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Meditation in motion
Posted on Tue, Oct 26, 2010 at 5:42 am
by IDMA Editor

Local tai chi enthusiasts seem to have one thing in common -- the desire to find an exercise to help heal the body. Susan Harding, a tai chi instructor at the Hope Community Center in Roy, is a former cardio junkie who turned to tai chi because "jumpy aerobics" gave her neck and back problems.

Photo of World Tai Chi Day from rosscosta.com

Norm Skanchy, a tai chi instructor at the Eccles Community Center in Ogden, is 85 years old and a former national racquetball champion. He used tai chi to prepare for tournaments, but since he broke his hip four years ago, he now uses it as his primary form of exercise.

Tyrone Aranda, tai chi instructor at the Marshall White Community Center in Ogden, is a longtime martial artist who is using tai chi to recover from a heart attack.

"I've done martial arts for 38 years," Aranda said. " I studied tai chi and didn't appreciate the benefits until I had a heart attack and a double bypass a year ago.

"I couldn't go back to aggressive (fighting) the way I wanted to. I practiced tai chi to help me safely heal and recover. I'm going to continue doing it forever."

What is it?

Harding said tai chi was created by monks in China 3,000 years ago for healing and self-defense.

"It's moving meditation," she said. "Some people call it Chinese ballet. The slower you go, the more it does for you. It builds you from the inside out, by moving chi or life force energy through the body. It balances the body and mind and makes you healthier."

An article by Mayo Clinic staff at the clinic's website also describes tai chi as "meditation in motion":

"Originally developed in ancient China for self-defense, tai chi evolved into a graceful form of exercise that's now used for stress reduction and to help with a variety of other health conditions. ... Regardless of the variation, all forms of tai chi include rhythmic patterns of movement that are coordinated with breathing to help you achieve a sense of inner calm. The concentration required for tai chi forces you to live in the present moment, putting aside distressing thoughts."

Aranda said a tai chi class repeats the same movements, combined into forms or patterns at varying levels of difficulty.

Benefits

Chent Tsant Lu, who teaches tai chi at Your Community Connection in Ogden once a month, said the exercise is a martial art that helps defend the body against itself.

"It is a medicine exercise. It is creating balance in your body. American people time-schedule until you are sick. This helps nourish you. It helps with sickness problems every day. It gives balance and energy every day. You feel energy and how to heal by nature," he said.

Tai chi helps with breathing, blood flow and balance, and strengthens stabilizer muscles, Aranda said.

Harding adds that tai chi is relaxing, increases flexibility, boosts the immune system and improves sleep.

"Older exercises are so valuable in our technical world. We run on adrenaline. We're very stressed," she said, "When you do tai chi, you just feel better. The relaxation is so good. If we're stressed, we get sick easier. You learn great relaxed breathing to clear the mind."

She said the effects are similar to yoga, but some people prefer tai chi because you can do it while standing. She also touts the exercise because it is inexpensive.

"It is very cheap. Once you learn it, you can do it on your own with no equipment. You just need clothes you can move in, and shoes," she said.

Riley Montgomery of Ogden said he has experience with various forms of martial arts, but likes tai chi because it helps him keep his anger under control and release stress.

Another fan is Cathy Perkins of Ogden, who said tai chi, along with weightlifting and water aerobics, has helped her lose 15 pounds.

"I don't get all the moves right, but it keeps me active," she said.

Seniors

Perkins attends Aranda's class for seniors. Tai chi is often a favorite with seniors because it is low-impact.

"My whole deal here is to help the seniors realize they're not getting old," Aranda said. "They have a hard time memorizing, but I tell them: 'Don't worry about memorizing. Just have fun and move.' For seniors, it's like a fountain of youth. They are getting stronger, breathing better, moving better and feeling better about themselves."

Loraine Hunsaker of Ogden also takes Aranda's class.

"It's really good exercise," she said, "I'm more limber. You learn good form and it's fun to do. You feel like you're doing your body good. It makes you feel good and helps with balance."

A caution

But low-impact exercise is not always ideal. Dayna Barrett, employee wellness assistant with Utah State University, warns against relying too much on low-impact exercise like tai chi.

"Some people like low-impact exercise, especially as they get older, because it's harder to do impact, but weight-bearing exercise strengthens the muscles by pulling on the bones," she said. "There are pros and cons. You can do it for a long time without injury, but you may not be getting enough cardio respiratory. You need to be getting your heart going and working up a sweat. Incorporate other stuff like resistance training and walking."

The Mayo Clinic also points out that tai chi instructors don't have to be licensed, and that there are no standard training programs for instructors.

"Check an instructor's training and experience. Get recommendations if possible and make sure that you're comfortable with his or her approach," the article said.

Harding said it may not be the right fit for everyone.

"Not everybody likes it. Everybody has an exercise that works best for them," she said, "For my body, this works best."



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