Tai chi moves softly
By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer
When you first see people doing tai chi, it may look a little weird, like a martial-arts movie in slow motion. The forms, as the motions are called, are smooth, slow and graceful. But while you're performing those moves, breathing deeply and focusing on the body's core, a subtle strength is building.
For those with a curiosity about tai chi, Saturday is World Tai Chi and Qi Gong Day, an opportunity to learn more. There will be celebrations of the 2,000-year-old mind-body exercises on O'ahu and the Neighbor Islands.
Tai chi is often referred to as "meditation in motion." It originated in China as a martial art and has been proven beneficial for people of all ages, especially the elderly.
Tai chi can be adapted for any level of fitness, from triathletes to those who require walkers or wheelchairs.
It differs from other exercise in that it's all about soft movements — never forced, according to the Harvard Medical School newsletter: "The muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, the joints are not fully extended or bent and connective tissues are not stretched."
Although tai chi is easy on the body, it does involve the essential components of fitness: muscle strength, flexibility, balance and, to a lesser degree, aerobic conditioning.
Tai chi has also been shown to help improve balance and sometimes even reduce falls.
Stuart Holloway, 60, of Mililani Mauka, teaches tai chi all over O'ahu. While he said that 80 percent of his students are over 50, he also has classes at Schofield Barracks designed to keep the troops fit and flexible as well as help ease stress and the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Holloway believes tai chi is an ideal form of exercise for seniors because it can be adapted to a person's ability level. "You can do forms sitting in a chair or holding a walker or even in a wheelchair," Holloway said. "I have one student who brings a small folding chair, and when her legs get tired, she sets it up."
Holloway works on posture in his tai chi classes, to improve and maintain his walking skills. "Bad posture sets body mechanics off," he said. "We always do standing and walking practice before doing tai chi forms."
Sallie Lee, 60, of Salt Lake has been teaching tai chi on O'ahu for 10 years. She describes tai chi as "a form of martial arts that consists mostly of slow and harmonious movements."
"It's important to apply breathing techniques while performing them," Lee cautions. "You use the mind and body at the same time. As you get more advanced, the mental part becomes more important. It is supposed to help with memory loss."
Lee sees tai chi as an internal form of exercise. "It massages the internal organs," she said. "It appears weak, but there's a real strength to it."
Lee has found tai chi has greatly improved her balance, as well as her strength.
"I recently went mountain climbing in China, and I was the first one up the mountain," Lee said. "I've seen improvement in my overall fitness, but it is especially helpful with balance. I recommend people start tai chi while they're still young, because they're more flexible and can do it better."
Tai chi can be started at any age, however.
This weekend's free Tai Chi and Qi Gong Festival (see box, Page D1) is an ideal opportunity to see, and exercise with, a dozen or so teachers, each showing their own style of tai chi to all ages and levels of ability.