Tahlequah Daily Press

Features

May 9, 2014

Tai chi class offers increased mobility

TAHLEQUAH — Calm music played in a sunlit room, as a class of first-time tai chi students gently reached their arms open to the side, then back to the front.

“Let’s welcome the morning and circle our arms,” the instructor said, demonstrating, “up and now back down.”

At any age, a lack of physical movement for an adult can soon lead to a diminished mobility.

A new class at the Tahlequah Senior Citizens Center, Tai Chi for Arthritis, is designed to give participants better balance, improve muscle tone and flexibility, increase circulation, reduce stress and even enhance their mood.

Free to the public, the class is taught by Devon Murray, from the Oklahoma Healthy Aging Initiative (OHAI) out of Tulsa and co-sponsored by the Eastern Oklahoma Development District. The purpose of the class is to fit the interest and needs of older adults who want to maintain their quality of life and help alleviate the pain and stiffness from arthritis.

A brief history of tai chi was given to the dozen women and one man who came to the introductory class, which begins Friday at 12:30 p.m. and also will meet Wednesdays at 9 a.m. for six weeks.

“Originally developed in 16th-century China during their feudal system, tai chi was developed initially to train warriors in each village, as a form a calisthenics,” said Murray. “There are as many forms of tai chi as there were villages.”

According to Murray, the form that will be used in this program is called “sun style,” and is slow and fluid.

“One of my goals is for you to be more relaxed than when you came in,” she said. “Our movements will be fluid without locking our joints. We’ll learn 12 movements that will help with joint paint and suffering people have, and can be done seated or standing.”

Murray said she’s usually early for the 30-minute class, for anyone who might have questions, or missed a class and wants to catch up.

“This Friday, after lunch, I’ll be here early,” she said. “You’ll learn your first move then. We’ll start with these warm-up movements each time.”

The class continued to follow Murray’s movements.

“We’ll stretch from the top and work our way down,” she said. “If anything is uncomfortable, don’t so it. If you feel tired, sit down. These are all stretches you can do in your recliner or before you get out of bed.”

She reminded the students to avoid locking their joints.

“How does that feel?” she asked, looking around the room to be sure everyone was enjoying their experience and not encountering any issues.

“Tai chi will help with your balance, if it’s unsteady,” Murray said. “You can grab a chair if you want to use it to stabilize yourself.”

Most of the participants smiled as they followed Murray, who encouraged everyone to do what was comfortable and use a chair if they wanted to

 A few people  commented as the class continued that they were unable to do a certain movement, and Murray assured them they would be able to improve from their current mobility if the kept trying it. Each person can improve from his or her starting level of mobility.

After the session finished, several people told her how much they liked the exercise.

“It’s relaxing; I plan to keep coming,” said Jewel Berg. “The movements are easy and loosen you up. And it’s easier than pilates. I like the smooth movements; they were relaxing.”

David Harris said the instructions were easy to follow.

“I think it’s going to be very good. We need to loosen up our joints and strengthen our muscles. This will help us physically and maybe emotionally,” Harris said.

Lena Neet said she liked learning how to balance on one foot.

“She showed me how to do balance,” said Neet. “And this helps your body and stimulates your mind.”

The Senior Citizens Center is a good place to hold the class, Neet said, because there are a lot of people there who need the slower exercise, and it’s easy for Murray to reach a lot of people.

Betty Thompson enjoyed the class.

“I enjoyed the stretch. It make me realize I have muscles I need to use. It felt relaxing after it was over,” Thompson said. “This wasn’t so hard, and it’s good for everybody,” said Thompson.

Murray has been teaching tai chi for the past year and a half.

“I love teaching older adults and learning about their life experiences,” said Murray. “And it’s fun to get to do something new with them and see their program over the weeks.”

OHAI serves 19 counties, Murray said, so after the end of the six weeks, the goal is for an instructor who really enjoys tai chi to continue on a volunteer basis.

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