Get Centered for Your Future with Tai Chi

Contributing Writer Elizabeth SchreckenbergJanuary 3, 2013 

It’s no surprise that women experience high levels of stress. The difficulty in balancing family and work life can take a toll on many of our minds. What is surprising, and concerning, is how it can affect our bodies.

“Women tend to carry stress in their shoulders and behind their knees, causing pain and imbalance,” said Charlie Rivers, a Tai Chi instructor at the Monroe County YMCA. “What most people don’t realize is that you can actually learn to let go of stress by using the body.”

Tai Chi is the 2,000 year old Chinese practice of moving meditation. By focusing the mind solely on slow, flowing movements, students are able to achieve a state of mental calm and clarity. In a nutshell, Rivers says it’s a way to get the brain to stop talking - to get the chatter to quit.

“Our minds are constantly filled with everything that’s going on around us,” said Rivers. “A great philosopher once called it the ‘jabbering monkey.’ It’s why you can’t remember someone’s name whom you just met, or what you’re supposed to do next. The mind can never fully express itself unless you get it to quiet and focus. Tai Chi gives us an outlet to get the conscious mind to quiet.”

Denise Nobbe, who has been attending Rivers’ classes for a little over a year, said the practice has been instrumental in her life.

“A while back I was dealing with a large amount of stress, and the lessons I learned here were so important,” said Nobbe. “I learned that you can’t stress about the past because it can’t be changed, and you can’t worry about the future because you can’t predict anything. All you can do is let it all go and focus on right here, right now.”

In addition to its mental benefits, the physical movement learned in Tai Chi can be priceless. When biomechanics are off, many people tend to use their muscles in the wrong order, which can ends up causing injuries. Rivers teaches his students how to fire their muscles in the right sequence, such as to bear weight in the legs, then shift it to the waist - a lesson that can be incorporated into everyday life.

“I like to use the example of a vacuum,” said Rivers. “Most people will use their arm to push it and pull it back, which can cause stress on the upper back and then the waist as you swivel. If you focus on putting weight in your legs, then rotating the hips as you push with your arm, you avoid back pain.”

Tai Chi can also be beneficial in increasing one’s range of motion and improve balance. Rivers has several students in their 80’s who, despite being plagued with arthritis and osteoporosis, are choosing to stay active by attending his classes. It is low-impact and incorporates constant slow, circular movements that are never forced, the muscles are relaxed, and the joints are not fully extended. Because of this, Tai Chi can be easily adapted for anyone, even those recovering from surgery.

“I used it to help me to get moving after hip replacement surgery years ago,” said Rivers.

The breath work, or Qigong (pronounced Chi Kung) taught in Tai Chi can relax the mind and mobilize the body’s energy. Practiced alone, Qigong breathing patterns can be used by emphysema patients and even in childbirth. The breathing can be practiced lying down, standing, or sitting - and can be done anywhere, from the office to an airplane.

From an athlete incorporating it into their weekly routine to someone who hasn’t been active in years, Rivers said any woman can benefit from practicing Tai Chi.

“A class or two a week, and ten minutes each day, can lead to a stress-free life.”

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