For Balance, Bones, And Belonging– Tai Chi and Seniors Are Perfect Together!


Many years ago, while experiencing the unique and beautiful city of San Francisco, I happened upon a sight that, to this day, brings a smile to my face.

It was about eight in the morning, on a foggy, cool Saturday. As I ambled along, turning a corner, I headed down a quaint, short street that angled into another. In the distance appeared, through the hovering mist, a large group of people in a small neighborhood park, all moving in perfectly synchronized slow motion. As I neared, the grayed hair and wrinkled faces came into focus. I was captivated by the beauty of the flowing motion of these unusually agile seniors as they practiced their Tai Chi.

This I have never forgotten.

These are some of the benefits they experienced on that still and tranquil Saturday morning.

Hip Strengthening and Development     It may be difficult for you to see how this is so, if you were to view a video on You Tube. What happens during the movements is a subtle shift in weight from one leg to the other. It’s a constant shifting of body weight and its benefits are many. Each time the foot is moved forward, backward, or to the side, positive stresses are placed on critical joints. Because these movements are performed so slowly, and within your capabilities, it is ideal for strengthening the vital hip-joint and the bones involved. Remember, hip strength and flexibility are critical because they form the core of your body movement. It is also the most vulnerable area when you slip and fall.
Balance Improvement     With each movement involving any type of pivot, or extension of arms or legs, your brain has to do a lot of work processing the incoming signals to keep you balanced. It, then, instantly directs all the other muscles used in stabilizing your body to keep you from falling. Tai Chi is excellent for improving balance.
Coordination Development     Don’t let the slow pace fool you. To achieve the beautiful, flowing movements exhibited by the instructor takes much practice. You will absolutely improve your coordination.
Breathing Coordination     Breathing properly involves focus and control. This is also an important component of relaxation techniques. The systematic and regular breathing will help you to relax. Efficient and effective breathing results in better oxygenation of the body, which, in itself, has numerous positive side effects.
Greater Body Awareness     This is your ability to sense and understand the feedback that your body is giving you. This body awareness becomes an important guide for you as you begin to push beyond your normal limits. With Tai Chi, those limits are approached gently and with confidence. That’s important because an injury at this stage presents more difficulties than in earlier years.
Increased Strength     Primarily in the body center and legs, as discussed above; but critically important. Because of the slow pace of movement, you’ll definitely get a shoulder workout. The important emphasis on posture is not to be minimized, either. All these muscles involved will be summoned to perform, if the forms are to manifest their inherent beauty.
Increased Range of Motion      One of my favorite things about Tai Chi is the gentle movement of the joints. It offers the practitioner a safe and effective way to increase mobility and range. Why do I continually focus on this? If you have trouble reaching over your head, how can you safely function in the kitchen? If your knees are stiff, every staircase is an obstacle course. You need your range of motion for your personal safety and independence.
Memory Improvement
The movements are done in a specific progression. Every move and every important point of the move must be learned and memorized. They are actually movements of self defense, but have the appearance of a slow motion ballet performance. Your learning of their sequence and subtle nuances of movement is a great brain exercise!

Why You Need An Instructor

There are many excellent videos about Tai Chi on You Tube showing all the movements with explanations. You could certainly try the ‘do it yourself’ method. Here’s the problem that won’t be obvious to you if you’ve never been coached in an athletic endeavor before: you will not know when your form is incorrect. As well as you may be able to imitate the motions on the screen in front of you, it is not possible for you to see the flaws in your movement and stance unless they are grossly wrong. Part of the benefit is gleaned from the emphasis on posture and alignment. You may not know that you’re slightly leaning or tilted because that’s what you always do. Yet, that’s what needs to be corrected. Learning anything the wrong way and continually practicing wrong technique is counter-productive. During the years that I studied Shotokan, even at the advanced level, the Sensei (teacher) would constantly correct my stance that was slightly off, or my timing that was wrong. The stances, the movements, and the philosophical understanding, are the essence of Tai Chi, and only a qualified instructor who is watching you can be sure that you are moving correctly and understanding the deeper concepts.

And last but not least...

From the data gleaned studying the societies with the longest lifespans, high on the list of important components is ‘belonging’… being a valued part of other people’s lives and receiving the same. Get involved and open yourself to others.

You will learn something from everyone, and you, indeed, have something special to share, as well.

That, in my opinion, is the defining difference between health and wellness.

To Your Health And Fitness Wellness  (As A Lifestyle),

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The Senior Health and Fitness Blog by Steven Siemons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Categories: Balance Training, Fitness, Osteoporosis, Tai Chi, Wellness


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