September just might be the perfect time to make a resolution for the coming year. For school kids, fall brings new goals: learning to read, memorizing times tables, trying out for sports teams. For students at the Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel, the goals might be to relieve stress, gain self-understanding or learn ways to stay healthy.

Through next Thursday, Tai Sophia is offering free drop-in classes in the healing arts that are designed to help adults reach those personal goals. Participants can sample a class, then decide whether to sign up for a full course. Also, several free workshops are scheduled through Nov. 15.

"If folks have heard about something and have no idea what it is, I tell them to come check it out," said special-programs director Mary Kay Kenney.

Some classes involve physical activity, but they bear little resemblance to gym classes of the past. Kenney said they're based on the idea of healing the body through movement. The Chinese discipline of qi gong (pronounced chee-gung), for example, is described in the course catalogue as a "health and longevity exercise."

Pilates, yoga and tai chi may be familiar to those who took classes at community centers and private gyms. Other choices are more unusual, including "Feldenkrais: Awareness Through Movement" and "Tsang-Yang Tribal Belly Dance," a fusion of folk dances from around the world.

Tai Sophia was founded in 1975 as an acupuncture school; its clinic offers acupuncture and herbal consultations. The 12-acre campus is home to the Meeting Point Bookstore and Cafe, a library and a garden and labyrinth for meditative walks. Students can pursue master's degrees in acupuncture, herbal medicine or applied healing arts, which communications director Harry Bosk describes as a "mix of Eastern philosophy and Western psychology."

The kind of healing practiced at Tai Sophia is often referred to as "complementary and alternative medicine," and it has been gaining legitimacy in the eyes of the public and in the field of traditional Western medicine. Tai Sophia has a number of outreach programs, including a new partnership with the medical school at the University of Pennsylvania.

Bosk says the school is "on the cusp of the trend toward wellness, in which consumers are taking a more active role in their own health. Rather than going to the doctor when you get sick, it's participating in activities like qi gong, and herbal remedies, so you're taking better care of your health, limiting symptoms and illness." The institute's classes teach various approaches to preventive medicine.

Students can experience some of the more clinical aspects of Tai Sophia's programs with "Chakra Energy Balancing," "Self-Shiatsu" and "Herbal Medicine: Beyond the Basics." Next Thursday, herbalist and Tai Sophia faculty member James Snow will teach a workshop, "Healing Soups for Body and Soul," covering the beneficial properties of common and exotic herbs. Students will be able to taste soups and take home recipes to use during the winter.

Before the first chill of the season, though, comes the chance to warm to a new experience. As Kenney writes in this month's course catalogue: "Autumn accentuates our capacity for inspiration and letting go, clearing the way for new possibilities."

The following free hour-long classes precede a non-credit class series held for four to 12 weeks, at a cost of $84 to $290; classes meet weekly or twice a month. Wear comfortable clothes to preview classes that involve exercise.

* Pilates Mat, 6:15 p.m. Monday.

* Seated T'ai Chi Chih, 6:30 p.m. Monday.

* Tsang-Yang Tribal Belly Dance, 7 p.m. Monday.

* Feldenkrais: Awareness Through Movement, 6 p.m. Tuesday.

* Qi Gong: Dance of the Phoenix, 6 p.m. Tuesday.

* Chakra Energy Balancing, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

* Self-Shiatsu, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

* Herbal Medicine: Beyond the Basics, 6 p.m. Wednesday.

* Medical Qi Gong, 6 p.m. Wednesday.

* Yoga and Meditation, 6 p.m. Wednesday.

* The Essence of Creativity, 6:30 p.m. next Thursday.

* T'ai Chi Chih, 6:30 p.m. next Thursday.

The following free workshops are one-time events. They are two hours long except where noted:

* Living Large: Transformative Work, 7 p.m. tomorrow.

* Healing Soups for Body and Soul, 6:30-8 p.m. next Thursday.

* Healing the Healer, 7 p.m. Oct. 13.

* More Joy -- Less Effort, 7 p.m. Oct. 28.

* Natural Healing 101: Acupuncture and Herbal Healing, 6:30 p.m. Nov. 9.

* Chinese Herb Program, 7 p.m. Nov. 11.

* Transformative Practices and Teaching Stories, 6:30 p.m. Nov. 15.

Tai Sophia Institute, 7750 Montpelier Rd., Laurel. Class catalogues are available at www.tai.edu or Whole Foods Markets and some health foods stores. Or call 800-735-2968 or 410-888-9048, Ext. 6611.

Yoga is one of the more familiar forms of exercise taught at the Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel, which also offers acupuncture and herbal consultations.