If you live in an area where the winter months bring frigid temperatures, snow and ice, nearly every aspect of your life is impacted by the weather, including your fitness routine. Walk or run outdoors on slick sidewalks and you risk a nasty fall. This year, explore indoor exercise by trying something new, like tai chi (pronounced tie-chee).
Visualize the flow
Robin King, owner of Stoneboro School of Kung Fu and Tai Chi in Stoneboro, Pa., brings tai chi to senior centers in the area, instructing attendees in the way of this peaceful practice.
“Tai chi invokes the brain and the imagination as well as the body,” King says.
A Chinese tradition, tai chi is rooted in the martial arts and emphasizes the mind-body connection. It focuses on channeling the qi (chi), or life energy, that flows through the body, by combining movement with breathing and mediation, according to the Tai Chi Society.
The combination of gentle movement and mental imagery seem to be part of the appeal for seniors, King says. It gives people an overall sense of well-being that flows into all aspects of their lives.
“People who practice tai chi have a more positive outlook on life in general,” she says.
King emphasizes to her students that there is no hurrying in tai chi. “It’s all about enjoying the move,” she says.
Compared to high-impact exercises that focus on intensity, tai chi is more about “smoothing out” a person’s energy. In spite of its low impact, studies show those who practice tai chi have more stamina and strength than those who engage in aerobic exercise.
“The practice evolves,” King says. “Once you learn a position, it’s like an onion, and the deeper you go, the more you continue to peel back the layers of understanding.”
While the benefits of tai chi are vast and include improving balance, sleep, energy, depression and pain management, one of the biggest benefits is that, according to King, it “helps to slow the aging process.” This is something she has seen in her students.
King says one 90-year-old woman who used a cane found herself walking halfway across the room during an exercise before realizing she’d forgotten her cane. Another 80-year-old woman told King she felt like a ballerina during a pose.
“The exercise took 20 years off her,” King says.