The Payson campus of Gila Community College offers many classes of exercise and physical activity: physioball, pilates, bowling, swimming, hatha yoga, strength and flexibility training, weights, scuba diving and tai chi.
If the gentler approach to exercise appeals to you, why not try tai chi? A person practicing tai chi moves the body in a slow, relaxed, graceful series of movements. It is sometimes called a moving meditation. Tai chi consists of a mind-body practice that originated in China as a martial art.
The instructor, Rick Clark, has been teaching at the college for three years and has been a student of tai chi since 1991.
He competes nationally and internationally.
Clark serves on the board of directors of the American Athletic Union, Chinese Martial Arts section.
A requirement of his practice is to give to the community. He does this by teaching tai chi.
There are five styles of tai chi. Clark teaches the yang style, in which the hands are open and the movements are soft with circular forms (or routines).
Some movements are named for animals or birds, such as “White Crane Spreads Its Wings.”
During his studies, Clark said, “I learned it was about improving health of self and others. The healing aspect was more challenging.”
A basic concept of tai chi relates to qi (chi), the vital energy that underlies all living things. In Chinese medicine it is believed that qi flows in people through specific channels called meridians. It is important in health and disease. Pain is due to obstruction of qi. Tai chi is a practice that supports, unblocks and redirects the flow of qi.
In tai chi, it is considered important to put aside distracting thoughts and breathe in a deep, relaxed and focused manner. Practitioners believe that this breathing and meditation have many benefits, such as massaging the internal organs, increasing calmness and awareness, aiding the exchange of gases in the lungs, helping the digestive system work better, and improving balance.
Tai chi is a weight-bearing, low-impact form of exercise that can have certain health benefits to the bones. For this reason Clark believes it is a great exercise for seniors.
“I have a lot of forms to teach people who have health issues. If someone has an illness they practice with me in class and coordinate with their doctor. I have students in their 80s and 90s,” Clark said.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is sponsoring studies to find out more about tai chi’s effects, how it works, and diseases and conditions for which it may be most helpful.
Recent NCCAM-supported studies have been investigating tai chi for women recently diagnosed with breast cancer, to see if it helps them cope better, have less stress, and have an improved immune system and quality of life. Another study compares tai chi with a cardiovascular exercise fitness program in terms of improving physical fitness and endurance, reducing stress, and improving well-being in adult survivors of cancer.
There is a saying among tai chi practitioners, “If you have a sickness you can cure a sickness, if you don’t have a sickness, practice tai chi to prevent a sickness,” Clark said.
As a resident of Payson since 1997, Clark has been encouraging people in the community to keep active by doing whatever activity they like to do and do it continuously.
To register for his tai chi class, go to the Gila Community College, Payson Campus, at 201 N. Mud Springs Road, or log on to www.gilaccc.org.