Monday, November 19th, 2018

PHH to offer Tai Chi for wellness in 2019

Posted: Friday, November 9, 2018

In recent years, the ancient practice of Tai Chi has gained popularity as a beneficial activity for body and mind. Early in 2019, Parkview Huntington Hospital’s (PHH) Rehab and Wellness Center will offer Tai Chi as a wellness class.

Exercise specialist Katie Cunningham will serve as the instructor for Tai Chi, having recently earned her certification in Tai Chi for Rehab. She currently leads the popular senior exercise class at the hospital on Friday mornings.

“I’m excited to be able to bring Tai Chi to Huntington County residents,” she says. “It’s a great overall exercise for mind and body alike. It focuses on diaphragmatic (think ‘belly’) breathing and posture with slow, deliberate movements, making it challenging and relaxing at the same time.”

Tai Chi traces its origins to martial arts practiced in China thousands of years ago. Although the art may still be associated with powerful, explosive movements, many other styles of Tai Chi have been developed that are much slower and gentler.

“Anyone can try Tai Chi!” says Cunningham. “Because it’s a gentle activity, it can be done when recovering from an injury or illness, and it is an exercise that can be practiced throughout a lifetime. The movements can be done standing, sitting or even lying down, and can be adapted to physical limitations.”

Cunningham explains that the mental and physical benefits of Tai Chi are many.

“It can improve balance, mobility, concentration, memory, flexibility and muscle strength. Performed consistently, Tai Chi can decrease pain, increase energy level, and promote relaxation and calmness or inner peace. I think the gentle nature of it adds to it therapeutic properties.”

Cunningham notes that while people might want initially to draw comparisons to yoga – with the emphasis on breathing, relaxation and flexibility – the most common forms of yoga tend to encourage holding poses, whereas Tai Chi is about fluid, constant motion.

The big-picture goal of the Tai Chi class at PHH will be to improve a participant’s health, whether physical, mental or both. Participants will follow along with Cunningham as she instructs them how to perform safely many of the different movements. Another goal of the class will be to get the participants to a point where they can practice a routine at home, as well as learn techniques that they can use at home if they seek another option for stress reduction or, for example, to ease pain related to arthritis. Much of the movement is lateral, or away from the body and then back toward it, compared to forward and backward, which is the way many people are accustomed to moving. The lateral movement provides opportunity to strengthen balance and coordination.

Cunningham says the growing popularity of Tai Chi may be due, in part, to the fact that more people are embracing the philosophy of mindfulness to help them de-stress and to experience life more fully.

“My favorite aspect of Tai Chi is that it asks us to tune in to our bodies and be more reflective,” she explains. “So many of us live our everyday lives in high gear, or in fast-paced environments, and we try to get as much done in as little time as possible. This also tends to be the case for the goals behind most physical activities – how far can we run in a certain amount of time, or how far can we throw, or how many points can we score? Tai Chi challenges us to slow down and be in the moment, and it makes us more aware of the movements our bodies are making.”

To find out about reserving a spot in the upcoming Tai Chi class, call the Parkview Huntington Hospital Rehab and Wellness Center at (260) 355-3240.

PHH Rehab and Wellness Center exercise specialist Katie Cunningham demonstrated some Tai Chi moves at the hospital’s health and wellness fair, Healthy Steps, in early October. The hospital will offer a wellness class in Tai Chi early next year.