Tai Chi

Many receive tremendous benefits from the practice of this ancient martial art

by Kathleen Moore, Ph.D. 
Tai Chi, also known as T’ai Chi Ch’uan, is an ancient Chinese martial art practiced by people worldwide as a form of meditation and strengthening technique. A series of slow, synchronized movements with colorful names like Grasp the Sparrow’s Tail, White Crane Spreads Its Wings, and Needle at the Bottom of the Sea, Tai Chi resembles a graceful slow-motion dance.

Judy Bonafede, who is a Tai Chi instructor at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Buffalo (JCC), says, “By moving through Tai Chi postures, you can work your muscles, focus your concentration and improve the flow of chi—the Chinese term for vital life energy that sustains health and calms the mind. Best of all, says Judy, “Tai Chi can be performed by almost anyone, despite their physical limitations. The movements are easy on joints and muscles, and do not require a special setting or equipment.” Many people perform Tai Chi in parks or in their backyards.

Tai Chi is becoming more widely used as a therapeutic exercise for individuals recovering from illness or injury. It has been described as a form of meditation in motion, where the continuity of movement, combined with one’s undivided attention, helps heal and revitalize the body and mind. Research has shown Tai Chi can reduce heart rate and blood pressure, enhance circulation, increase flexibility and balance, improve immune functioning, and reduce stress. An Australian study found Tai Chi had the same effects on heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones as brisk walking. Studies of older participants found that practicing Tai Chi weekly decreased their risk of falling and greatly improved their balance and strength. It also boosts mental alertness — important for people of any age.

There are five distinct styles of Tai Chi and variations within each style. The two most commonly practiced are the Yang and Chen styles. Chen is more brisk and active, while Yang is gentler. While you won’t need special clothes or equipment to practice Tai Chi, you will need some instruction. This is because Tai Chi is not as easy as it looks and it takes time and practice to improve your skills. Once you do, a session will leave you feeling like you’ve had a genuine workout.

Judy emphasizes the importance of not pushing yourself. She believes the meditative effects of Tai Chi are as important as the exercise, and encourages daily practice, even if it’s only for five minutes. Dr. Keith Jeffery, author of Tai Chi for Busy People, says, “There is no rush. Do a little every day, and know that whatever you accomplish in that time is perfect.” He adds, “Congratulate yourself for making the effort, for doing such a wonderful thing for your mind and body. Smile and enjoy the process. Be gentle with yourself.”

WNY RESOURCE
Judy Bonafede teaches Tai Chi in Getzville Tuesdays from 11:15am-12:15pm. The class is limited to 30 participants and is free to JCC members. Judy will also be conducting small group Tai Chi classes consisting of 3-7 participants. To learn more call Ann Vorburger at 204-2070. The JCC continues to expand their alternative classes to include Hatha and Vinyasa Yoga, Mat and Stott Pilates, Tai Chi Chuan, Belly Dance, Family Bosu, African Aerobic Dance and more. Massage, Reiki, and personal training are also available. See www.jccbuffalo.org.