$n$ 55 PLUS - Tai Chi helps people maintain flexibility, balance

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As the years go by, maintaining flexibility and balance may take more practice and focus. Recently the ancient art of tai chi has been getting attention, for fun and to improve physical fitness including balance.

Tai chi has many forms from a basic beginner's class, a balance class to a Fan Form. Local tai chi students Mollie Monahan and Ruth Hanson have attended the beginning tai chi class for balance at the Many Waters Wellness Center for several years. According to owner/instructor Sandi Wicher, "When she started, Ruth used to have to hang onto a chair. I'm so proud of both of them." They both see their progress and they're having fun while learning.

The two were acquainted before the class, but they've developed a closer friendship now. "So we just reestablished our friendship. Mollie has taken the class longer than I have," Ruth Hanson said.

"I had taken a yoga class before in Milton-Freewater. The time was right," Mollie Monahan said. "I need some kind of disciplined exercise." That's one thing about exercise, you have to stay on schedule and keep at it, and a group class often helps the students stay motivated.

According to Hanson, one of the things she likes about tai chi is that all ages can benefit from the experience. "I knew about tai chi before and I always wanted to do it. I told Sandi, ‘I'm pretty old,' she said that was alright," Hanson laughed.

The first move each of them learned was "waving hands like clouds," a graceful motion with the hands that can be done from a seated position, great for a beginner. Focus in the present moment, calmly be aware of present time. Easy does it for the beginner, slow and steady works fine as you get more comfortable with the motions and series of movements.

Hanson said Wicher always likens the movement to a slow stream at a river searching its way down a path, slow and constant. That means there's no sharp or abrupt motions, you only do what you're comfortable with, so you don't pull muscles and get hurt, Monahan added. "It helps with balance, everyone needs good balance."

"It not only helps balance but as you grow older many different little touches just don't work as well," Hanson said. According to Hanson, her arthritis and overall flexibility have improved.

Tai chi is beautiful in practice, very graceful like a dance. But it's also a good workout. "After spending an hour, it doesn't look like hard work, but I know I've used every muscle," Monahan explained. They practice the routines, much like dance routines, and end up feeling refreshed.

"The steps and motions are so fluid, Sandi's wonderful, she works with you where you are, she encourages you. Even if your feet get all goofed up. She makes you feel like you're doing well," Hanson said.

"It's good for my mind, to memorize the routine. It was kind of a surprise, it wasn't as easy as it looks," Monahan added.

"It's lots of fun, quite light hearted," they both said. "The class is jovial and there's plenty of sharing. There's a nice camaraderie in class." This nonthreatening atmosphere has helped students of all ages get acquainted and make new friendships as well as learn tai chi in its different forms.

Karlene Ponti can be reached by calling 509-526-8324 or by e-mail at karleneponti@wwub.com.

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