March 21, 2011
People come through the doors for different reasons. Some have fallen and hope tai chi will make them stronger. Others are looking for a renewed sense of calm through life’s trials.
Most are curious about what it means to better connect their minds and bodies and how that can promote positive energy, instead of pain, throughout their bodies.
Whatever the reason, Susan Shoemaker is glad to see them in her Aging Well Tai Chi for Health class.
“What I enjoy most is the spirit of the people — that they are trying and saying to themselves, ‘I can help myself, I can do better,’” said Shoemaker, who teaches several Aging Well fitness and wellness classes.
An ancient Chinese martial art, tai chi combines deep breathing and mental concentration with slow, fluid movements.
Tai chi is low impact and uses many muscles while achieving better range of motion. It easily can be adapted for more or less challenge and, in its gentler forms, is particularly useful for improving flexibility, muscle strength and balance and reducing stress in older adults.
Tai Chi for Health was developed by physician Paul Lam, who realized a specialty tai chi program could further reduce pain and stiffness in people with arthritis. He also has designed tai chi programs for people with diabetes, osteoporosis and other health issues.
Lam’s programs have been adopted and supported by the Arthritis Foundation and other health organizations across the world.
Aging Well will offer its first Tai Chi for Osteoporosis program in cooperation with Yampa Valley Integrated Health beginning April 11. Shoemaker will lead that class, which is for people who have osteoporosis or are at risk of developing the condition, characterized by weak or brittle bones.
More research indicates that tai chi helps manage or reduce the severity of symptoms and improves quality of life in people with health conditions including arthritis, heart disease, hypertension, cancer and Parkinson’s disease.
Researchers suspect tai chi can help maintain bone density or slow bone loss in postmenopausal women. Tai chi also may improve proprioception, a function that affects our sense of balance and naturally declines with age.
Tai Chi for Osteoporosis emphasizes balance and weight-bearing movements. The goal is for participants to become stronger and more confident in their footing so they can recover from stumbles and avoid dangerous falls and fractures.
Movements challenging older adults’ balance can be difficult and frustrating. Like any fitness or wellness routine, however, improvements happen with patience, persistence and practice.
“I’ve seen a big difference in the people that stick with it,” Shoemaker said. “I see them struggling with their balance in the beginning … but then they learn how to use their bodies better.”
With practice, participants understand how their minds and their abilities to focus and concentrate can either help or hinder their efforts. Gathering and directing energy into one’s practice facilitates physical progress and mental calmness that can extend beyond practice.
“We are all searching for quiet places as the world becomes busier,” Shoemaker said. “It isn’t all about the outside. We can go inside ourselves and find many rewards in that.”
This article includes information from “The health benefits of tai chi,” a publication of Harvard Medical School, www.health.harvard.edu.
Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information, visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 970-871-7606.