Years ago, a good friend I worked with asked me if I wanted to try a Tai Chi class. I figured – why not. I enjoyed it so much, I kept going long after she quit. I enjoyed the quiet slow exercise . It is very peaceful and it is good exercise if done properly and with intent.
There were some unexpected and welcome benefits. I have a long history of spraining my ankles and falling over. I was getting more and more unstable. I was falling a few times a year and rolling my ankles. Tai Chi stopped that from happening so frequently. I knew it was good for balance but I believe the emphasis on slow, controlled movement with body awareness is what made this so effective. I went to the class just thinking I will learn something new and after taking it for a few months I had more stability in my ankles. It was nice not rolling down my neighbors sloped driveway when I twisted my ankle yet again, that was so embarrassing.
I have moved a few times since then and did not attempt to find a new class until now. I thought about it often and missed the gentle flowing motion of this exercise. This summer, I decided to look for a class. I found one and have started again. I had learned the Yang long form which has 108 movements. I was not able to memorize them all and honestly only practiced during the class. I find a class works better for me. I like the structure and the continual reminders on proper technique. There are numerous videos on YouTube that demonstrate the long form of Tai Chi , if you are interested in seeing a demonstration. Although, I bet most of you have seen it before. It is practiced in parks and gyms around the country.
For the great majority of the people who practice Tai Chi, it is a meditative movement form, but Tai Chi is a martial art and at times during a class an instructor will demonstrate how it was and can be used to defend yourself. Obviously, I am not the most coordinated person but Tai Chi moves slow enough that I am able to follow along but these demonstrations remind me where Tai Chi came from and I enjoy that.
I try to focus in class and try not to think about anything but the peaceful motion of the form. I try not to think about work , cleaning my house, cooking, or my shopping list for dinner and just focus on what I am doing. This is a great benefit. After a hectic week, I feel taking the time to just breathe and let go of all the noise in my head gives me a much needed mini-vacation from my day-to-day busy schedule.
There is a short form as well as the long form. The class I am taking focuses on the short form. I would like to find one that focuses on the long form and try that again. It would be nice to learn the whole form well enough that I can practice on my own where ever I am.
Fall prevention is a really important part of aging. There is some research on the subject of Tai Chi and balance in an elderly population . In one article I found, the participants were randomly assigned to an Tai Chi group or to an exercise group that consisted of stretching. They found there were fewer injurious fall in the Tai Chi group than in the other group. They found the risk of falls was lowered by 55%. There are multiple articles in the medical journals that discuss morbidity and mortality in the elderly after a fall. It is a big problem and beyond the health costs there is the emotional and psychological costs to the person who fell and their family. They can lose their independence and develop problems with their mobilty that can limit them for the rest of their lives.
I am a control group of one that can tell you from my personal experience that Tai Chi has reduced the number of falls I have and the number of severe ankle sprains that plagued me for years.
In my experience, the more debilitated the person the quicker I see changes with an exercise program, if they are consistent. I know when my patients are doing their exercises because I see a change. Exercise takes a time to make changes, it can take up to 6 weeks to see any benefit – Stick with it !
( Before starting any new exercises remember to discuss it with your physician )
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