Tai Chi an option for easing pain, improving balance


 

For people who are leery of the physical demands of most exercise programs, these claims are pretty enticing.

“Say goodbye to sweating, puffing and panting. Say hello to feeling cool, calm, refreshed and energized.

“Just 30 minutes a day is your passport to better health, fitness, peace of mind and so much more, as your mind and body work in harmony for superb results.”

Those claims are being affirmed by a growing number of American seniors who are trying Tai Chi as way to improve their balance, relaxation and overall health.

That’s why Gayla Ratzlaff, coordinator for the Marion County Department of Aging, is bringing the Chinese system of slow meditative physical exercise to local seniors.

Ratzlaff is organizing, and will lead, the first class at the Marion Senior Center next month. She hopes to offer classes at the other senior centers that serve as nutrition sites over the next several months.

“The response so far has been pretty positive,” Ratzlaff said of the class at Marion.

Ancient roots

Tai Chi, a form of exercise that is regularly practiced in China for general health purposes, has gained increasing popularity in North America and Australia.

An ancient Chinese martial arts form of meditation, it features a constant flow of energy and movement and combines mental concentration, slow breathing and dance-like movements to increase “chi” (life energy).

The current application of Tai Chi was developed by a person who suffered from arthritis and benefited from its practice.

Ratzlaff said she first became aware of Tai Chi when she attended a conference in Salina on how to prevent falls among older people.

“Richard Hanley, who is the coordinator for the Department on Aging in Harvey County, talked about how he had gone to a class on Tai Chi and was now offering a class on it in Newton,” she said.

“That kind of piqued my interest.”

In May, Ratzlaff went through a three-day training course in Tai Chi offered by the Kansas chapter of the Arthritis Founda­tion. It certified her as an instructor.

Not ‘no pain, no gain’

Unlike most exercise programs, Tai Chi resists the “no pain, no gain” philosophy of physical enhancement.

“Anybody can do this,” Ratz­laff said. “You can do it sitting in a chair—you don’t even have to be standing up.”

Because of its approach, groups like the Arthritis Foundation have endorsed Tai Chi for people who have pain issues.

“People who have pain issues often don’t want to move because it’s too painful,” Ratzlaff said. “Tai Chi is a way to say that if pain is an issue, there are some things you can do that may help improve your ability to move.

“The other thing is, it’s slow,” she added. “Once you learn it, you do it at your own pace. We’re not working on increasing your heart rate. It’s not that at all.

“The benefit is that it’s strengthening your core and posture and creating better breathing.”

Basic moves

Participants in Ratzlaff’s classes will learn 12 of Tai Chi’s 24 basic moves. If there’s interest, an advanced class may be offered later for learning the remaining moves.

Once learned, the moves can be done individually or in groups. The goal isn’t to do the moves faster or necessarily to increase repetitions.

“You do it to the point that it benefits you,” Ratzlaff said. “Part of Tai Chi is relaxation. If you’re kind of stressed about something, it’s something you could do to help relieve your stress. ”

Another advantage of Tai Chi is that you can’t do it “wrong.”

“It’s kind of an art,” Ratzlaff said. “You work on it, you get better at it, but you never quite master it. There are elements that you keep working on—the inner focus, the slowing down, the thinking about the shifting of your weight.

“There’s so much more to it,” she added. “Tai chi has great depth, like peeling an onion. There is a layer, and inside another layer. This is why people enjoy Tai Chi.”

Not just for seniors

Because of her role with the Department on Aging, Ratzlaff has targeted the classes for seniors. But she said people of any age who have pain issues could benefit from Tai Chi and are welcomed to participate in the classes.

“My hope is that people who take the class will say, hey, let’s get together twice a week and do this together. It can be a time when people visit together and then do it.”

Anyone interested in more information about Tai Chi or the classes planned for Marion County can contact Ratzlaff at 620-382-3580.


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