Tai chi is an ancient martial art which paradoxically promotes inner calm with a signature of deep breathing and fluidity of motion. Tai chi has been translated as "the grand ultimate fist", "supreme boxing" and "the root of all motion".
The Oriental belief that life is based on qi (pronounced "chee") is integral to tai chi. Qi is considered to be the energy that moves through us and when our qi is flowing freely, we live in health and balance.
Tai chi is gentle enough that even the frail, the ill, the injured and the convalescent can do it. And if they continue on, health benefits often follow.
Gerry Steinberg of Windsor, Ontario fell and broke his back 23 years ago. When his brother told him about a tai chi class at the local Senior Centre, Steinberg stopped by and met Master Henry Lee.
As Steinberg began to learn tai chi, things began to change. "Very soon I no longer needed a cane to walk, I learned the whole set very quickly. My pain decreased daily. I felt very peaceful and calm. I discovered that this was moving meditation -- something I had always practiced while sitting, could now be applied in motion."
Steinberg occasionally filled in for Master Henry Lee and eventually was teaching every Tuesday. Steinberg filled in for another teacher at the Leamington's Half Century Club and still teaches this class. He also teaches for Parks and Recreation at Oakwood in Windsor.
Steinberg said, "Most of my 90-year-old students report they still feel flexible and healthy while being very sharp in their minds. They are still able to accomplish what they need to, but at a slower pace. Most students feel the calming effect of the practice and the healing aspects apply to any number of ailments. One by one, they just feel better every day. The practice gives back whatever they put into it."
Students of tai chi with osteoarthritis may experience a reduction in stiffness and pain, steadier balance and greater mobility. As a weight-bearing exercise, tai chi can improve bone mineral density and reduce bone loss.
Sleep may improve and depression may lift. Hearts and cardiovascular systems may be strengthened. Hypertension may decrease.
Fifteen years ago Rick Bleau of Kingsville, Ontario met after hours with his family doctor. Rick had hypertension, and his doctor had a recommendation. He wanted to introduce Rick and his wife Marlies to a tai chi class.
The Bleaus attended the beginners class for several weeks, then moved into the advanced class. They've been participating in tai chi ever since.
They took Steinberg's class for a few years. When Steinberg had to be away he would ask the Bleaus to step in.
Rick and Marlies have been teaching their own class at Harrow Mennonite Church in Harrow, Ontario for eight years.
The class is a group of ladies in their mid-50s to their mid-70's, with a few men showing up from time to time. But the ladies are the mainstay.
At the beginning of each session, the Bleaus spend 15 minutes doing warm-up exercises. There are three sets of exercises which can be done separately or together, as each builds on the previous set.
Rick said, "Each move has energetic purpose, not just the martial art move.The chakras sometimes need balancing. Moving the hands, the feet, and changes in posture, help to balance the chakras."
The students increase their flexibility, mental sharpness, and co-ordination of their hands, eyes, feet and brain. Their sense of balance becomes more sure, which helps allay one fear common to many older people, the fear of falling.
Marlies said, "One lady broke her leg but it could have been so much worse, except that her balance and and strength have improved from doing tai chi."
Another lady with emphysema no longer needs oxygen during the day. Her lung capacity has increased through tai chi.
All of these women live alone, so the martial arts aspect of tai chi is important, teaching self-defense. "Their bodies are being programmed to be aware of their surroundings, themselves, their safety," Marlies said. "Tai chi instills self-confidence, strength power and increased spirituality."
Most members have known each other for years. The Bleaus make a point of providing a very social environment, a place where the members can see their friends.
"It's their one night out. We'll do it as long as they want us to," Rick said.
Tai chi is an effective way to slow down and become more self-aware in a hectic world.
"Today folks feel hurried and stressed but do not realize this is an effect of their own minds. The body, mind and spirit are joined with the breath. When we move consciously, with long, calm, even breathing, all our 'Being' is benefited. Chi is our universal life energy," Steinberg said.
"Everything is 'mind' made. To calm the mind, train the mind, is to change your view of this world and being in it. In five short years of direct experience with tai chi, your life will be added to in years, health and joy. Calm and peaceful folks are a joy to planet earth and anyone near them."
Tai Chi Exercises Both Mind and Body
Tai Chi for Seniors
Introduction to Tai Chi
Tai Chi: An Introduction