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Get Fit!: Martial art medicine: Tai chi participants find pain relief
Posted on Mon, Jan 31, 2011 at 7:02 am
by IDMA Editor

Darci Alexander strikes a stance with her feet firmly planted beneath her hips, grounding her as she starts slowly swirling her arms in controlled motions. An imaginary "golden thread reaching to heaven" keeps her posture erect with a straight back and relaxed shoulders.

She is demonstrating the ancient Chinese practice of tai chi to a class she is currently teaching. The slow movements require those who practice the art to focus on what they are doing, and it enhances balance and coordination while relaxing the body. Besides relaxation, Alexander said recent studies have proved what the Chinese have known for thousands of years: Tai chi can help with overall health, and even relieve pain from ailments such as arthritis and fibromyalgia.

Instructor Darci Alexander, left, leads a class at the Center for Integrated Medicine/Central California Therapy Specialists - photo credit Steve R. Fujimoto

"It helps our body to open up those medicine bottles that are in us, the natural ability to do healing," Alexander said.

In November 2010, a study of the Arthritis Foundation's tai chi program showed that after eight weeks of performing the exercise, arthritis sufferers showed moderate improvement in their symptoms. Anne Geiger, a Visalia resident who underwent rotator cuff surgery and has arthritis, said she has experienced this first-hand since she started attending Alexander's classes last October.

"I haven't had barely any arthritis since I started these classes -†just a little in my knees from gardening, but not with the intensity of pain I used to get during the cold winter," she said.

The gentle movements of tai chi make it accessible to those who find other exercise too harsh. Alexander said the joints are actually lubricated by the fluid motions, which is what helps to relieve arthritis pain.

Anne Geiger, center, has had rotator cuff surgery and does tai chi as therapy for her shoulder - photo credit Steve R. Fujimoto

Another class member, Ruth Johnstone of Visalia, said that tai chi helps relax muscles she injured several months ago, which in turn helps her to sleep at night. She had been advised to go to the gym in order to aid those muscles, but Johnstone discovered tai chi had the same benefits and it wasn't exhausting like other exercises.

"After two weeks of doing tai chi, it was just like going to the gym, my muscles were relaxed. I like everything about tai chi," she said. Alexander preaches the benefits of tai chi because she has experienced them herself.

Always a champion of natural healing, she didn't really need it until this past year after she had a back injury and had to undergo emergency surgery.

She was undergoing physical therapy at Integrated Fitness' joint business, Central California Physical Therapy Specialists, when she mentioned to her therapist that she was going to the Bay Area for a visit and was going to check out a tai chi class.

"[My physical therapist] said that if I got certified in tai chi, then she'd hire me to teach it," Alexander said.

The experience of using body movement to heal her wounds inspired her to not only get certified in tai chi, but to start courses in physical therapy, Alexander said.

"My greatest joy is making a difference in the lives of others," Alexander said.

To learn Tai Chi online from one of the world's leading grandmasters, click tai_chi



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