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Chinese art form works just as well in the west

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August 24th, 2010
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Toni Levasseur started practicing tai chi to improve her balance. I just plain feel better after doing tai chi, says Levasseur. There s not a lot of heavy lifting or any kind of strenuous exercise. Instead, it uses gentle movements. Overall, it just makes me feel better. It s wonderful! Originally developed in China as a form of self-defense, tai chi is a graceful form of exercise that has existed for some 2,000 years. Students use various natural, slow movements to gently stretch all the joints in the body. Levasseur began practicing tai chi a few years ago while staying in San Diego, Calif. We had a condo there and the community center offered a tai chi class, says Levasseur. I went once a week for five weeks and in just that short amount of time, I could feel a difference and my balance had improved. Now, she is one of a dozen or so men and women at Wind Crest who take free weekly tai chi classes taught by Joseph Brady, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, who along with his wife runs the Denver Tai Chi Project and TCM College of Sports Medicine. The Chinese have a saying: If you are capable of walking, you are capable of learning to walk better. If you are capable of breathing, you are capable of breathing better, says Brady. Tai chi uses moderate aerobic exercise that benefits both mind and body without the wear and tear associated with many other exercise methods. Brady has taught tai chi, qigong, and traditional Chinese medicine for over 25 years at the University of Denver, University of Colorado, Metropolitan State College of Denver, and through the Colorado Community College system. He began teaching at Wind Crest when a former student who lives there suggested he offer classes at the community. We did an introductory lecture as part of an initiative by the American College of Sports Medicine called Exercise Medicine, says Brady. It was a big hit, so we set up an ongoing class the following week.

Age-old solution, modern problems

Besides exercising the muscles and the joints, tai chi has been proven to reduce stress, increase flexibility, improve muscle strength, and increase energy, stamina, and agility. Evidence suggests that tai chi also offers numerous other benefits such as reducing anxiety and depression, improving sleep quality, and relieving chronic pain. A growing body of research is building a compelling case for tai chi as an adjunct to standard medical treatment for the prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions commonly associated with age, says Peter M. Wayne, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Tai Chi and Mind-Body Research Program at Harvard Medical School s Osher Research Center. Stroke patients who practice tai chi may improve their balance, reducing the risk of falls. Another study, in the journal Sleep, shows that nearly two-thirds of people who learned tai chi experienced significant improvements in sleep quality.

Added benefits

Wind Crestresident Justine Compo didn t have a specific health goal in mind when she started taking tai chi earlier this year, but she was looking for something new she could add to her already active exercise repertoire. I had heard about tai chi over the years, and it sounded like it might be something beneficial, says Compo, who attends the advanced hour-long weekly class. As it turns out, I loved it! I also love the fact that it s an exercise that I can continue to practice as I get older. That s really an incentive for me to keep up with it. In fact, Brady s classes atWind Crestspecialize in exercise rehabilitation for older adults. All of our teachers are professional instructors trained to use tai chi as therapy for all kinds of conditions, he says. Wind Crest resident Beth Lyddon has found that, in addition to improving her balance, tai chi helps her relax and focus on things she normally wouldn t, like the way she moves her body. It takes a little bit of practice to get your brain and body adjusted to moving at the same time and completely concentrating on what you re doing, she says. Lyddon, who attends Brady s Tuesday morning advanced class, also practices tai chi at home. [But] I think there is an advantage to taking tai chi in a class or group setting, especially if you re just starting out, says Lyddon. That way, you have each other s support and the teacher is there for you to ask questions and correct you if you re doing the moves incorrectly. Plus, there s the whole discipline factor. If you re part of a class, you have a regular time set aside that s uninterrupted and dedicated to tai chi, whereas if you re doing tai chi in your house there are too many distractions. Also, having it right here on campus is very convenient too. I doubt that I would have taken tai chi at all if I wasn t living here at Wind Crest. Compo, Lyddon, and Levasseur all plan to continue practicing tai chi as long as they reap the benefits. I love it! says Levasseur. I enjoy the social part of it as well everyone is supportive and the teachers are great. For me, it was easy to get the hang of. In fact, in addition to my balance, I had been having trouble with my knee and tai chi has helped that too. I found myself bouncing down the hall after that.

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