It makes me tingle,” answered 90-year-old Marit Wilson, when I asked her what she likes about doing t’ai chi. “It makes my arms and legs tingle.”
Ta’i chi is a centuries-old mind and body practice. It involves making slow methodical movements called postures. Movements that are both graceful and purposeful. The postures move seamlessly from one to another. It’s a gentle form of exercise.
Marit thinks we’d all benefit from practicing ta’i chi. “It makes you feel good,” she says, “and you need exercise. At least, I do.”
Michael Elliott, who is 69 and has practiced t’ai chi for about 45 years, teaches the weekly class Marit attends. His classes, which he calls Vitality T’ai Chi, are for people of all ages and at all levels. “I am teaching people how to stay stable, upright and comfortable,” he told me.
What the research says
If you look at the research, you’ll discover that practicing t’ai chi can do more than make your limbs tingle. From improving balance to helping to relieve pain.
- Improved balance
- Improved stability
- Relief from arthritis pain
- Relief from fibromyalgia pain
- Relief from back pain
- Improved mood
- Possible psychological effects, such as reducing anxiety
Sandra McElwaine, who will be 79 in March, takes the class with Marit. ” It’s a wonderful thing,” she says. “It’s enormously good for your muscles and it’s enormously good for your spirit. I think it is a happy thing.”
Michael teaches his older students an eight-posture program that can be done seated or standing. The postures use slow, focused movements and involve learning and memorizing new skills and new patterns of movement. More benefits — working the brain, acquiring new skills, learning to focus.
“Because of the way the movements are,” says Sandra, “you calm down and you become more focused in a way that makes you see things more clearly. It sort of focuses you on what’s important in life.”
“I think t’ai chi is going to be needed more and more in this culture,” says Michael, “if only to slow people down a little bit, get them a little calmer, get them in a more meditative groove if you want to call it that. But it isn’t just that, it’s a lot of other things too.”
Is it safe for older people? In general, t’ai chi is considered safe and effective no matter what your age. But as with any form of exercise, as you get older it’s important to get the ok from your health care provider first.
You’ll have to guess how old Nancy Fearing is. She would only tell me that she’s over 50! One of the reasons she loves practicing t’ai chi is because it’s not too strenuous. “I don’t like leaping around and getting sore muscles,” she explained, “so I tried this and I really like it. It makes you feel good and it helps you with your balance. I noticed that it makes me much more aware of how I’m walking and doing things. I tend to do things too fast and as you get older, you shouldn’t do things too fast. That’s how people fall.”
“Clear, calm and kind,” Michael says to the group as he starts the class. “Upright, stable and comfortable.” He leads Marit, Sandra and Nancy into the posture they are practicing that day.
“I had never done t’ai chi before,” confessed Sandra, “but he’s been working with me and has been very patient — I am a klutz!”
“I keep my eye on Mike the whole time,” chimed in Marit. “Whatever his hands do, I try to do.”
Marit also told me that her mother lived to 104. She hopes to follow in her footsteps. “I can’t get over being 90,” she said. “I hope I have a lot longer to go.”
After class, I was invited to join the group for a cup of tea. It’s a ritual. As we sipped, it became clear to me that indeed, everyone was calm and definitely in a “meditative groove.”
Michael teaches his classes in greater Portland (Maine). You’ll find more information about the benefits of t’ai chi and a schedule of his classes on the Vitality T’ai Chi Facebook page. If you do an online search, you can probably find other classes (for people of all ages) in your area.
Thank you for reading this post about t’ai chi. It was originally published on the Advantage Home Care blog, which I also write. As we age, we all want to remain as healthy and independent as we possibly can. Whether you’re still a kid or you’re a kid at heart, being active, like the people in Michael’s t’ai chi class is a key ingredient. What activities do you do to stay fit and well? Let us know in the comment box below. Inspire us!