Around the Island

Richard’s Almanac: Tai Chi for seniors

STOCK PHOTO | Tai Chi originated in China as a martial art, but it is now a popular physical activity for senior citizens around the world.
STOCK PHOTO  Tai Chi originated in China as a martial art, but it is now a popular physical activity for senior citizens around the world.

Tai Chi classes are coming to the Senior Activity Center in March. Classes will meet twice weekly for one hour and will go on for eight weeks.

Senior Center Director Laurie Fanelli tells me that classes are going to be taught by a certified instructor from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, free of charge.

Now, I have heard of Tai Chi but I do not know what it really is all about. I just assumed that it is some sort of exercise class. As I delved into what it really is, I learned a great deal, and I now have great respect for what it does to help everyone, especially seniors.

Tai Chi can help older adults improve their balance and increase their confidence. I learned that Tai Chi focuses on self-initiated movements such as body-weight shifting, unilateral weight shifting, trunk rotation, ankle sways and coordinated eye-head-hand movements.

The certified instructor leading the classes on the Island is Linda Esposito. According to the information given to me by Laurie Fanelli from Energy Arts, Tai Chi was developed in China as a very effective martial art. However, most people in China and the West now practice it for its health benefits and not for combat.

I learned that millions of people practice Tai Chi to reduce stress, improve health and longevity and to maintain vitality and stamina. One of the advantages of Tai Chi is that you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap its benefits.

The literature says that you have to be “able to stand up.” There are, however, specific adaptations for those in wheelchairs.

You can practice it if you are fat or skinny, healthy or just having had surgery, young, middle-aged or very old.

Historically, different styles of Tai Chi were developed within specific families in China as a means of protection. According to the information I found, the three most popular styles are Chen, Yang and Wu. Each style has a series of choreographed movements called forms. Some are short while others last for an hour.

The practitioners say that this exercise relaxes and regulates the central nervous system, releasing physical and emotional stress and promotes mental and emotional well-being. It tones the muscles and releases knots and tension in them.

That reminds me of Charles Atlas’ Dynamic Tension from the 1950s.

So, if you are interested, you must register. Classes start on Tuesday, March 6 and run from 11 a.m. until noon. They continue at the same times on March 13, 20 and 27 and then on April 3, 10, 17 and 24. Thursday classes are on March 8, 15, 22 and 29 and April 5, 12, 19 and 26.

These classes are free. To register call the Senior Activity Center at (631) 749-1059 or the instructor at (631) 853-6472.