Get healthy, play young : Tai Chi classes help seniors relearn basic movements

In an unlikely pairing of number rhymes and ancient Chinese medicine, seniors at the Pelham and Heardmont senior centers have found a new way to practice good health.

Once a week, the groups participate in Tai Chi classes, using a variety of arm movements, standing styles and breathing exercises.

&8220;I&8217;ve had knee and hip replacements, and my doctor told me it would be good for that,&8221; said Gloria Wallace of Pelham. She has been taking the classes since February. &8220;It&8217;s something you can do at your own pace, and it doesn&8217;t hurt.&8221;

Wallace described actions called &8220;trembling horse&8221; and &8220;hands on the table,&8221; but said her favorite exercise involves drawing the numbers one through 10 as though her hands were paintbrushes.

Each number also has a rhyme to help quickly pick up and stay grounded in basic Tai Chi principles, said Charlie Fechter, instructor for both centers. For example, &8220;One, fun,&8221; reinforces that, at the core, participation is about enjoyment. &8220;Two, shoe,&8221; reminds that feet should melt into the earth.

These &8220;simple pictures&8221; form the base of New Forest, a style of Tai Chi Fechter explained is &8220;conceptually extremely easy to access.&8221; Fechter&8217;s own teacher, John Bright-Fey, developed New Forest while working with patients with brain and spinal cord injuries.

In addition to easy accessibility, Fechter said the program focuses on &8220;play.&8221;

&8220;All of the things we do are very natural human motions, but they are things that we forget to do when we get out of the sandbox,&8221; said Fechter, who has been training in Tai Chi since 1984.

The gentle movements, while also addressing core movement and strength, reintroduce people to their bodies, something he said most people need.

Regina Jimenez of the Pelham Senior Center said the classes are always full and most people seem to feel energized afterward. &8220;I think it&8217;s like fun exercise,&8221; Jimenez said. &8220;It doesn&8217;t feel like a rigorous workout session.&8221;

While senior participants praise Tai Chi for improving common problem areas like balance, flexibility and mobility, Fechter said one of its greatest benefits, at any age, is to &8220;discover things about yourself that you&8217;ve probably forgotten.&8221;

Classes are taught each week at the Heardmont Senior Center and the Pelham Senior Center. There is no charge to attend