Our language has a lot of metaphors for being calm: “A port in a storm,” and, “The still point of the turning world,” are just two examples. They all engagingly invoke a common image: There is tumult, and somewhere in that tumult, there is peace. You just have to find it. The reason these metaphors are so prevalent is because life often feels like a raging swirl, a chaotic mess of stress, emotional entanglements, and uncertainty.
In many ways, this is most true for older adults. Life is changing, often rapidly, and more questions about abilities and the future are being raised. Many older adults are losing friends to age or sickness, or just the gradual drifting apart that can happen as we grow older. The search for a center can be particularly acute. That’s why, more and more, older adults in the Bay Area are turning to tai chi to help them find that center.
Tai chi, an ancient Chinese, non-competitive martial art (more art than martial) is designed to ease stress and anxiety and help a person’s mind and body (and spirit) become more aligned, relaxed, and centered. It helps you become that port in the storm and that still point. It allows your own body to become the calm you seek. The physical and mental benefits of tai chi for older adults are numerous and that’s why so many in the Bay Area are turning to this oldest of wisdoms.
Understanding Tai Chi
Like yoga, tai chi became a trendy buzzword a decade or so ago, and it was made fun of by people who thought it was just the latest trend. But just because something is trendy doesn’t mean it is bad, and it certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t old.
Tai chi was developed in China thousands of years ago as a method of self-defense. Anywhere you read about it (like in articles published by the Mayo Clinic), you’ll find that it “evolved into a graceful form of exercise that’s now used for stress reduction and a variety of other health conditions.” But let’s be honest: It didn’t really evolve. It still is a form of self-defense. You’re protecting yourself not against attackers but the stresses of living and aging in the modern world and grappling with your changing body.
It does this by being, as it is often poetically described as, “meditation in motion.” It is a series of slow and focused movements, done without pause, accompanied by breathing exercises. It is determined stretching, but the point isn’t for more activity. The act of stretching and expanding your consciousness is the point.
Tai chi combines ease of entry and simplicity of practice with beautiful results for both body and spirit. In that way, it is perfect for older adults.
The Benefits of Tai Chi for Older Adults
Why are so many Bay Area adults signing up for tai chi classes? Because of these benefits:
- A low-stress way to reduce stress: Unlike some other wonderful activities, such as dancing, tai chi puts minimal stress on joints. This makes it ideal for people who are in pain from arthritis and other ailments.
- It strengthens joints: Those painful joints can get a full but relaxing workout, which will gradually reduce pain and increase movement.
- Improve lower body strength: This is still a martial art, of course. People report that their legs aren’t just less painful but actually stronger.
- Improve balance: All that movement helps you get more in tune with your body, which improves balances along with strength, helping to prevent falls that could injure or incapacitate an older adult.
- Improve balance spiritually and emotionally, too: Tai chi is meditation.
- Enhance memory and cognition: The coordinated movements, the concentrated breathing, the sense of awareness that comes with challenging your mind and body are great workouts for the mind. This can help prevent mental impairments and fight against dementia.
- Improve conditions: Tai chi has been shown in cases to reduce the impact of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis
- Recover faster: It has also been shown to help people recover, physically and mentally, from heart attacks and strokes.
- Decreased isolation: You absolutely can practice tai chi alone at home. But many Bay Area older adults like to take classes, where they can socialize with old friends or meet new ones. You help each other out and find strength in solidarity. Taking these classes also can reduce dangerous isolation.
Tai Chi for Bay Area Older Adults
Now that you know why you should be doing it, here are some great resources for tai chi classes for Bay Area older adults.
- Tai Chi for Arthritis and Fall Prevention (sponsored by the San Francisco Department of Adult and Aging Services)
– Jackie Chan Senior Center
– 5757 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA
– Tai chi trainer: Gail Wong
– Class dates: Wednesday and Friday, May 17 – June 23, 2017
– Class time: 1:00PM – 2:00PM
- Alameda Athletic Club
– 226 Park St, Alameda, CA 94501
- Burlingame Recreation Center
– 850 Burlingame Ave, Burlingame, CA 94010
The Beautiful Contradictions of Tai Chi
Tai chi can be kind of strange. It promotes inner peace but also outer camaraderie. It is a mental exercise that uses the body and a physical workout that invites contemplation instead of exhortations. It builds strength, but also peace. None of this is a contradiction, though. It is just a rejection of the fake mind-body dualism. It is all connected.
That’s part of growing older in peace and harmony, in dignity, and independence. You can’t reject your body, which is changing now, just as it has been your whole life. You can accept the changes and work within them. Tai chi helps to find that connection because it reduces everything else to distraction.
All the noise and the chaos of the outside world and the inner confusion it brings gets reduced to a muffled shell. It is just you and your breathing. You and your body. You and your mind. It is just you, the still point of the turning world.
At Institute on Aging, we promote programs and services that help older adults live in dignity and independence, whether that’s trying a new technology or ancient martial arts. Connect with us today to learn how we help you or an aging loved one explore a new experience.