Tai Chi, for body and mind
Classes avert muscle stiffness and other aging effects
Doug Ramsay photo
Snohomish Senior Center members Bernie Akaki, of Lake Stevens (center) and Carl Knappe, of Snohomish (left) participate in the weekly Tai Chi class at the senior center on Tuesday, Sept. 10.
SNOHOMISH — It starts with the feet, but circles around the flow.
Tai Chi classes on Tuesday mornings at the Snohomish Senior Center have begun again.
Practitioners move gently in unison, with beginners catching up to the group flow as they find their stride. The facial expressions in the beginner class are inquisitive and alert, and in the advanced class it is like moving sleep with eyes open.
Students described the mental experience as serene, because as they flow from one movement to the next they cannot think of anything else.
“This is your house,” said instructor Nancy Lucero, drawing a line with her arms down the side of an invisible set of walls around a potential student who had her feet planted a shoulder’s width apart.
The beginner’s class focuses on a breakdown of the bow stance, where placing the feet sets your foundation. The bow stance is one of many end-stances, or poses. In advanced classes, students proceed continuously through 100 moves, in which some end-stances are repeated.
Tai Chi is also a martial arts practice based on the notion of moving with the energy rather than fighting against it, Lucero said.
“Place your arms here,” she directed one student, explaining the notion of working with energy flow. She moved in slow motion with the student, as if performing a take-down in karate, which Tai Chi does not do. Gentle on joints it is: easy it is not.
“We go with the flow, not against it,” she said.
In describing the importance of foundation, she instructs foot placement, with the visual and bodyframe measurement of “shoulder’s width apart,” a distance that is difficult for some students in the age range she usually sees. Women over the age of 65 were raised in an era where a wide-legged stance was “not ladylike,” Lucero said. And that’s her crowd.
“Tai Chi is for everyone,” she said, but people don’t tend to seek out joint-gentle, mind-fierce bodywork practices until they cannot endure other exercise modalities.
During the beginner’s class students could stop and ask questions, and Lucero repeated detail for the same end-pose: foot placement, shifting movements, and the flowing path. It is one of many end-stances taught in her advanced class, and looks like a cousin of yoga’s Warrior stance, at the feet only. But static yoga and Tai Chi differ in a distinctive way — the flow.
“Tai Chi is different from static yoga poses” that are held in place for a duration of time before a new pose is set up and held for anywhere from seconds to minutes.
Flowing movement operates like life does — without stopping or resetting. It continues, like a dance or like water movement.
Using a Socratic method of teaching, Lucero engages by asking questions, and waiting for a volunteer to respond. Her questions are aimed at the group as a whole. They have bonded enough that most are comfortable responding, but no one is called out before engaging back.
The beginner’s class learned the nuances of a sequential flow of movements that make physical therapists
sigh with happiness: range of motion and gentle muscle engagement movements are healing.
Advanced Tai Chi starts at 9:30 a.m. in a class transition that is friendly and casual. Students meander in, “hellos” all around. When beginning students prepare to repeat the lesson a third time, she asks, “Can you do this at home?” She let them try it unguided, as a group. In the advanced class, beginners were placed at the middle of
the room, giving them a peripheral view of experienced students.
Shifting weight from one foot to the next fires muscles without full weight-bearing and requires firming of the core-muscle family for stabilization. Side-to-side movements strengthen the gluteus medius in the hips, which stabilizes the pelvis in walking activity. Strong muscles work, rather than remaining complacent while a lesser muscle compensates: a tendency that can lead to injuries. All in all, balance improves with the flow, and with improved balance the risk of falling is reduced.
Lucero describes the movements of Traditional Yang Family Tai Chi as “extended and round, simple and gentle with a slow, even pace” incorporating tranquility. The prescripted style requires repetition but once mastered it becomes “flowing and graceful.”
Senior Center fitness classes:
The Snohomish Senior Center has a calendar of fitness classes available to members. Membership dues are $35 per person.
Unlimited access to fitness classes are an additional $10 a month for members. Nonmembers pay $5 per class.
“Senior Fitness is tailored for seniors and we also offer Zumba Gold which is also tailored specifically for our demographic,” senior center director Sharon Burlison said.
The Tai Chi course has a separate additional cost.
For more information, call 360-568-0934 or visit 506 Fourth St. in Snohomish.
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