Senior Tai Chi resumes outdoors in Warwick

  • Tai Chi members go through warm up stretches at the Warwick Community School. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The gentle movements of Tai Chi at the Warwick Community School. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Participants mirror the instructor during warmups at a Tai Chi class for seniors at the Warwick Community School. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Tai Chi class for seniors at the Warwick Community School playing fields on Tuesday morning. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 6/29/2020 9:55:18 AM

As Franklin County starts to reopen, with outdoor seating now available at restaurants and gyms expected to open soon, what better way to ease back into motion than by practicing Tai Chi? After canceling classes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Warwick Council on Aging has resumed its Tai Chi classes outdoors at the Warwick Community School.

The slow rhythm and low-impact nature of Tai Chi makes it good exercise for everyone — especially older adults who may have joint or balance trouble, according to instructor Mari Rovang. After time growing stiff indoors without exercise, Rovang says Tai Chi is a good practice for improving or regaining mobility.

“Older people, we can have balance problems, especially after being sedentary,” Rovang said.

The lasting stay-at-home guidelines have forced seniors to live a much more sedentary lifestyle that could lead to stiffness and joint pain, she continued. The exercises in Tai Chi can help build the muscles that are supporting joints. For seniors with arthritis, building these muscles can help alleviate the strain on joints.

“The class requires you stand for an hour, and for some people that can be a push,” Rovang said.

Tai Chi, which is an ancient Chinese form of exercise originally created as a fighting art, may help also decrease this joint pain while improving balance, range of motion and flexibility. With improved muscle strength and balance, the risk of suffering a fall is decreased in seniors. She said falls sometimes occur because a person’s weight is not centered on the leg they are trying to support themselves with. The exercise practice, Rovang said, can help seniors become more conscious of their movements and weight distribution.

The class uses a warm-up exercise developed by Tai Chi Grandmaster Jiang Jianye. According to Rovang, the warm-up sees students moving every single part of the body, making circles with your wrists, elbows and other joints. The class also practices a series of 24 forms, also created by Jiang Jianye, that strengthen different areas of the body. Rovang described the exercise as “walking mediation” because of its focus on strengthening the connection between the mind and body.

“It’s about trying to move without holding tension in the body,” Rovang said. “It’s similar to yoga in the way you view energy and use it in the body.”

As part of the Warwick classes, Rovang said members have also been learning motions for Filipino bamboo stick fighting, also known as Eskrima or Arnis. Holding the two sticks, the students go through a series of motions as if they were striking and defending against an opponent.

“A lot of Tai Chi was evolved by monks,” Rovang said. While it looks like pretty dances, it’s all moves for a big fight. But they would do it in slow motion so it wouldn’t seem threatening.”

The Warwick classes, held at the Warwick Community School on Tuesdays at 10 a.m., have seen about nine students with mixed levels of experience, and new students are welcome. If there is inclement weather on Tuesdays, classes move to Thursday that week. If it rains both days, there are no classes that week.

Anyone attending should wear sturdy shoes, and loose enough clothing to move easily. While Rovang is leading the outdoor sessions, the classes are normally taught by Marcia Gobeil, who will resume teaching classes when they can be held indoors again. Rovang also teaches Tai Chi classes with the Council on Aging in Turners Falls.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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