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Tai Chi’s benefits

Three years ago, Ruthie Watkins was walking in New York City’s Central Park when she saw a group of people doing slow, rhythmic exercises on the grass.

What she was watching was Tai Chi, the ancient Chinese form of exercise.

“It was so peaceful and they were all in sync,” Watkins said. It intrigued her so much, she decided to take it up as her form of exercise.



Now Watkins is teaching a class called “Tai Chi for Arthritis” at the Gold County Community Center, Sierra College and the Lake Wildwood Athletic Club.

“Some of my students have arthritis and some do not,” Watkins said, but the ones who do tell her it helps the pain and flexibility problems brought on by arthritis.




“I need it for the balance, as you get older, the balance goes,” said Glenn Straight, 74, who is in Watkins’ Tai Chi class at the community center. “It’s fun, I recommend it.”

June King, 81, attends the same class, “for my arthritis and balance and to get my circulation going.”

Watkins donates all the pay she receives from the classes, not a huge amount, but enough to give Meals on Wheels $80 last month. Her compensation for the Sierra College and Lake Wildwood classes, $154, was donated to the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Cancer Center.

Watkins is a breast cancer survivor from the center and said, “It’s a win-win situation, I get to help people out and give back to the community,” with her donations.

The instructor follows the “Tai Chi for Arthritis” teachings of Dr. Paul Lam, an Australian physician who took it up after he was stricken with the disease.

“Tai Chi can be practiced at almost anywhere and is suitable for anyone because its level of exertion can be adjusted to suit each person’s physical condition,” Lam said on his Web site. He gears his program to relieve the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis.

Both Lam and Watkins use the “Sun” style of Tai Chi because of its gentle nature.

“People with disabilities can do it,” Watkins said. “It’s very peaceful and people usually come back; they fall in love with it.”

According to Lam, the Sun style allows people with arthritis to learn a safe exercise program and generally relax. It uses high stances for most exercises and slow movement, both important for seniors.

Watkins said she thinks the mental portion of Tai Chi helps memory and she has seen it alleviate pain, joint stiffness, depression, bad balance and stamina.

“It’s moving meditation,” Watkins said. “You don’t want to think about anything else when you’re doing Tai Chi.”

According to the national Arthritis Foundation, Tai Chi has been used to combat arthritis for many years. According to Judith Horstman who wrote an article about Tai Chi for the foundation’s Web site, “It appeals to all people because it’s not intimidating. Seniors particularly like Tai Chi because the slow, synchronized movements are easy to learn and to perform.”

According to Dr. William Haskell of The Stanford Prevention Research Center in California, who Horstman spoke to for the article, “Given its low impact and evidence that it tends to increase muscle strength and balance and give general pain relief, we think it’s a worthwhile option for arthritis patients.”

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To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com or call 477-4237.


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