Tai chi takes the pain out of arthritis
Arthritis pain can be debilitating, but finding effective ways to manage it can help. One form of exercise that may prove beneficial, particularly for seniors, is Sun style tai chi.
This form of tai chi was adapted by tai chi expert Dr. Paul Lam into the Tai Chi for Arthritis program. The program is supported by the Arthritis Foundation and is designed to address arthritis pain and improve many aspects of health.
Darlene Galgan teaches Tai Chi for Arthritis at the Good Samaritan Health and Wellness Center in Downers Grove, Ill. “It’s for people who want something gentle but effective for improving mobility, strength or relaxation,” says Galgan. “It’s ideal for anyone who’d like to keep moving and for those with joint problems who can do exercise,” she adds.
The practice of Tai Chi for Arthritis involves specific warm-up and cool-down exercises along with six basic core movements and six advanced extension movements.
Galgan says she gives members of the class written information on the movements so they can work on developing the movements both at home on their own and in class. The style can be learned in eight to 12 one-hour lessons along with consistent practice done between lessons.
“The practice is slow, fluid, circular movements, and we combine it with mental imaging and relaxation through breathwork. It’s diaphragmatic, deep breathing, which causes the body to relax and prepares it for gentle exercise,” Galgan explains.
Perfect for seniors
Since the movements are slow, focused and controlled, Tai Chi for Arthritis is ideal for seniors. “Tai Chi for Arthritis uses Sun style, which is suitable for people with arthritis and especially beginners. Sun style incorporates a higher stance and comfortable steps to assist in gaining confidence and inner strength. Thus, it is a very safe and effective way to exercise while increasing leg strength, coordination and balance,” Galgan explains.
“Actual tai chi movement is done in a slow, gentle and fluid manner. Body alignment is very important for good posture, and transitioning from one foot to the other is done with focus and body awareness for balance,” she says. Galgan adds that many tai chi practitioners have reported an easier time performing daily activities.
There are also psychological benefits to exercising tai chi style. “With its emphasis on inner awareness and slow, deep breathing, tai chi is a natural de-tenser and a mood enhancer,” Galgan says.
Her class at the Wellness Center includes a chair warm-up for stretches and balance assistance. “Then we practice a standing warm-up of exercises incorporating gentle movement with respect to one’s comfort and range of motion for the neck, shoulders, spine, hip, knees and ankle,” she says.
Instruction and practice of the “form” follows and finishes with a cool-down exercise.
There’s also the social aspect of class. “We never let a class go by without greeting each other with “Ni Hao!,” which means hello, and walking hand exercises. Again, it is a way to relax and enjoy this moving meditation while having fun,” Galgan says.
Galgan’s class meets once weekly, however, it’s recommended to practice this form of exercise at least twice each week. The class has been meeting since 2008, when the program began at the Wellness Center.
In addition to the health benefits of Tai Chi for Arthritis, there’s an emotional aspect to it that’s helpful as well. “One of the best things I find is the satisfaction of moving in harmony with the class and enjoying the continuous flow of energy. Doing something good for your body and your mind makes this class a definite health enhancer,” Galgan says.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.