ranging "from little kids to the elderly." At Manchester's Equinox Terrace, most participants are in wheelchairs, so most of the work is done while sitting.

At BPI, Marantz teaches tai chi qigong, a simplified form without much memorization required, he said.

"In formal tai chi, choreography is involved. One movement goes into the next, strung together like a choreographed dance. In qi gong, you repeat (each move) six times. You get a feel for it without having to memorize movements," he said.

For Marantz, tai chi is not just a martial art, but a healthy and philosophical one, too.

"When I teach seniors, I don't get into that; I touch on it, but it is most popularly used as a health art," he said. "Most dedicated practitioners treat it as a martial art; there are some partner exercises that go into that. But most people come through recommendations from the health community."

People who do come into tai chi for the martial aspects are usually already practitioners of other, more difficult styles, often looking for a less aggressive style and a different way of approaching their martial skills.

Basically, Marantz said, tai chi has something for everybody.

"It's a moving meditation. For people who have stress - which is everybody - it's a useful method of getting into a meditative state without keeping still," he said.

He added that class time is spent on body mechanics, moving the body more efficiently, "which helps anytime you're moving your body, which is all the time. It's very applicable movement."

In addition, the art can be modified to meet any level of ability. "You can be a martial artist, or you can be just out of surgery, and tai chi will come to you. It can fit anybody's health," Marantz said, noting that he learned when healing from his own spinal injury.

"I was in pain all the time, and now it's a non-issue," he said.

Marantz encouraged anyone to give the form a try. "A lot of people are afraid to start new things. But I've had thousands of people, over the years, in front of me. Everyone can do it, and with practice, see improvement. You can start, and get the benefit, and the more you practice, the more you benefit - anyone can practice tai chi and receive benefits," Marantz said.

A current list of classes is available on Marantz' website, www.greenmountaintaichi.com, as well as his phone number (802-645-1960) and e-mail address (rich@greenmountaintaichi.com) for those with questions about the programs he offers. Class fees differ depending on the program selected, and a note on the site states that he does not turn away students for inability to pay, but is willing to work something out.