Jun 11, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Every Friday morning a group of local people come together in the community room of the First Presbyterian Church of Skaneateles to help themselves, and each other, move … slowly.
They are people of all ages and genders, but they typically have one thing in common: a need for physical health maintenance, improvement and recovery. There are people with Parkinson’s disease, scoliosis, heart problems or those recovering from hip or knee replacement surgery. And they come together on Fridays to undertake the ancient martial art of Tai Chi.
“We’re here to help people help themselves. Our focus is on health — improving people’s health,” said Carol Anne Gallagher, a certified Tai Chi instructor who started the Taoist Tai Chi Society of Skaneateles in 2000.
“Anyone can do it, that’s what’s so great about it,” said Caroline Widas, a beginning instructor of Tai Chi who has been practicing for about seven years. “You can even do it from a wheelchair.”
Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art typified by slow, deliberate movements and is based on muscular coordination and relaxation. It is believed that focusing the mind solely on the movements helps bring about mental calm and clarity, reduce stress, promote balance and increase flexibility. The Taoist Tai Chi set consists of 108 movements that are described as gentle, continuous and circular.
“It just keeps you healthy. It’s about mind and body as a partnership, that must work together,” said Gallagher, who started practicing Tai Chi in the 1990s and began teaching it in Skaneateles in 2000. “At first people come because of the physical activity, but they immediately find how much it entails their minds.”
The Taoist Tai Chi Society of Skaneateles is a small, community-based group — part of the Taoist Tai Chi Society of Syracuse — that meets four to five times a week in the community rooms of the First Presbyterian Church on East Genesee Street, and, during the summer, they can be seen by the lake in Shotwell Park performing their slow, measured movements.
They are not a religious organization or group, but people dedicated to healthy living, Gallagher said. The word “Taoist” in the name and the action is a reference to the foundation of the martial art.
Tai Chi is about “simple movements” that are performed in a more balanced, effective and relaxed way, Gallagher said. It’s about transferring weight, appropriate posture, aligning the structure of your bones and relaxing the muscles.
“The body is designed to move, we just kind of slow it down a bit,” she said.
While Tai Chi often is viewed — by younger people — as an activity only for the elderly, it is actually a form of exercise that benefits people of all ages.
“I think that the older you are the wiser you are, and you can see Tai Chi for what it is,” Gallagher said. “Most younger people find it too slow. But to be mindful of how we move – that’s ageless.”
Tai Chi is very popular among the elderly, who find it helps them reconnect with lost balance and flexibility in their bodies. In fact, a recent study of the effects of Tai Chi on elderly participants, published in the European Journal of Preventative Medicine, concluded that regular performers of Tai Chi were less likely to suffer high blood pressure and were physically stronger. The improved heart function and increased muscular power of the martial art meant that Tai Chi should be considered the preferred exercise technique for elderly people, the study declared.
While Gallagher and the Taoist Tai Chi Society of Skaneateles welcome people of all ages to their sessions, they also have gone a step further and created a “healthy recovery” class for people with physical limitations or issues who cannot physically do the regular classes.
The class began by Gallagher treating famed opera singer Marcus Haddock in his home after he suffered a stroke in late 2010. In early 2011, they moved their sessions to the Presbyterian Church and invited more people. Soon, word of the classes got around town and more people started attending.
“It’s a blend of people who need to take it one step at a time,” Gallagher said. The healthy living class can be adapted to the needs and abilities of any person, and can even be done while sitting in a chair “Now we have about 10 people, and most of them go to our other classes as well,” she said.
Al and Sandy Jennings, of Skaneateles Falls, have been doing Tai Chi for nearly a year. Al recently had his second knee replacement surgery — the first one being in September 2010 — and the difference in his recovery the second time has been “unbelievable,” thanks totally to Tai Chi, he said.
“The difference is remarkable,” Sandy said. “He has better balance, better circulation and he healed much faster.”
Dick Ward, 70, of Skaneateles has two artificial hips and one artificial knee. He started Tai Chi about one month ago because he was worried about falling down. “I never thought I’d be a Tai Chi kind of guy,” he said. “But I can definitely see an improvement in my balance.”
Jim Vedder, 76, of Skaneateles, has been attending Tai Chi classes for about 10 months. He suffers from nerve degeneration and said that for four years he could not raise his hand over his head, but after a few weeks of Tai Chi he had regained the ability. He is also interested in the improved balance and focus on bodily energy flow that Tai Chi brings. “Your body learns to listen to itself. You just become aware of your whole body, and to me that’s been a real benefit,” he said.
Gallagher said she hopes more people will give Tai Chi a try and see how it impacts their bodies and minds. “I always wish this could help more people, but people don’t understand we’re here,” she said.
The Taoist Tai Chi Society of Skaneateles is a non-profit group where all the instructors are volunteers and members of the international Taoist Tai Chi Society. Members are encouraged to pay dues, which run on a sliding scale for individuals, family, seniors and youths.
For more information about the Skaneateles society and classes, contact Carol Anne Gallagher at 685-5215. Go online to Taoist.org for more information on Taoist Tai Chi in general.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.