Australia Fitness Awards 2021 Mental Health Awareness Program of the Year Finalist

Balance Minder used Time Out Tai Chi to engage the community in exercise for their Mental Well-being. Here is a copy of our submission

Australia Fitness Awards 2021 Mental Health Awareness Program of the Year 🏆

Leanne Simpson (Balance Minder) with Time Out Tai Chi

Education & Experience

Qualifications and training and development and work experience Program: Time Out Tai Chi

Time Out Tai Chi was developed through a need to connect the benefits of the ancient art of Tai Chi with the modern-day approach to exercise. It started over 10 years ago as an Illustrated Children’s book focusing on good posture & positive breathing for calmness to becoming a nationally recognised CEC program for Fitness Australia

Facilitator: Balance Minder

Balance Minder provides the tools and support to all Australians to improve their wellbeing, through a tribal approach with a high emphasis on collaboration. Our aims are:

Inclusiveness: Every body has the right to exercise and as a community we need to support this

Education: Our college takes a full-circle approach to health and wellness

Collaboration: specialising in linking organisations and community groups for better outcomes

Tribes: let’s do it together

Resilience: strengthening ourselves to build strong communities

Usness: recognising the wellness link to social networks

Accessibility: easy to access, suits all. Any time, any place, anywhere.

Developer: Leanne Simpson has over 25 years teaching experience in the health & wellbeing field and has been a long-term advocate for exercise for mental health. She has worked for health promotion, women health, domestic violence, drug & alcohol rehab & mental health support organisations encouraging mindful exercise to help with anger, anxiety, and other emotional issues.

Cert 4 in Fitness, Mental Health First Aid, Wellness Coach, Time Out Tai Chi Principal Trainer

Why and when did the program begin?

Time Out Tai Chi was developed in 2011 as a response to getting in-active community members considering exercise as an option for the mental health.

It has been successfully facilitated in Women & Domestic Violence Support Centres, Drug Re-hab, Disengaged Teenagers Employment services, Mental Health support groups, Disability Support & Employment Services, Council supported healthy lifestyle programs and for Deadly Choices.

April 2020 as a response to the Covid lockdown the program had to pivot.

We developed a 3-tier response by adapting our Face to Face participant classes in Mackay to virtual, opened a Facebook group & online/virtual platform & provided upskilling classes for our Time Out Tai Chi Leaders around Australia.

Time Out Tai Chi – Active in the City.

Has been supported by the Mackay Regional Council for over 3 years, with a focus on exercise for mental health. Many of our participants engage in this class because of the calmness and inclusiveness created by our Time Out Tai Chi Leaders Leanne Simpson & Jess Clark.

During covid lockdown the class went completely virtual and once restrictions were lifted, we continued with both virtual & face 2 face.

Created the actual virtual training portal at our own expense to help keep people connected.

St Vinnies de Paul AOD Support House –

A virtual live weekly class promoting exercise for mental wellbeing and as a tool for anxiety and anger issues. Clients aged 18 to 60 years with a variety of backgrounds were able to exercise together in an inclusive and safe environment.

Facebook Groups (free)

Calm your Tribe (April 2020 to August 2020) to help families engage in exercise with consideration as a tool for mental wellbeing. Collaborated with Peta Jeppeson of Beyond the Classroom Australia. Established an online program with virtual classes with 6 virtual classes per week.

Balance Minder Pivot Well (August 2020) as established to help our community find a safe and positive place to be while on Facebook. Social media post more often focussed on the community despair and coming to terms with the ramifications of covid and we provided a healthy and comforting place to visit.

Balance Minder Podcast

“The simple art of connection is the key to community wellness”

In this podcast we look at the positive affects’ connection has on our overall health and wellbeing.

Series 1 Tribe Talk - We chatted with community leaders about – Why connection is important for themselves and the different organisations they represent to connect. We ask them to provide a takeaway item for us to use and share with our own tribes.

We pondered our own Self Talk. Is about being your own best friend, laughing with, encouraging, praising and sometimes even giving yourself a little swift kick in the butt when required, but remembering by helping yourself, you also help others!

In Series 2 - Wake up Well! Leanne is joined by Beyond the Classroom Australia’s Peta Jeppesen. Start the day well.

Embrace a positive mindset, Love organisation,

Feel delightful focus,

and take the right action for you

By helping yourself, you also help others

Upskilling our Leaders (free)

Our Principal Trainer Leanne Simpson facilitated regular virtual get-togethers for Time Out Tai Chi Leader around Australia. We had people from places including Broome WA, Adelaide SA, Melbourne VIC, Canberra ACT, Mackay Qld, Moranbah Qld. We did tai chi together, cooked together, chatted about what was happening in our part of the country.

How has the program impacted the mental health of the community involved?

Our response to covid was to keep people as connected as possible. Our community was physically, mentally and socially isolated and without any solid planning forthcoming Balance Minder stepped up using the technology to fill the gap.

To help with understanding the successful impact our response provided, we have gathered comments from our participants

Time Out Tai Chi – Active in the City

  • Thanks for contributing to positive community outcomes through fitness and mental health approaches with a choice of accessible options
  • This is a service that has improved my wellbeing and that of my wife.
  • Appreciate Leanne's continuing enthusiasm and passion for Tai Chi and her eagerness to pass its importance and value on to us.
  • Having the online class available for free is fantastic, and hopefully means it is accessible to everyone.

St Vinnies de Paul AOD Support House

  • I was able to stand up in court and have them see me as a calm person. I remembered to breathe.

Facebook Groups (free)

  • Seeing your smiling and positive face each day, helped me get through difficult times. I loved gardening, doing tai chi and listening to all the interesting people you chatted with during Tribe Talk & Wake Up Well.

Upskilling our Leaders

  • These sessions helped me have the energy to help my community
  • The Leadership up skilling sessions delivered by Leanne support me in continuing to develop and refine my skills to provide varied and fun classes. Sharing experiences with other leaders mean the potential to adapt and deliver new ideas tailored to my own audience. These sessions are valuable connections and ensure we, as TOTC leaders are maintaining the integrity of the TOTC program.
  • I enjoy teaching the TOTC program and it is popular with my students because it is accessible and inclusive. Participants particularly like that it is a contemporary Australian approach to learning Tai Chi. The animals and Australian landscape features are fun to do and aid in remembering the forms. In recent surveys completed by my students, some of whom have been learning Tai Chi for many years the TOTC program was a clear favourite!
  • Another client who volunteers at a school have used the breathing technique to help with students who have been having a panic attack. To sum up everyone who does the Time Out Tai Chi always leaves with a smile and is relaxed. Even people who have seen them leave my class have noticed how they are relaxed and have a smile. I love teaching Time Out Tai because it is easy for everyone to follow be it seated or standing it is a great program for everyone's health and wellbeing.

  • As a PT, the new skills that I have and are learning/developing are being further enhanced by the regular upskilling sessions within the leaders group. The support is fantastic and the learning environment is one of the most supportive I have come across within my 35 years in the health, Sport and Coaching environment.

What's been the biggest challenge with the program and how did you overcome it?

Biggest Challenges:

  1. Ensuring our own health and wellbeing was looked after.
  1. Encouraging providers to continuing to pay for services.
  1. Many Organisations did not understand we need to keep the connection with participants to help them maintain their physical, mental & social health and had no experience with online training and felt they weren’t in the position to start using it.


Balance Minder provided 1:1 training to participants to get them comfortable using Zoom. Social media reports of hacking into virtual classes had many wary of the technology. Our Principal Trainer, Leanne Simpson has over 25 years’ experience in training “Computers to the Terrified” so with hard work and persistence we made it happen.

We mostly overcame the challenges through providing FREE additional services to fee paying organisations or donating our time & resources.

What's been the biggest success with the program from the last year?

Biggest Success was the smile on the participants faces as the interacted through our virtual classes. Sometimes this was the only connection with others for the week.

Comments like I feel “very happy” ,“safe”, “non-confronting place to train”, “I am more balanced when I walk and exercise”, “I am not tripping as often in the field”, “ I am more mindful where my feet are”, “My friends seem old and I feel younger- haha”

Our survey of participants asked to complete this statement (answer & number to tick that box):

I will use Time Out Tai Chi to help me with my MENTAL wellbeing to...

  • balance my stress levels 52
  • regulate my anxiety 30
  • help with my chronic pain 6
  • optimise my energy 63
  • improve my self-image 20
  • reduce my chronic pain 7
  • find mindful movement 57
  • use positive breathing techniques 60
  • heighten my self-worth

How are Australians encouraged to be more active?

There are many barriers for non-active Australians

One of the biggest I believe is the worrying thoughts that you have to become very sore or even spew after a class to be successful at exercise (thanks reality TV). Exercise should be fun and be a lifelong pursuit not a 30 day challenge. I am not saying competition against others or yourself is bad, it just doesn’t have to be the only focus.

You only exercise to lose weight, is another barrier as when the scales don’t go down people give up. We need to shift the focus to a healthy life and being able to do the things we want to do: Walk up the hill with the grandkids, being able to walk in the sand and down into the water for a swim & stand tall and be proud of our body.

We need to provide a safe inclusive place where people can start to move and explore the possibilities of a flexible, strong, and healthy body.

Instructors and Leaders need to consider:

  • The anxiety of attending a class can be very high
  • That the signs & symptoms of an anxiety/panic attack can be very similar to a high intensity workout level for some participants.
  • Everyone has mental health and for some they have issues/illnesses requiring reassurance and understanding.
  • Education and patience will provide connection, and this is the key to community wellness.