Simple Moves, Profound Effect–Health Benefits of Qigong & Tai Chi
Getting older isn’t always easy but I thought I’d done a pretty good job staying fit until I injured my shoulder. Suddenly, I couldn’t raise my right arm higher than my waist. I had embarrassing experiences of having to ask strangers to open doors for me. The feeling of being dependent and vulnerable was distressing. A friend strongly recommended Tai Chi. I asked, “Isn’t that a martial art and how am I supposed to do that with an immovable shoulder?”
She explained that Tai Chi was born from Qigong (pronounced Chee-Gong), which was created in China 5,000 years ago for health, consisting of graceful body movements and breathing. Tai Chi developed 3,500 years later, adding a martial arts component, an aspect not used in basic exercise classes. The difference between the two in terms of classes today is slight, with the objective being to nourish the body with chi (energy). Both focus on circulation, mindfulness, flexibility and balance.
I took my first Qigong class with certified instructor Melissa Arnold at the Fairfield YMCA and then added certified master Jonathan Davis’s Tai Chi class at the Fairfield Senior Center. Between these two gifted teachers and months of classes I can now raise my arm above my head again which I will demonstrate to anybody including strangers.
I bought The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. The author states that researchers have reviewed 507 studies and concluded that Qigong/Tai Chi classes are beneficial for many illnesses. They help relieve stress, depression, rehabilitate the heart and lungs, strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, and more. The studies do not suggest the classes offer cures, but they can help relieve symptoms.
The Arthritis Foundation cites Tai Chi as a way to relieve arthritis pain in the knees, joints, and back because the gentle movements help reduce inflammation. I feel this information should be on a billboard on I-95!
Fellow classmate, Jeff Kieran, who’s had a hernia and two cancer operations says, “I came back to Tai Chi as quickly as I could to get my energy back.” Another student who has a neuromuscular condition told me her neurologist had prescribed Tai Chi and her orthopedist and physical therapist supported this idea.
Eastern medicine takes the whole body into account with awareness of internal organs. There’s an emphasis on the mind body connection. Attention to the movements and breathing calm the mind.
In both my Tai Chi and Qigong classes many of the students mentioned balance as their reason for attending. The Centers for Disease Control recommends Tai Chi and states that every year three million older people are treated in the ER for injuries from falls. Tai Chi is done standing and you are constantly shifting your weight from one foot to the other. This helps train the brain for balance.
In class there is a sense of camaraderie in that we are all trying to do something to preserve our health. It is a calming atmosphere with the quiet voice of the teacher guiding us from one posture to the next. It’s easy to try a class as there are no mats or equipment to buy and one can use a chair if needed.
World Tai Chi Day
Every year, the last Saturday in April is World Tai Chi Day. Free demos and classes are held in over 100 cities in 80 countries. My daughter, Laurie, a Yoga devotee, took some classes and fell in love. “I felt energized but relaxed,” she says.
There are 20 million people who practice Yoga in the US but only three million who practice Qigong/Tai Chi. If these practices have been proven scientifically to be beneficial why don’t more people practice them? Four reasons: 1. Not many people have heard of them. 2. Tai Chi is seen in in the media as a martial art. 3. They seem too simple to be effective. 4. There’s a lack of classes.
Ultimately, word of mouth will create demand. A friend shares how they got off their pain medicine, a woman shows you she can now lift her arm over her head. When my son-in-law’s 90-year-old grandmother was asked how she could shimmy so enthusiastically on the dance floor at a family wedding, she replied smiling, “I take Tai Chi.”