Tai Chi and Aging
by Margaret Olmsted.
There are many benefits that come with aging. Among them are increased wisdom and ease with life. Also, many senior citizens are partially or completely retired and are exploring new activities and freedoms.
Often, with aging come increased physical challenges. Aging, or any disability or injury, brings us in touch with the fact that our bodies are not perfect. As we grow older, we all need to become aware of these things and use our accumulated experience to learn how to deal with these issues compassionately.
As we age, different parts of the body can be affected. Joints can change structurally, stiffen up, lose their range of motion and need to be replaced. Muscles can become stiff or weak. Different diseases may affect us causing changes in balance and mobility. Pain may makes us afraid to move. Serious illness may take time to recover from. All of these can affect our sense of self and lead to discouragement and depression. But we must not despair! Here is some advice from our teachers.
Recognize your worth
Recognize that you have a body, but that your worth is not determined by your body’s abilities.
Be here now
Listen to your body and what you can do right now, in this moment. Not what you used to be able to do. Not what you could do yesterday. Not what you think you can do or would like to be able to do. Focus on what you can do right now.
Be patient with yourself
It can be frustrating to recover from injury or to feel your body aging and unable to do what it used to be able to do. Aging is very humbling. We have to learn to accept the limits of our capacity. And doing more tai chi, gently and with relaxation, always helps.
Use it or lose it: Move your body
As we age we get stiffer faster and take longer to recover. It may take longer to return to relaxation, root and balance if we skip a few days of tai chi for illness or laziness or whatever. So we have to keep doing tai chi daily. Even if you’re young, don’t stop doing tai chi! The more you do the better you feel.
Take walks. Regular exercise circulates the qi and is also good for the brain. Build up your strength slowly if you are in recovery.
Stretch gently and in motion. Holding static stretches will not open joints and can damage muscles.
- If you feel stiff in the morning, it may be advisable to start with Qigong or The Eight Ways. (See our Roots and Branches: Five Element Qigong video on our website and for sale on Amazon.com.) Allow your body to let go of its sleepiness and return to a relaxed, looser state. The same may be true before classes or before bed.
Listen to your body as you deal with pain
Pain can be very scary. Distinguishing the pain of growth from the pain of overuse or injury can be challenging. Chronic pain can be debilitating and depressing. Sitting around and resting is good up to a point, but sitting around too long leads to stiffness and weakness.
Walk slowly and gently and with full consciousness. Try not to favor an injury (by leaning or limping) as it can distort the rest of your body and bring further imbalances.
Use your breath to relax and center yourself.
Ice on injuries is recommended by many and refuted by others. The recommended amount is no more than 20 minutes, 3 times/day. Icing too long can be injurious. It is generally recommended for more acute injuries.
Heat can be helpful, especially in more chronic conditions. But everyone is different. Discover what works for you.
There are lots of natural anti-inflammatory creams and gels. Homeopathic Arnica remedies help some. Ibuprofen helps others. CBD oils have been found to reduce pain.
Massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, physical therapy and other therapeutic care help many people but can be pricey. If you are over 65, some places offer reduced prices for seniors or take Medicare.
We have found that tai chi is a wonderful asset in our lives as we deal with changing bodies. Movement with relaxation and internal focus can help to restore movement and will certainly lift spirits. It’s never too late to learn to relax and enjoy the benefits of tai chi.