The following article was first published in “The Acorn” newsletter (March 2021), by the Sherwood Oaks retirement community where Sifu Slaughter has taught tai chi classes for residents for the past 20 years.
Tai Chi is a slow-motion, low-impact set of movements that benefits the mind and the body. Some of the ways it does so include improved balance and flexi-bility, better focus and concentration, stress reduction, and overall well-being. The movements are done in a slow, relaxed, and coordinated manner that helps increase circulation to the brain and the internal organs. Tai Chi also helps regulate the nervous system, which sends signals to the brain. Each movement has a specific name and purpose and is done in combination with breathing and footwork.
Tai Chi involves moving the waist, hips, knees, and ankles, all of which are important for overall mobility. Indeed, as people get older, being able to maintain mobility is an important factor in deter-mining their independence.
The upper body movements, for instance, help participants maintain a range of motion and flexibility in the shoulders and neck. These areas are important to uphold the ability to reach items in high places above the head, such as cabinets and shelves, without incident.
The repetitive performance of the movements helps the brain’s cognitive function and the sympathetic nervous system (part of the autonomic nervous system), which is important in stressful and volatile situations. An example would be when people trip before they actually fall, when the sympathetic ner-vous system sends the body’s major organs and muscles a quick message and burst of energy to initiate a rapid response. As the individual trips, one hand or both hands reach out. One leg or both legs respond by coming up higher or landing lightly. These responses are initiated through the sympathetic nervous system.
Another benefit of Tai Chi is social inter-action, which is also important for mental health. The group classes bring people together.
The movements require concentrating on the present moment. During this time, the participants’ minds are free from worry and over-thinking, which helps with reducing stress and lowering blood pressure.
For people with mobility issues, Tai Chi can be carried out while sitting in or standing near a chair. Overall, Tai Chi can increase one’s mental and physical heath for many years.
There are several different styles of Tai Chi ― Yang, Wu, Sun, and Chen, just to name a few. The style taught at Sher-wood Oaks is the Yang short form, which consists of 24 postures. The Yang long form involves 108 postures. Resi-dents should be sure to let me know when they’re ready for that one!
Don’t let the exotic name fool you. A fast-growing body of scientific evidence suggests that Tai Chi offers real health benefits as an adjunct therapy to standard medical treatments for many age-related health conditions.
…and mentions that medical evidence also suggests that Tai Chi may help:
In short, Tai Chi might actually be the real “ancient Chinese secret” to health and longevity.
But what is it? Tai Chi is a low-impact, slow-motion, exercise. It consists of a series of gentle continuous movements that flow into one another at an even pace and require the mind to focus. Deep, even breathing is combined with the movements. The continuous flow of relaxed movements exercises joints and muscles gently, and the required focus improves an awareness of one’s own body and what it is doing (“proprioception” – the ability to sense the position of one’s body in space[iv]). While Tai Chi originated in China hundreds of years ago as a martial art, today it is mainly practiced for exercise and health benefits.
What is a class like? Most classes involve 2 or 3 parts:
Do I need to buy into the philosophy? Nope, not a requirement. Once started, many people simply get curious about the history and origin of Tai Chi, but you do not need to buy into any particular philosophy to enjoy the benefits of Tai Chi.
I’m out of shape – can I really do this? Tai chi is low impact and puts minimal stress on muscles and joints, making it generally safe for all ages and fitness levels.
OK, I’m sold – what do I do?
[i] “The health benefits of tai chi”, Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, published May, 2009 and updated August 20, 2019. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-health-benefits-of-tai-chi
[ii] For more information on the University of Pittsburgh’s BRiTE Wellness Center and its programs, see https://www.brite.pitt.edu/ BRiTE Tai Chi classes are taught by Sifu David Slaughter – see www.sifuslaughterscma.com
[iii] “Tai chi: A gentle way to fight stress”, Mayo Clinic Staff, Mayo Clinic, September 26, 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/tai-chi/art-20045184
[iv] See Harvard Medical School article under endnote 1 above.
Mary Lou Ferraro, age 74, has been studying under Sifu Slaughter and practicing Kung Fu and Tia Chi for the past 23 years. A former surgical ICU nurse at the veterans hospital, Ms. Ferraro displays amazing energy, flexibility and power in Kung Fu classes each week, not only keeping up with, but often outshining, her much younger classmates. Ms. Ferraro holds a level three black belt in kung fu after successfully testing for level 3 in early 2019. Ms. Ferraro also practices Tai Chi for increased balance and flexibility, and has taught both Kung Fu and Tai Chi.