Tai Chi at Any Age 

Note: This article belongs both in Profiles and Health Flashes, but I wanted to highlight Emily Parkin, so I chose Profiles.

Emily Parkin, age 94, started tai chi when she was 85. She also played tennis until she broke her femur at age 88 and only discontinued playing golf two years ago at age 92 because of bad knees. But I see her at tai chi each week and think she is amazing! Who says you can’t teach an old broad new tricks? Not Emily!

Emily doing tai chi @ 94! She also helps assists teaching newcomers to tai chi.

When I asked her why she continues to come to tai chi, she said, “Not sure what would happen to my body if I stopped.” She finds it meditative, relaxing, and helpful for her balance as well as her brain.

Her comments are a perfect segue to the benefits of tai chi, often called “meditation in motion,” which originated in China as a martial art.

According to Harvard Women’s Health Watch (www.health.harvard.edu), tai chi might also be called “medication in motion,” since it has value to both treat and prevent many health problems. In an article from a blog called Ask Well, this mind/body /spirit exercise program could be an effective method to help reduce the risk of heart disease.

While there are not a great many trials about tai chi and heart disease, this article emphasizes that several of the studies show that tai chi “can reduce certain risk factors, especially those related to cholesterol and triglycerides, increased levels of HDL (good cholesterol) and slower heart rates.

Because tai chi is quite different from most other kinds of exercise, that is, its “low impact, slow-motion exercise,” as the Harvard article notes, many people may think there are no real benefits. However, Harvard makes a good case for the fact that the movements (circular and relaxed rather than tensed, not fully extending or bending the joints, and no stretching of the connective tissue) make tai chi ideal for prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions that we associate with aging well.

What I find really encouraging is that the women and men who come to the Narberth (Senior) Center are almost all senior citizens with a positive outlook on fitness and a willingness to learn the Qi Gong exercises and the tai chi form that our senior citizen teacher, Barbara Lorenz, presents to us each week, sequentially in manageable increments.

Our tai chi teacher, Barbara Lorenz

Barbara has been involved with tai chi since the mid-1990s and was certified in 2005. Before that, she assisted her instructor and “developed a passion for tai chi and the multiple benefits it offered and wanted to pass this knowledge on through teaching…..She notes that her “greatest thrill of all is to see students making a commitment to tai chi and returning to class for more tai chi and especially when they tell me it is helping them…..The mind tells the body what to do and not vice versa, then the spirit follows and you reach a point, after leaning the form, where you just “let go” and enjoy the beauty of meditation in motion—-tai chi!”

As a health-minded person and student of tai chi, I enjoy seeing so many of us, coming back week after week, year after year, staying with tai chi until the form becomes a natural extension of their mind/body/spirit concentration. Some of us sit to do some of the exercises because our backs or legs are not quite so strong as we’d like. The flexibility of being able to do some seated exercises makes it attractive to many of the participants.

And when I see my 94-year-old role model, Emily, taking tai chi, I think, “If she can do this, so can I!” because, as our teacher Barbara notes, tai chi requires a “commitment and… a great deal of concentration, slowing the body down and entering what is called the ‘flow.'” So it may not be for everyone, but certainly age need not be a deterrent.

The tai chi group has become a community within the center, talking before and after class, having a holiday party, doing tai chi in the park in the summer, and generally having a great time while we move. Here are some comments from several of the students in our class when I asked at the holiday party in December, “Why do you come to tai chi?”

To quiet the mind, improve the balance, and enrich the spirit — Susan

A form of exercise, and to improve my balance. Didn’t know it would be social–that’s great! — Grace

I’m amazed that I can still learn something new–coordinating mind and body. Also, the camaraderie is wonderful. — Maxine

I have been advised by my doctors that it is the best thing for my chronic vertigo. Also, I enjoy the people and, especially, Barbara’s leadership. — Bill (One of the few brave men who comes weekly.)

The parties! — Anne

Tai Chi improved my balance — Elaine

I love the meditative effect–it feels so spiritual and graceful and I love Barbara and what she brings to this group. — Anonymous

As you can see, my tai chi buddy Roz is meditating while doing tai chi….perfect example of meditation in motion! Get moving……..

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